New Service Model


Hospitality could well be the last frontier for self-service, although at its current rate of growth that may not last long. Many hotels have already made major commitments to adding self-service options to guests and while restaurants are slower to adopt self-service, the growing number of small roll out and pilot tests suggests that the industry is becoming more comfortable with the technology.

To understand the growth and role of self-service in the hospitality industry, this special report examines the development of self-service for hotels and restaurants. This article, focused on check-in and check-out kiosks, will be followed by a second article in the March issue of Hospitality Technology on self-service applications in the restaurant industry.

Virtual concierge
Self-service check-in kiosks will soon be a standard component of many hotel lobbies as hotels extend their self-service success to transform guests' phones, handhelds, and TV screens into interactive devices able to access information, bookings, and services both before and during their hotel stay. Biometric guest room entry and advance room assignments are also in the works.

The industry's biggest players, Marriott and Hilton, are moving beyond early adoption to deploy self-check-in kiosks in every one of their properties during 2006. Kiosks are now sought out by many guests--particularly business and rewards customers--to speed them to their rooms upon arrival.
"The airlines have done a great job of training our guests for us," says Barry Schuler, senior vice president, IT strategy, for Marriott. "Guests want more and more to do things on their own, and this will continue into the future."

The company is reengineering its entire public spaces in its hotels over the next five years to provide more self-service opportunities for those who want it, according to Schuler.

Plans include interactive signage that guests can touch or speak to in order get conference room numbers and as a way of finding assistance. In-room TVs allow guests to order services and interact with staff.

Room locks are being designed to open in reaction to guests' handheld devices, and software to enable guests to fully describe lost items and then automatically match the description with those in the lost and found system are also in the works. Marriott has began piloting advanced automated room service ordering from guests' handhelds and devices in public spaces, including bar ordering and pre-ordering meals at check-in. Offers for using awards points are alerted on the handhelds, melding the online and offline experience. will soon have a home page tailored for in-room vs. home use with strategic content for each location, and a virtual concierge service for guests to interact with the hotel and access dynamic content on the weather, amenities, local events and bookings prior to arrival.

Marriott is sending pre-arrival emails and e-mail confirmations to 40 million guests with a welcome message and personal identification number (PIN) to use at the kiosk or key dispenser upon arrival. They can access their folio online anytime after check out to speed expense claims. "Our goal is a self-service experience where guests can contact a human being when they want, who's privy to what's happened right up to that point," explains Mike Keppler, Marriott's vice president of sales, marketing, and revenue management systems. "That's very difficult to do, technologically, but Gen Xers and Ys will demand seamless mobility anywhere, anytime, even in motion."

Testing the waters
Marriott first deployed kiosks in the early 1990s to automate their First Ten [minutes] program to fast track guests to their rooms, but found that usage and technology weren't where it needed to be. They piloted the current deployment of IBM ( kiosks two years ago, which connect wirelessly to their Micros ( property-management system, and plan to complete the rollout to all North American properties and across the globe this year.

"In our experience, what seems intuitive often is not, and must always be tested with live guests. Always get a working, evolutionary prototype into properties to check guest reactions," advises Keppler. "Our awards members are also helping with design--they love being asked. The kiosk was almost a poster child for proofs of concept through to production, though we did have a few middleware glitches with the handhelds."
In its last pilot at the Marriott Marquis in New York, Marriott observed children touching the screens and moving on, and adjusted the attract loop to come back more quickly whenever that happened. They also compiled both guest and group meeting planner reactions to the pilots and proofs of concept.

"With the first three kiosk pilots, they didn't really care or want it; with the fourth, they did," Keppler says. "In hindsight, we would have gotten quicker funding from our franchisees." In the future, he predicts more travel integration like air and car packaging with hotel rooms, which they offer now. "What concerns me is the notion of the proliferation of devices owned by our guests. We need to be able to react very quickly when new products come on the market, because we want to be able to develop functionality for them."

New philosophy
Hilton Hotels has its own thinking on self-service according to Tom Spitler, vice president for front office operations and systems. "Convenience, choice, and control is our mantra, providing easy options for our guests to choose their own interactions. Innovation is now a requirement in every industry." Hilton is beta testing keyless room entry using biometrics in several locations, according to Spitler, and planning for RFID and Bluetooth phone interactivity.

"Everything we buy now is upgradeable to biometrics or wireless technology. In five years, we'll have graphical 3-D representations of properties to book a specific room six months out," Spitler predicts. "You could touch a room in a hallway [just like plane seat selection] to see the room and its actual view, and select amenities, even the art in a room." He also sees room selection and reservation occurring at the time of sale within the next five years.

Hilton is offering airline check-in and boarding passes from its hotel kiosks in the first quarter of 2006, and including room service express orders with menu items on the kiosks. "This could be tailored to our Honors members, whose tastes we know from their customer profile," Spitler explains. "They could check in and have their meal arrive in their rooms as quickly as they do. We're also addressing the information deficit for travelers with local information like the local channel number for CNN, where Kinko's is, traffic problems, etc." Hilton assigns one Kiosk Service Agent (KSA) to every three to five kiosks to guide first-time users, and intends to keep that going. "I would mandate them," he says. "Guests can select Ã.‚¬Ëœhigh tech' or Ã.‚¬Ëœhigh touch' service. Unfortunately, for cost cutting, hotels are very prone to pulling that person back behind the front desk."

The company first dabbled in self-service with Project Condor in 1997, a collaboration with IBM and American Express to put smart card kiosks into 12 airport Hilton hotels. "Guest utilization was not what it needed to be, and there were reliability issues with the key encoder," explains Spitler. "You really only get one chance to make a first impression. Every guest must be 100 percent successful at the check-in kiosk. Defining success with the kiosk in terms of uptime/availability and the percentage of guests using it, our usage shows it's now good enough." The current IBM self- check-in kiosks have been rolling out according to plan since late summer 2003, with the additional applications mentioned above coming in early 2006.

Like Marriott, Hilton sees online check-in as an integral part of their self-service strategy. "With e-Check- in, guests do the negotiation at their own desk, including room selection one day in advance, and receive their room number prior to arrival. They can then access their key at the kiosk or the front desk." E-mail surveys have confirmed the kiosks' success, as guests praise the speed, efficiency, and convenience of self-service check-in says Spitler. n

The conclusion of the self-service special report, "New Service Model, Part II" will be published in the March 2006 issue of HT. For data on self-service download "Self-Service Takes Off," at

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