As guests return to hotels, their check-in experience may be quite different from the last time they visited a hotel 18-24 months ago. Hoteliers have been investing in a multitude of technologies both for the safety and convenience of their guests and staff. Some may wonder, will this flood of new technology prompt guests to yearn for the ‘good old days’ or will the new experience bring delightful sighs of relief from tired and stressed travelers? Branigan Mulcahy, co-founder, Virdee believes that when done correctly, guests will be thoroughly impressed and happy with a truly omnichannel guest experience. To learn more about this and what lessons hotels have (hopefully) learned, we asked Mulcahy a few questions.
How is the post-pandemic check-in experience different from pre-pandemic times?
We’re now deep into the self-service culture, where people are used to completing tasks on their own. Consumers today are just more comfortable using technology to assist them in tasks, rather than relying on other people.
At the same time, the human element is still important because there can be a level of tech fatigue when people have been on Zoom calls all day. However, human interaction needs to be meaningful. Waiting in line at the front desk, and then idling while a front-desk agent punches in numbers on a computer before handing over a room key isn’t truly a hospitality touchpoint. It’s a pain point. That’s why it’s imperative that hotels have the right tech in place so that they can be freed from those manual, mundane tasks and instead focus on the human interactions that count—things like greeting the guest or walking them through the check-in process, if needed. Hoteliers can let the technology handle all that tasks that can be automated so they can focus on providing hospitality and building guest relationships. And that’s really what the pandemic taught us: This need for a true omnichannel guest experience. You have to balance the human element with the digital in order to provide the best guest experience by removing as many pain points as possible to focus on the touchpoints that matter most.
What technologies do guests want when it comes to checking-in?
Convenience has never been more important than it is today. Again, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Smart hoteliers will offer several options in order to provide a true omnichannel experience that meets guests’ needs on their own terms. So, if a guest isn’t smartphone-savvy, there’s an option to check in at a kiosk that provides a seamless experience, for instance.
The airline industry did this over a decade ago; you check in on your phone or at a kiosk and go to the Clear line, where an ambassador waits. Hotels should recreate that experience, with the front-desk team acting as ambassadors who add a truly unique personal touch.
There is a growing segment of guests who want to be able to do everything seamlessly on their phones. They don’t want to have to download five different apps to check in, pay, and everything in between. Therefore, we’ll start to see a lot more integration with things like Apple Wallet moving forward.
What does a seamless check-in experience mean on the backend for hotel staff and customer-facing for guests?
For hotel staff, security is a big issue. Hoteliers may ask, “How do I know the person who just used self check-in is the person who booked the room?” It’s a great question. A smart tech solution will be able to do all the work so that hoteliers can have peace of mind. For example, a check-in kiosk should have the ability to verify identity by scanning an ID and also using facial recognition technology. The tech should allow hoteliers to know that if they decided to completely remove the front desk, the check-in process would still work securely for 100% of guests.
There’s also fear if everything is automated that we’ll lose out on the human connection, but it’s important to remember that technology isn’t replacing humans. Rather, it’s enhancing how humans do their jobs so that hotels can operate more efficiently and effectively. Smart tech is an investment in the guest experience. Think of it this way: When innkeeping first started out, guests were checked in via pencil and paper and room keys hung behind the front desk. When the PMS came around, no one was worried that people were being taken out of the hospitality equation. It’s the same concept. People aren’t going away—it’s hospitality, after all; we need people—but the way in which they work is being improved.
For limited service or extended stay hotels that may have limited staffing hours, these operators can introduce the concept of a remote agent, someone staffed in a central location that can offer 24/7 personal connections via “Facetime-style” communication.
Can contactless still be personal?
Absolutely! When your front-desk team doesn’t need to focus on the tasks that can be successfully automated, they can turn their attention to providing a great guest experience. As ambassadors, they can add value to the experience. If a front-desk agent only has five minutes to spend with a guest upon arrival, are those minutes better spent typing on a computer while a guest stands and waits for a room key? Or, is time better spent building a relationship with a guest by offering a local restaurant suggestion? Contactless doesn’t mean we lose the human connection; we enhance it.
How is the front desk job evolving?
The front-desk job is evolving to become more of a personal relationship builder instead of a transactional role. And that’s a good thing! Human interaction is an important hospitality touchpoint, and a necessary one in a true omnichannel guest experience. But that interaction needs to be meaningful to make it really count. It’s all about meeting guests where they want in their journey. Good tech does the heavy lifting so that hoteliers can focus on what matters most: providing exceptional guest experiences.