Could Vision AI Usher in a Return to Luxury?
This past year restored hope to the hospitality industry as consumers booked bucket-list trips to previously closed destinations, splurged on “revenge travel” to warm-weather islands and prioritized travel to big cities. As the pandemic eased, people felt more comfortable booking in advance, being on planes, and staying in hotels, leading to a record number of travelers hitting airports, resorts, and tourist destinations at a time of intense staffing shortages. Given the surge and the strain on resources, many are turning to vision AI to streamline the customer journey through US airports and in some cases, hotel check-ins.
This past year, 16 major domestic airports began testing facial recognition technology to verify identification, with plans to go nationwide in 2023. Prior to the pandemic, in 2018, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency began ramping up its own Simplified Arrival program using facial recognition to compare a picture taken in-person at airport immigration or another checkpoint to the traveler’s passport, moving people through customs much faster.
It's not just government agencies; Delta airlines branded its passenger experience technologies as Delta Sync, which includes face biometrics for the check-in processes, bag drops, security and boarding. Despite this, there seems to be a lasting perception among business leaders that people aren’t ready for facial recognition technology. The research proves otherwise, suggesting a significant amount of people are open to using biometrics if it results in a better, more convenient hospitality experience.
- 63% of hoteliers see biometrics as an emerging technology with moderator to major potential, according to HT's 2023 Lodging Technology Study
According to a recent report, roughly four in 10 Americans use face biometrics with at least one mobile app on a daily basis. For 18- 34-year-old, the adoption is closer to 75%. When it comes to travel, 54% said they would be willing to adopt facial recognition if it better protected their data, personal information and assets while 42% said they would consider it if it reduced time spent waiting in line.
Consumer openness to facial recognition is heavily predicated on it being safer and more convenient. For restaurants and hotels, this means automating processes that previously would have required human resources, thereby allowing those employees to focus on customer engagement. If the person working at hotel check-in, for example, can serve as solely a greeter rather than a stressed-out employee wrangling booking systems, key cards and emergencies while trying to also welcome guests, hotels can get back to a level of hospitality that hints at golden-age luxury without raising costs.
- 73% of respondents are likely to return to a hotel that offers technology features they consider important, according to HT's 2022 Customer Engagement Technology Study
Cruises highlight the use of facial recognition as simple and accurate. While the cruise market recovered to levels last seen in 2006, many ships incorporated facial recognition to streamline passenger embarking and debarking, verifying the traveler’s identity within two seconds with 98% accuracy. Since the initial years of implementation, the technology has improved in anti-bias as well as anti-spoofing capabilities, making visual AI ideal for these situations. All those customers who would have been standing on the dock, in a line, waiting to board are instead easily accounted for and allowed to get back to their vacation. Not only that, but cruise-goers feel secure in the knowledge that all (and only) the people who are a part of their boat have made it back safely. The captain can set sail yet again.
Restaurant and hotel operators are trying to save money wherever they can, cutting services and sometimes raising prices to accommodate inflation. By automating jobs where possible, vision AI technology enables employees to focus on guest satisfaction and retention more often.
Consumers understand that using biometric identification at a time when they would normally be presenting all their information anyway, makes sense. However, industry leaders should be warned there are very few laws to protect user privacy. Regulation is coming, but in the meantime, guests must have a way of knowing they’re protected. Technology that doesn’t store data or is securely encrypted is crucial. It should also meet National Institute of Standards and Technology benchmarks and allow people to opt out. Facial recognition should never be used without consent. Capturing someone’s face “in the wild” when that person has not presented their face to be captured can erode consumer trust. It’s also more likely to be poorly lit, inaccurate, and confusing. Facial recognition with consent is the only way to do facial recognition correctly.
You may think from previous examples that many guests will opt out but give them time. After integrating facial recognition at all key entry points for a large office, we found, given the option, guests initially preferred to use a card instead of a face, with only one in 10 opting into facial recognition that first week. After just two weeks, 90% of employees used facial recognition and only one in 10 used their cards – an impressive shift in behavior! Not only was the process of office entry made easier, but it’s safer. Employees can easily lose cards and bad actors can easily take them, but a face is much harder to steal, if it’s possible at all. Similarly, travelers will come to love their improved experiences at restaurants and hotels just as they’ll prefer the security of facial recognition over other forms of identification.
About the Author
Terry Schulenburg is a Vice President at CyberLink. Terry’s 35+ years of experience in the technology space include roles at Blackboard, Genetec, Apple and more.