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A Hotelier's Guide to Pokemon Go

We're going to assume you've heard of Pokemon Go. In the last week, this game has shot to the top of the mobile app sales charts, has been covered by every media company from ABC to Zee News and was even co-opted by the U.S. presidential campaigns. But beyond the hype, what does Pokemon Go mean for your hotel and for the broader travel industry?

What is Pokemon Go?

In case you've heard the name but aren't familiar with the details: Pokemon Go is a smartphone game in which players traverse the real world to hunt and capture Pokemon - pocket monsters. Players then breed and train their Pokemon to engage in battles with other players for control of in-game locations. The game is a very loose form of "augmented reality," where digital content is layered over the real world. For instance, the fountain of a hotel near Sabre headquarters acts as an in-game landmark where players can pick up items.

PokemonGo Hilton

The launch of Pokemon Go is a cultural moment anchored in nostalgia, bridging generations and bringing friends, families and strangers together to chase whimsical digital creatures anywhere and everywhere on the globe. As a brand, Pokemon is more than 20 years old, and is one of the world's most successful video game-based media properties. The Pokemon motto, "Gotta Catch 'Em All," has always encouraged players to scour virtual worlds for countless imaginary creatures. Tens of millions of members of Generation X and the Millennial Generation grew up playing Pokemon; their children continue to play newer iterations of the game.

How is Pokemon Go affecting behavior?

Perhaps you've noticed a sharp uptick in people walking around, staring at their phones, their trance punctuated by intermittent shouts of excitement. These people may or may not be guests at your property, but this is to be expected. Pokemon Go is effectively a multi-generational scavenger hunt, and in the digital world of the game, there is no "out of bounds."

In addition to capturing Pokemon, another key element of the game is visiting in-game landmarks (called "Pokestops" and "gyms"), each of which is tied to a real-world location, which also encourages people to wander around.

It's important to note that the correlation between in-game locations and real-world landmarks is not systematic. Pokemon Go landmarks are based in part on user-submitted locations that the game's publisher, Niantic, used in their previous location-based game, Ingress. Because of this, you may find that, in addition to monuments or landmarks, Pokemon Go locations near your property include seemingly random locations such as lampposts or flights of stairs.

Twitter and Instagram are full of Pokemon Go messages—both from individuals and from brands. The in-game camera makes it fun and easy to share humorous or novel pictures. For instance, @VirginAmerica tweeted "A little preflight #PokemonGo" along with a few pictures. And the Texas Rangers are using Twitter to encourage fans to come to the ballpark to catch Pokemon, with pictures of Pokemon in the stands. You can be sure that, if they aren't already, people will soon be searching your properties and grounds for the elusive Pokemon they seek.

How do I support my guests?

Before any other steps, you or a staff member should join Pokemon Go to determine whether your hotel is, or is near, an in-game landmark. If your hotel is within 40 meters of a landmark, this dramatically increases the chances of Pokemon Go players coming through your space.

Currently, there is no easy way to become a landmark, but Niantic has announced it is working on in-game advertising and sponsored locations, which presumably will create an infrastructure for any location to partner with Pokemon Go.

Regardless of your landmark status:

  • Educate your staff about Pokemon Go and have a consistent stance about the game. We recommend that you encourage play, but have consistent policies on reasonable playtimes for various public areas and require parental supervision; after all, you don't want young children sneaking into the pool area alone after midnight in hopes of capturing a nocturnal water Pokemon.
  • Create a map and/or educate your concierge on the locations of Pokestops and Pokemon gyms in nearby areas, and advertise this information to guests. Concurrently, make sure guests know of areas to avoid; thieves are already targeting Pokemon Go users because they are wandering off the beaten path while focused on their phones.
  • If you are near a landmark, consider setting up a Pokemon "lure," an in-game object that costs a little over a dollar per hour, to attract extra Pokemon to a particular location. Many businesses - particularly restaurants - have reported significant upticks in sales by using Pokemon lures to attract real world customers who are chasing Pokemon.
  • Offer a contest or small perk to guests who use your hashtag when sharing pictures of Pokemon caught at your hotel - and keep an eye on social media so you can re-share great pictures, particularly of rare Pokemon. A rare Pokemon sighting at your hotel will likely bring a flood of people - both guests and potential guests.

How do I create a positive experience for potential guests?

It's important to think of these Pokemon-seeking visitors not as "non-guests," but as "potential guests." Generation X is currently the generation with the highest percentage of spending; Millennials are rapidly closing the gap, but they are more focused on purchasing experiences than they are objects, though the objects they do buy trend towards luxury items. These groups - and their children - are the visitors most likely to be playing Pokemon Go, and providing these groups with a positive experience is vital to long-term success for your hotel. With that in mind, here's what we recommend:

  • As before, it's most important to educate your staff about Pokemon Go and ensure a consistent stance towards potential guests.
  • Strive for a balance of respecting the privileges and privacy of paying guests while being welcoming towards potential guests.
  • Most likely, this balance encourages Pokemon Go in common areas, but politely discourages potential guests from many areas of the property.
  • Pokemon Go only uses GPS coordinates - it doesn't use elevation - so there is no reason a player should ever try to gain access to different floors of your hotel.
  • Consider offering a promotion for Pokemon Go players to encourage them to eat at the bar or the restaurant, or even to use the spa.

What's the takeaway?

Pokemon Go players are on foot, moving around the real world - not only living out nostalgia, but actively creating memories. In these early stages, Pokemon Go is reveling in being inclusive and in bringing people together. This is a powerful bandwagon to be on because these players are predisposed to engage, and to do so with a certain sense of whimsy. For anyone who walks onto your property - whether current guest or potential guest - you have a powerful chance to create a positive, welcoming, engaging experience that will help build brand loyalty among a powerful demographic, a connection that will last into the months and years ahead.

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