Marc Lewis was in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas last year, looking around at all the people nearby, when a light bulb went off. It would be easy, he realized, to connect with like-minded travelers if he could virtually “check in” at the hotel, letting others know he was there.

The next day, Lewis got to work. As the founder of Social Media 180, among other companies, he was already well equipped to develop a way for travelers to connect, since Social Media 180 specializes in developing social media campaigns and websites.

That October, the HelloTel app launched in the Apple App Store; a month later, it became available for Android. The company  introduced an Apple Watch version, and the app itself was updated with new designs.

The concept is simple: The app creates a social network for travelers where they can check in at a hotel, see others nearby and interact with them by offering “kudos” to their posts, commenting on their status updates or even sending private messages.

It offers an easy way for anyone who is comfortable with social media to find someone with whom to have a drink or dinner. But the platform that powers it, ProximiTel, is more complex; it offers hotels and retail businesses the opportunity to gain access to demographic data from HelloTel check-ins, and even the ability to send push notifications to app users.

Travelers who download the app sign into it using either Facebook or LinkedIn, giving them the option to use it for social or business networking.

Originally, Lewis said, the app was meant expressly for business users. But when it appeared in the app store, an initial wave of publicity highlighted the social aspect. The Huffington Post even called it “Tinder, but for hotels,” referencing the popular dating app that lets users quickly cycle through potential matches.

Today, the app is split 50/50 between business and social users, though Lewis said HelloTel is refocusing on the app’s business uses. According to Sean Murphy, head of public relations, HelloTel is approaching 200,000 users.

All those users could provide a lot of data to hotels that sign up via ProximiTel, which offers them some demographic data free simply by registering; there are also paid subscriptions that offer more. Lewis said the data can be used for targeted marketing campaigns, analytical purposes and more. While users must agree to provide personal data to use the app, it does not identify them by name.

Now, hotels can also purchase iBeacon technology, physical devices that Lewis said are about the size of a quarter and can send location-based push notifications to

HelloTel users. The hotelier can place the iBeacons in strategic foot-traffic locations where they identify and communicate with any passing user of the app.

Those communications can range widely in complexity. A simple example, Lewis said, might involve a person walking past a hotel’s front door getting a notification to sign up for the hotel’s email alerts in return for a discount on a dinner at the hotel’s restaurant that night.

On the more complex side, he said a beacon placed at a shop’s window could identify a HelloTel user who has stopped and looked at an item for a predetermined length of time that would categorize them as a “window shopper.” The beacon might not send out a notification at that time, but the person would be identified; that information could then be used to generate a sponsored Facebook post appearing in their feed, offering a certain percentage off the items  they were window-shopping for.

The technology is still growing, and Lewis said he expected to make more announcements about HelloTel and ProximiTel later this year.

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