In a new series, Sabre’s brand journalist asks 5 questions to people working in and around the ecosystem of travel. From technology providers to vendors to marketers to suppliers, these are the people behind the ideas powering travel.
Beacon technology has come a long way since its introduction by Apple in 2013. The standard has since been adopted by companies all over the world, each providing a platform for using proximity to engage with mobile users. One of the largest beacon technology providers, Estimote, worked with Turkish firm VesLabs to deploy one of the world’s largest beacon installations at EXPO 2016 in Antalya, Turkey. The horticulture-focused Expo brings together plant enthusiasts from all over the world in a sprawling experience — and thanks to beacon technology, EXPO guests have a digital extension of the real-world experience.
Beacons have rarely been tested at this scale. There are many complexities to deploy such a large installation of small electronic devices. Such complexities include low batteries and limited communication ranges, as well as the weather and objects nearby (including people). Beyond the physical logistics, there is the actual engagement. What is the best way to make this technology most useful for the visitor? How can events or areas where large people congregate, such as conference hotels, use this new layer of connectivity in a non-intrusive and helpful way that actually enhances, rather than distract from, the guest experience?
Estimote’s Wojtek Borowicz (WB) and Veslab’s Ozan Köseley (OK) shared more about one of the largest micro-location installations. Their responses reveal key learnings from this massive micro-location effort, in terms of both engagement, privacy protection and user opt-ins.
Q: The EXPO is quite the undertaking. Tell us about how Estimote became involved with the project.
WB: VesLabs was commissioned to create an app for EXPO 2016 which is a massive undertaking. It’s even larger when you take beacons into consideration because they have to be physically deployed. Hundreds of events take place during the course of several months, so it’s not an installation that would be dismantled in a week. Although beacon space is crowded these days, only a few vendors can support infrastructure that is this complex.
The Expo has been going on now for over a month. How are visitors responding to the beacons and the installation array?
OK: It has been one of the most engaging parts of the mobile app experience for users. There’s so much information to unlock on site just through beacons, information which people find interesting but can’t access without beacons. Interaction with beacons is the only way to unlock this new information. It also adds a taste of gamification for visitors. The platform offers visitors an enhanced multimedia experience through a mobile device. The app connects to the beacons, which allows visitors to easily access details about a specific exhibition they are currently looking at.
WB: With the EXPO 2016 app, guests will be able to see where people are gathering and look up information about events in vicinity. Organizers can also deliver content in exactly the right time and place because of the custom CMS VesLabs has built for them. Apart from that, there is also navigation component with accessibility features for visually impaired.
Nearly 5,000 beacons were installed across the festival grounds. What do all these beacons do to enhance the guest experience?
OK: The beacon triggers messages directly to guests to view a video or more information regarding the details of the plants in front of them. The objects, mostly different types of plants that are equipped with beacons, then sends messages enriched with images, videos and audio content. The beacons make Plant Sculptures (Mosaiculture) talk to users directly! In addition to that, there are several museums inside of Expo area, each of which provides the same interactive guest experience.
WB: Another important part of the app is the analytics. Too often when people think about beacons, they focus only on pushing content to people. And sure, that is the core of the experience, but physical world data is a treasure trove. Now EXPO 2016 can look into that trove. With access to heatmaps and foot traffic information they can discover which events are doing well and which are under-performing. Real-time traffic data is also important for security, as it offers immediate feedback on deploying resources.
Outside of large events, what are some other real-world hospitality applications of beacons that can leverage the ability to get customized directions and see real-time flows of what’s currently most crowded?
WB: Airports. They’re bullish on beacons and other sensor-based solutions. Never before had they access to physical world data in real-time and that is huge for them. Space layout, security, asset management: there’s barely anything that this kind of data doesn’t touch. Take a look at airports in the US facing long lines: beacons can help understand flows and create a framework for targeted, efficient deployment of security assets.
When installing such a large number of beacons, such as at an airport, what are 2-3 things that administrators must keep in mind for a successful beacon deployment?
WB: We always recommend testing on-site. Software development happens in an office, but when beacons and other IoT solutions come into play, you have to consider physical world as another layer in the user experience. And that’s a whole new set of rules to obey. Also, when choosing a vendor for a large deployment, make sure they have all the tools needed to maintain a network of hundreds/thousands of beacons: health monitoring, remote update, security etc.
Finally, if you’re building a consumer-oriented app, you’ll need users to opt-in and grant you permission to access location data. Make sure you’re very clear about why you need that. We noticed that people are okay with sharing their information as long as they understand what value they’ll receive in exchange.
“5 Questions” is a new series featuring direct perspectives from people working in and around the ecosystem of travel. From vendors to marketers to suppliers, these are the people behind the ideas powering travel.