Why Hotels Have Struggled to Offer Guests a Frictionless, Contactless Experience
Before COVID-19 hit, the lodging industry was beginning to recognize the power of technology in creating a smart, contactless experience for guests. Tech adoption has grown steadily but it has been hard to standardize hotel processes globally. For example, no single technology has emerged as the golden ticket to unlocking the check-in experience. To say that this is a difficult problem to solve would be to underestimate the complexity of hotel operations, the booking and the check-in processes.
In this changed world we are all realizing that tech is not just a nice addition to a hotel’s customer offering, it’s an essential component for the future of this industry. Without tech, we can’t move forward. As people travel, book hotels and eat out once more, they need reassurance that their experience will be safe. It’s clear that tech solutions will be at the heart of this recovery process.
Over the past five years there has been a huge change in terms of people using their phones for every type of activity. Food delivery, calling a car, reserving a table at a restaurant and checking into a flight. However, a frictionless hotel self check-in process that really works, removing the front desk, has alluded many. This area has become even more significant as hotels look at ways to renew guest confidence. Now more than ever, with the fear of contracting COVID, guests want to access their room on their own, avoiding touch points.
Whilst smartphone adoption continues to grow, usage at a highly technical level for most of the population has not. Most people use social media and a few other key functions but a deep understanding of QR codes, BLE, RFID, and NFC isn’t in the vocabulary nor skill set of most guests, which has an impact on user experience.
A few years ago the first attempts at self check-in were largely done with a kiosk. It made sense because you could just turn the front desk around, offer the same payment gateway, scan for ID and get the user to put in their own credit card details onsite (as before). The next phase was to ask guests to use a QR code to retrieve their keycard. Unfortunately, there was just so much that could go wrong with this system. Think about how much training it takes to implement these procedures and then this responsibility goes into the hands of a guest - it’s easy to see the flaws of this option. Personally, I’m still struggling to manage and scan QR codes via my phone. This system is also not ideal in today’s environment because it’s not contactless, since many guests need to touch the screen.
The second version of self check-in implemented by some hotels was with NFC and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) apps. With a payment processor upgrade the guest could pay online ahead of time. That’s certainly an improvement, but if you are a hotelier in Spain or Italy, where you need to scan a passport, the guest still needs to come to the front desk. Using apps that you are not used to can be complex. Logging reservation info, putting the phone to the door (the mobile key “wakes up” the lock) isn’t always intuitive.
However, in order to do contactless check-in really well and achieve more than 10% adoption from guests (that’s the rough estimate of people who can use the apps and kiosks without help), the best option is to integrate the process into your entire tech stack. Modern payment processors like Stripe and others collect payment details online which also allow chargebacks if necessary. If you are in a country with tight restrictions you’ll need something like ChekIn or CheckInScan. Once payment is collected and the guest’s identity verified, they can go to their room simply with a keycode. Guests can use their phone to unlock the door, or, more easily, use a simple keycode, like getting cash from an ATM. Operto has been solving this part of the process with unique codes for some time now.
The point is that it takes a great deal of thought to do contactless check-in well. It needs to be done thoughtfully and carefully over the entire booking period and the process needs to start far in advance of the guest arriving in the lobby. Payment and identity verification should be completed a minimum of 24 hours (there is likely no maximum) before a guest arrives. Good communication ensures guests know that all they need to do, once they arrive at the hotel, is walk to their room.
The Annex, a boutique hotel in downtown Toronto, has been refining this process through tech innovation. Their goal, way before COVID-19, was to improve the system so that everyone checked in before they even arrived. The concept was to allow a guest to go directly to their room. No front desk and no collecting keys from the bar or restaurant. This switch to completely remote check-in and keyless entry has been made possible mainly because of their modern credit card payments, open APIs from more sophisticated modern property management systems and suitable locks (we used these from Yale). Any questions from guests can be answered at the coffee station or bar.
The biggest task facing hotels that want to get up to speed with the check-in process is to create the most accessible (for all ages) and frictionless (fewest steps) experience possible. In order to achieve this, working with a single software expert isn’t an option as the complexity of the modern world increases. A strong understanding of both the interconnectedness of software as well as the guest experience is essential to creating a frictionless, contactless check-in. That’s today’s ‘new normal’.
About Michael Driedger
Michael is the co-founder and CEO of Operto Guest Technologies, a property automation system that provides intelligent control of smart home/IoT devices at scale. Operto improves guest experience and operational efficiency for hotels, vacation rentals and serviced apartments. Prior to founding Operto in 2016, Michael had more than two decades of experience in architecture, building design, and construction and has a passion for energy efficiency, sustainability, and intelligent systems that are designed to improve our overall quality of life. www.operto.com