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Are Smartphones Winning the Hotel Check-In Debate?

No one enjoys standing in a line. Regardless of the place or the tradition of service, we have opted to go online for banking, shopping and even shipping packages. The grocery store still has time-consuming check-out lines, however there are now home delivery options and soon there will be “an app for that” if there isn’t already.
Today the great debate in the hospitality industry is how to speed up the “check-in” and “check-out” processes and whether that can be managed through an app or a kiosk. We have looked at kiosks and there are mixed reviews. Every traveler is slightly different and the flexibility to make changes at a kiosk is limited compared to what can be handled by the front desk staff. These devices are also expensive and the upgrades needed to keep up with the competition offer many challenges. The bottom line will always be “is it essential and satisfactory for the guest.” Perhaps someday the check-in process can be streamlined by an app that interfaces with a scanner and verifies the guest’s identity, allowing them check-in with an eWallet before they arrive at the hotel. Maybe the key and welcome packet will be waiting for the guest at the front desk and all they have to do is provide the clerk with their registration code.
Frankly, smartphone apps provide a great opportunity with tremendous potential. Apps are here to stay and they will continue to grow both in numbers and sophistication because they give consumers instant access to information, and they are a new way for businesses to market their products. Have you had a chance to scan barcodes and immediately learn not only where you can buy the product, but get a comparison price? Or, have you ever used an app to check if your flight is going to be on time?  
Apps are important links to customer service and support as well. Independent merchants as well as large chain retailers, hotels and restaurants are investing heavily in their development. This is all in the interest of making it easier for prospective customers to do business with them. Now, with a GPS enabled device you can not only locate what’s available in the local area, but also get driving or walking directions and even make a reservation. These apps are very interactive and must be intuitive with highly professional GUI interfaces.
Skipping the front desk
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is always looking for ways to improve the guest check-in experience, whether it’s a kiosk or an app, and we’re determined to find out what it is. For example, we recently piloted a real world application of OpenWays at two hotels, the hospitality industry's first mobile-based front desk bypass solution, which we are calling mobile room key. The purpose of the pilot was to test the OpenWays technology and see if it effectively provides our guests with check-in options. Guests choose whether they want to go right to their hotel room upon arrival by using their cell phone to open the door or check-in at the front desk and get a standard room key. Here's how it works: The guest makes a hotel reservation by phone or online and provides their phone number. A text message is sent with the room number and phone number to dial to the guest’s phone. Upon arrival, instead of stopping at the hotel front desk, the guest proceeds directly to the room door and calls the special toll-free number included in the text message. When it answers, it recognizes and validates the guest’s number, and responds with a tone. The tone sounds; the guest places the phone near the door lock; and it opens. This is not currently an app-based technology, but maybe someday it will be. The technology will be tested at more hotels in the second half of 2011
This pilot and others are part of the ongoing work we do to look at future technologies, and understand what our guests want now and will want in the future. This helps our owners get the most out of their investment in an IHG brand.
We understand that guests today come from a business and lifestyle that demands things be simple, efficient and ubiquitous with no training needed. The winners in our industry will be those who instead of improving things as they go, proactively and effectively test new technologies to determine if they offer an innovative, useful solution for our guests before they are rolled out to hotels globally. That is the best way to ensure we’re providing a solution that’s effective for our guests, and a solution that’s a good investment for our hoteliers.
Gustaaf Schrils is the vice president, global technology, the Americas for the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). In his role, Schrils leads the information technology team responsible for the design, implementation, training, integration and support of corporate and hotel based technologies geared toward improving profitability, productivity and ease-of-use. His team is responsible for the day-to-day technology operations for over 3,400 hotels in the Americas.
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