Now is the Time for Hotel Self Check-In

21 July 2020

By Dave DERBY – Business Development Director – AURES UK

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, frictionless check-in was the long-held ambition of many hotel operators. Now, as hotels open their doors again post-lockdown, the need to minimise contact between guests and staff as part of health and safety protocols may have made it a top priority.

What do we mean by ‘frictionless’ check-in? The best way to explain it is to consider the potential causes of friction at check-in, from a customer’s perspective. These include long queues before guests are seen by a receptionist, then having to fill in paperwork to confirm their booking and get their keys, even though they have already provided all their details online.

Hoteliers know this annoys guests. After a long journey, all anyone wants to do on arrival is get to their room. Long waits in the lobby damage the customer experience.

The root cause of this friction traditionally at check-in is the need for every guest to be manually signed in and have their documents checked by a member of staff. Typically, a hotel might only have two or three receptionists working at any one time. For most operators, it would just not be cost effective to have any more staff on. Even if it was, you have to then think about limitations of available desk space, EPOS terminals, card payment machines and so on.

When a whole coach load of guests arrives at once, this causes a serious logistical issue in the lobby. If every party has to fill in paperwork, complete payment and, as is common overseas, have their passport and other documents scanned, there is no way around the fact that it will take a considerable amount of time.

Not that long ago, this was unavoidable. People were more prepared to put up with such waits because they didn’t know any different. But in the digital age of instant access to online goods and services, tolerance of such things has diminished. When you can find, reserve and pay for a hotel room in a matter of minutes, few people are prepared to accept that it should take longer to get the key to their room once they arrive.

Self-service solution

The most obvious available solution to delivering frictionless check-in is self-service kiosks. Just as the retail and restaurant sectors are starting to reap the benefits of self-check-out (i.e. paying for goods without the help of a sales assistant at kiosks), so hotels have the chance to cut queues and provide a smoother, faster customer experience with self check-in.

For hoteliers, a key question will of course be whether the technology is up to scratch. Can a kiosk perform enough functions at a high enough level of reliability to really add value to the customer experience?

The key to getting the most from kiosks is to recognise that they have to be carefully customised to suit every use case – and that’s where a specialist like AURES comes in. A retail self-service checkout is very different to the kind of ordering and payment solution you would find in a fast food restaurant, and both are different to what is required in a hotel lobby.

For example, although not so much of an issue in the UK, in many countries’ hotel operators are obliged to scan and keep a record of all guests’ passports. A self check-in kiosk needs this to be built into it, requiring special components. This is perfectly possible, but the point is that the range of functions required to provide a smooth, seamless check-in experience needs to be considered carefully.

Software also plays a critical role in delivering a valuable experience, and this is where check-in kiosks can really help to connect with people’s digital expectations. As the majority of bookings are now made online, there really is no need to complete forms or register customer details again once they arrive. All of that data already exists. With software that connects to the online booking portal, all you need is a booking reference to confirm and complete. And that, with a kiosk, is something people can do for themselves.

And that brings us to another point about self check-in. Deploying self-service kiosks around a hotel lobby is about more than easing the burden on reception staff and getting guests into their rooms faster. It is also about handing more control to the customer. Kiosks should be seen as complementing, not replacing staff. The reception desk and concierge will still be there to answer any queries a guest might have or help them with additional requests, but if someone would prefer not to wait in line to speak to a member of staff – a kiosk provides that option.

As we started out by saying, in addition to all of these benefits, the rules of the ‘new normal’ post-COVID-19 add a further powerful incentive for hotels to adopt self check-in. With the introduction of safe practises and innovations such as the UV-CLEAN solution, it may no longer be a case of whether the sector is ready for the innovation – it might be a question of how soon operators can adopt it.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you wish additional information on the above subjects.