Unpacking the influence of the IoT in travel

You cannot miss the signs of technological advancement in travel today. From mobile ticketing to biometric scanning at amusement parks, today’s business trips and family vacations look vastly different than in years past. Innovation has come just in time for the crowds -- Expedia Group reported a 40 percent increase in the number of people traveling for business and leisure since 2016, and this number is on track to grow in the coming years.

Behind the scenes, one of the quiet workhorses of hospitality innovation has been the Internet of Things (IoT). Broad and flexible IoT coverage has already enabled major changes in the traveler experience and the hospitality industry, through innovations such as luggage tracking to parking and trash management. Largely in part to communication networks that enable the travel industry to implement a variety of innovative solutions, cheaply.

Behind the Scenes of Smart Luggage

Over the past year, low power wide area (LPWA) IoT networks have been rolled out in major airports across the globe to enable connected devices to work seamlessly as travelers wonder to destinations across the world. One example of this type of network was deployed by Sigfox USA last year in more than 40 of the busiest airports in the US (and over 200 airports globally). Developed in partnership with Louis Vuitton, these smart trackers use sensors that automatically turn off the tracking device when the flight takes off and start tracking again when the flight lands to meet FAA compliance requirements.

To remove the barriers that come with luggage tracking, IoT tracking technologies must become more flexible, either by coming with a removable battery option or enabling connectivity without the use of a large lithium battery. While there are companies like Away, which provides trackers with a removable battery, IoT trackers must find a more seamless way to track luggage, whether that may be through the use of non-lithium ion batteries or the use of LPWA network technology.

Smart Destination Management

To improve the efficiency of day-to-day park management, tourist locations are using IoT Networks to track things such as trash full levels to parking space occupancy, alerting staff when waste bins need servicing and when tourists should be directed to the next vacant lot.

According to an Intel-sponsored study by Juniper Research, 30 percent of all traffic congestion results from drivers looking for parking spots. To reduce congestion and save visitors time, amusement parks are leveraging the IoT to monitor parking lots and alert visitors which are full or which have vacant spaces. Through this application, amusement parks are creating a more efficient way for visitors to get in and out of the park, and in turn make their experience more seamless and enjoyable.

To further simplify the experience for tourists, theme parks are implementing IoT powered trash can monitoring services, which allow park staff to track which trash cans are full and need service. Through this application, parks can ensure a clean experience for their guests.

Innovation on the Horizon

With the IoT becoming an integral part of travel technology, it's no surprise that IoT networks are being built to support more than just one application. Whether it's an airport network that allows for both luggage tracking and waste management, or a hotel network that allows for key-less doors and worker safety monitoring, the IoT is becoming a diverse technology that can be built to support a variety of applications.

Just last year, Hilton and Marriott launched a demo of a "connected room," which includes IoT powered technologies such as sensor-activated thermostats and digital room keys. While most hotels have yet to connect these rooms all on one network, this reality is closer than we think. Large hotel chains are keenly aware of the importance of a seamless customer experience and are beginning to invest in networks that can support the future connected rooms of tomorrow.

With these connected rooms, travelers will be able to access a variety of amenities in their room, including key-less rooms that require only the tap of a mobile app to access, as well as request additional housekeeping services and start the shower at the desired temperature stored in their customer profile -- all by voice or app. Beyond the guest experience, hotels are also connecting their staff with a panic button to prevent employment hazards, including sexual harassment. The portable buttons, mandated in a Chicago ordinance that won unanimous City Council approval in 2017, allow employees to call for on-demand help if they are assaulted or harassed by a guest -- a job hazard that employee advocates say is more common than most people realize.

By 2025, it’s anticipated that 55 billion devices will be connected to the IoT. With IoT networks covering more highly trafficked destinations, we predict the travel and hospitality industry will be a major user of IoT solutions to innovate guest experience, increase worker safety and improve operational efficiencies.

Image Credit: VAlekStudio/ Shutterstock

Ajay Rane is VP of global business development at Sigfox

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