Winning Guest Traffic: From Simple Counts to Business Outcomes

September 14, 2020

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Technologies are born of purpose. Until a few months ago, on-property traffic analysis was a good-to-have — a luxury for some, but hardly essential. It usually meant bluetooth, WiFi or camera-based technologies helping properties map customer flow through a building: where we linger, what we touch, what we ignore, how we choose to enter and exit, so that mall or store owners could optimise layouts and pricing, allocate staff, and detect bottlenecks.

But the virus has shifted priorities. “How many people in the gym?" “Isn’t that restaurant too crowded?” “How long will we have to queue up?” These are concerns we’ve all had these past few weeks. They’re also among the most common queries property managers in Hong Kong and Singapore have faced since the lockdown.

Average IT Spend as a percentage of revenue

Image courtesy: Prism Skylabs. Here red indicates a high level of interaction (lots of foot traffic, or people touching an item), and blue represents lowest levels of interest.

Higher stakes: When understanding traffic flows becomes a brand differentiator

Preliminary reports suggest that the odds of virus transmission in closed spaces are many times greater — restaurants, hotel elevators, casinos are high-risk environments. And healthcare experts predict the coronavirus pandemic could last up to two years, with waves of infections likely to continue until a majority of us develop immunity or a vaccine is launched.

In this scenario, high-accuracy traffic insights will be a differentiator between properties. Customers are already making visit and purchase decisions based on perceived levels of health and safety — choosing to avoid high traffic areas, calling up ahead of time to make enquiries, or looking up ideal visit timings on Google.

An even bigger wave of change looms: ready or not, AI is here

Virus aside, there’s also the added impetus of current technological maturity when it comes to traffic analytics. Until recently traffic analytics meant visitor counts, heat maps, dry quantitative data with very little qualitative insights. But our growing capabilities with big data, AI and analytics has made the business case even more compelling. Understanding guest traffic has the potential to generate new revenue streams, to offer personalised itineraries and improve the guest experience.

Malls, casinos and retail properties that gather and activate data with well-integrated platforms have a head start. Their offerings will have more time to learn through repeated simulations and testing, and of improving customer journeys and personalised recommendations over time.

Meeting challenges head-on —
Which technology? How much coverage? What about design? Why now?

1. What technology should I choose?

Choosing the right technology and the right time to deploy a technology can be a bit of a thorny issue for clients. Because clients are challenged by what vendors claim. And we all say the same thing! We all say we can help your business and drive your KPIs, and gather more data, and activate it. It’s all very confusing for the client. Very often we realise that many invest in technology and a few months later realise that maybe it wasn’t the right fit for their property, or perhaps there’s a better technology out there to do this.

For many locations, deploying cameras or gateways everywhere isn’t really feasible, and can easily become very expensive. Often, the ideal solution is a mix of technologies.

2. What is the ideal level of coverage within a property?

This varies from property to property. And depends on the desired outcome. In a resort 100% coverage is much easier to achieve, because guests make almost all the traffic, but for a casino, we have casino players, hotel guests, concert goers and entertainment visitors. So there’s added complexity in the crowd-mix and a guest card isn’t going to be sufficient. Residences, hotels, malls, buildings, airports, offices — they’re all potential use-cases, and determining the right level of coverage will depend not only on what business owners want to achieve, but what customers come to expect from their service providers.

3. Will it look good?

Another challenge is blending these technology solutions within environments. Hotels spend millions of dollars on design, on architects and interior designers, the last thing they want is a bulky camera in their guest’s faces at the front desk or restaurant. The good news is that this is something we can address. It’s always possible to design unobtrusive interfaces with minimal presence, that are cost-effective and functional. And this is something we’re constantly working on — how to gain maximum property coverage as invisibly and cost-efficiently as possible.

4. Is now a good time? Shouldn’t we wait until we have more robust tech?

It’s easy to see why so many properties want to wait until the technology is more mature, but this will never happen. Technology is always evolving. Say a company offers facial recognition cameras that have a 1.5 m range. In a couple of years this range might double, but if we’re waiting for better technology to mange crowds, we’re at risk of irrelevance ourselves. A good proportion of the hardware deployed as recently as five or six years ago is already obsolete. But that’s no reason to stay in deep freeze. Companies that initiate change and focus on customer experience are usually better positioned to manage inevitable change. The most pragmatic approach is to test and learn.

Enclosed spaces like restaurants, elevators, casinos are high-risk environments for virus transmission

Enclosed spaces like restaurants, elevators, casinos are high-risk environments for virus transmission

Taking an iterative, test and go approach to innovation

A recent McKinsey survey found that to achieve scale in Internet of Things (IoT) the most successful companies often played to their strengths, adding IoT connectivity to existing products. Conversely, laggards — those in the bottom quintile of economic returns — were significantly more likely to focus on developing new IoT products or services. Many of these insights correspond to what we see in the hospitality tech space — for one, successful tech rollouts take buy-in from leadership and top management, widespread usage forces a cultural shift, the insights generated by the system need to be used by frontline employees, and collaboration with external experts provides a competitive advantage.

Of the 100 companies we talk to, only 5 or 10% understand that tech deployments can be a driver of revenues. The benefits of early and bold adoption often correlates with financial success. When managed correctly, the payoffs in terms of staff efficiency, customer personalisation, trust and loyalty, more than justify the initial set up hurdles.

Enclosed spaces like restaurants, elevators, casinos are high-risk environments for virus transmission

Tech companies and vendors have a responsibility too…

As a tech company or a technology vendor, we have a responsibility to advise our clients on a solution that best works for their needs — both in the short- and the long-run. Technology that fails to expand and improve our client’s day-to-day business ends up dying a slow death anyway. It begins with poor performance and ends with little or no client support. When it comes to traffic analytics the way forward is collaborative: with experts in hardware and software working together to unlock value for the client, and end users.

The future’s here already: Happier customers, happier staff

A few years ago, all we had access to was a count of people in a restaurant or a gym or a retail store at given times in the day. And this data was available to one overworked on-site manager who couldn’t really do much with it. But if we add the capabilities of an AI engine, and a mobile application in the hands of staff and patrons, the data actually becomes useful, and monetisable.

When we mix raw traffic management data with AI, we can predict things. For instance if we map patterns of people within a facility for 6-8 weeks. Then we can say that if 10 people enter the premises, 5 of them will visit the pool in 2 hours, and 2 of them will go to the spa and 3 of them will return to the room. This means valuable insights for hotels, retail properties and residences. In casinos, based on choices in the retail or restaurant areas, we can offer guests a personalised spa recommendation when they return to their rooms. By understanding behaviour through a property we can retarget, better understand customer needs, better sell and better serve.

Staff enjoy much higher levels of productivity and autonomy as they go about their work. It’s one of the most reassuring bits of feedback we received from our clients, staff can more easily and efficiently manage a large property even with fewer people on the ground, because everyone knows exactly where to go.

Traffic Analytics: What’s in it for everybody?

For customers: Radically personalised journeys

Simpler, seamless and faster journeys. Build trust and confidence by providing timely and accurate information to help customers plan their visits, offer moments of personalisation.

For operators: Gather insights and drive loyalty

Ensure ideal crowd management and social distancing measures across the property, decrease employee turnover, more acquisition and conversion, cross-selling, new revenue models.

For staff: A focus on value

Empower staff with real-time insights, efficiency through AI and robotics, simpler processes, lower stress levels.



References:

Image courtesy: Prism Skylabs. Here red indicates a high level of interaction (lots of foot traffic, or people touching an item), and blue represents lowest levels of interest.

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