These days we often take finding directions for granted. Easy smartphone apps like Google Maps and Waze all but make paper maps and standalone GPS devices obsolete. Why then hasn’t mapping found its way indoors? Historically, companies used sensors (commonly referred to as beacons) to accomplish the task, but hardware becomes obsolete quickly, battery maintenance is a challenge, and staffing is required to manage it all. Bottom line, these solutions haven’t scaled and provided the necessary accuracy to deliver a tangible return on investment or any compelling use cases.
The Walt Disney DIS +0.92% World Swan and Dolphin (S&D) property wants to change that paradigm in the hospitality industry, through a partnership with Mist Systems and TurnoutNow. Together, they plan to utilize Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy technology (BLE), artificial intelligence (AI), and virtualization to provide robust and flexible wayfinding and location-based services to guests.
A legacy of Disney resort innovation
I had the opportunity recently to spend time at the S&D in Orlando, Florida and witness the disruptive solution in action. The resort, originally built in 1990, is massive and currently boasts nearly 2300 rooms and over 330,000 square feet of convention space. The history behind its construction dates back to the late 1980s when CEO Michael Eisner became concerned that local hotels near the Walt Disney theme parks weren’t capitalizing on the lucrative convention business. To address this, Disney, Tishman Hotel Corporation, MetLife, and Starwood (now Marriott) forged an innovative partnership. Since the S&D opening, Tishman management has consistently been a leader in enhancing the guest and convention experience through technology. Proof points include its introduction of the first hotel iPhone app, the launch of one of the first individual hotel websites with a dedicated webmaster, and the utilization of 360-degree photography to showcase property amenities. While other resorts around the world have caught up in these areas, S&D is once again raising the bar.
Infrastructure powered by Mist Systems and TurnoutNow
Imagine the ability to bypass the front desk at a hotel and head straight to your room after a long flight. Alternately, what if a hotel bar or restaurant could automatically flex its staffing based on the number of guests in the establishment? How about the ability to navigate a massive hotel and convention space? What if a company at a trade show could improve traffic flow to every station, pod, or breakout, and gain insights in real time?
This is becoming reality, thanks to Mist Systems and TurnoutNow’s efforts at S&D. The Mist Learning Wi-Fi solution utilizes an open API, virtual implementation of BLE to deliver in-building navigation, asset tracking, event analytics, and proximity notifications, with enabled access points. Virtualization is a key differentiator with the Mist deployment in that it removes the need for a venue such as S&D to update physical hardware. Instead, algorithms can be implemented by applying machine learning to a cloud-based topology. The end result is a wireless network that is adaptable and improves accuracy continuously—critical for precise navigation. An added benefit is the elimination of staffing to manage the infrastructure at S&D. Many large network infrastructure providers are also taking note of Mist’s capability, demonstrated by recent partnership announcements between Mist, VMware, and Juniper Networks.
TurnoutNow is a data analytics company that integrates with Mist’s open, scalable architecture and also utilizes AI to provide insights into event planning and real time conventioneer traffic. The company claims that its Prescriptive Recommendation Engine (PRE) guides recommendations that have beaten the IBM IBM +1.08% supercomputer Watson. S&D is utilizing the platform to offer services to companies that hold conventions at the S&D to intelligently manage human traffic flow. Proof of its viability is in TurnoutNow’s convention customer wins, which include some of the most iconic technology brands in the world— Microsoft MSFT -0.07%, Cisco Systems, and Adobe among others.
As a road warrior, I stay at many hotels around the world. I will attend 30+ conventions this year alone. I would personally find tremendous value in accurate wayfinding and location-based services in the hospitality industry, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The Mist and TurnoutNow combination could be very disruptive, driving reduced operating expense and incremental monetization opportunities for hotel chains. However, I believe the biggest benefit is in the potential to create guest and convention loyalty to a hospitality brand. The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resort has set the new wayfinding bar in my opinion. It will be interesting to see its ripple effect within the Marriott set of properties and others around the world.
Disclosure: My firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising, and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry including IBM, Microsoft, Google, VMware, and Cisco Systems, cited or related to this article. I do not hold any equity positions with any companies cited in this column.