By Anna Gouldman
When I arrive at a hotel after a long flight, usually feeling like a zombie that’s just landed from Mars, desperate to unpack and re-arrange my dishevelled hair, the last thing I want to do is queue up, only to hang around a reception desk and make polite conversation with the receptionist while he painstakingly checks my credentials, before checking me into my room. Now my dreams of walking into a hotel and straight to my room are fast becoming reality as the option to check in electronically and seamlessly looks set to spread throughout the industry.
Electronic check-in kiosks are the latest technology to hit the lobbies of upscale hotel chains in North America, following their rapid spread in the airline industry. The adoption of this time-saving technology, which enables customers to check themselves in and out of hotels in under a minute, is especially valued by the business traveller.Following extensive customer research, Hilton, Hyatt and Sheraton have all announced plans to deploy these services in the next few months.
Hilton will deploy 100 IBM designed kiosks in 45 of its North American properties during the remainder of 2004. This follows successful trials at two of its biggest properties in Chicago and New York. Meanwhile Hyatt is planning to begin testing kiosks at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago and Grand Hyatt in New York. Sheraton introduced their speed check machines earlier this year.
In order to check-in electronically, guests insert a credit card into the kiosk and enter their membership number or reservation confirmation number. The reservation details are displayed and the kiosk selects a room and dispenses a key. Finally a welcome document is printed. All this takes less than 60 seconds.
If the guest’s room isn’t ready, the kiosk will confirm the reservation details and describe up to eight alternatives to meet the guest’s requirements.
Whilst Kiosk functionality does vary, most machines currently have the ability to email guests a copy of their folio, convey any targeted CRM messages to repeat customers and offer room changes, room upgrades, and such services as parking or bundled telephone and High Speed Internet packages.
All of the hotels that Internet Travel News spoke to emphasised the fact that the intention is not to replace personalised services, which are still available at the front desk, but to offer more choice. They name speed and efficiency as key benefits overall.
Robert Machen, Vice President, Customer Facing Technology, Hilton Corp said that Hilton is implementing these machines as part of their customer orientated focus: “Our research tells us that waiting in a line at check-in, regardless of the length, is not acceptable to our guests. Self-service in many industries has become an attractive alternative to a segment of our customers”.
Hotels with electronic check-in kiosks are reporting approximately 10-15% of guests currently use the check-in facility - most of these are business travellers.
This number is expected to grow in the next few months as customers become more familiar with the service. Thomas Spitler, Vice President, Front Office Operations & Systems, IBM told Internet Travel News: “Our research of the airline industry’s success with self-service, as well as the results surveys of our own customers who have used our kiosks in New York and Chicago is overwhelmingly positive. On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 high, our guests are signalling a very high intent to use the kiosk again 6.3 and satisfaction with the experience 6.4”.
Self-service is now one of the top amenities that travellers are demanding from their hotel stay, but this was not always the case. Hilton piloted an unsuccessful self-service check-in program in 1996-97 and the service flopped. Attributing this to bad timing, Machen told Internet Travel News: “We believe that we were simply ahead of our time. Seven years later, the world is a very different place. Customers’ expectations have been changed by the airlines”.
It was the low cost airlines who conditioned many customers to book travel online. Once again, it is the airlines that have conditioned business travellers to be comfortable with self-service.
Rod Mano, Senior Director, Property Technology Applications, Starwood commented: “The use of kiosks is definitely growing, and we expect it to grow as rapidly as it did in the airline industry”.
Spitler believes that electronic self-service kiosks, still in their infancy, could become as mainstream as the internet. He commented: “I think you are already seeing the very early stages of such a proliferation. Through personal observations, I know of kiosk usage throughout the financial, travel and retail sectors. Through research, we are also aware of kiosk trials in fast food and other service industries. It’s really up to how well the kiosk can improve a consumer’s interaction with a business”.
Later this year, look out for hotel kiosk enhancements such as web-based check-in and
Integration with airline check-in and boarding pass printing.
In the age of the internet, one of the greatest benefits that technology has brought us is the ability to be self-sufficient and more productive. The concept of the electronic check-in should make life quicker and easier, with the option to walk into a hotel and know that within minutes you can be in your room. Now that’s what I call service with a smile…only this time it’s the customer that’s smiling!