One of the things we’ve seen come out of the pandemic is increased queues and wait times to check-in at reception. This is due to two main factors;
- More “staycation guests” and they tend to check in at the earliest advertised check-in time. As a result of the change in business and check-in patterns, some hotels now have Las Vegas-style queues to check-in. Many guests are writing about wait times of 1-hour or more on Tripadvisor. Not a great start to a stay and very frustrating for both guests and staff.
- Staff shortages – we simply do not have the staffing levels needed to ensure guests are not queuing at reception.
In this article I will look at a couple of options to address the issue:
- Pre-arrival or Contactless Check-in – allows the guests to complete the check-in process on their own smartphone or computer even before they arrive at your hotel.
- Kiosks – are digital touchscreens which allow guests to complete check-in themselves instead of relying on your front desk team. An investment in hardware is required and the setup/installation normally takes around 3 months.
- Mobile Key – also known as a digital key, allows guests to unlock a door using their smartphone. This currently requires an app on the guest’s device and your hotel must have compatible door locks.
Pre-Arrival Check-In (Mobile Check-In)
In my mind, this is the best first step. It’s cost-effective and very quick to implement.
Applying the 80/20 rule pre-arrival check-in will give you 80% of the benefit with 20% of the effort.
There are no capital costs as there is no equipment. They are normally Software as a Service (Saas) solutions. Most importantly it does not require the guest to download an app.
Convenience for Your Guests – Upsell fou You
The guest simply gets sent an email or an SMS, normally 24 hours before arrival inviting them to check-in. The guest opens the link and goes through the check-in process. This should only take them a couple of minutes. Everything they would normally do at the time of check-in can be done in advance. They can provide a photo ID if required, credit card details and sign the digital registration card.
These solutions can also offer the guest upsells. It might be a room upgrade, an early check-in or a bottle of wine with chocolate-coated strawberries in the room. The upsells generally pay for the cost of the solution many times over. As an extra bonus, you have the labour savings as pre-arrival check-in can help reduce the front desk workload by 20-50%.
In summary, all of the “paperwork” that would normally be done during the check-in is handled before the guest arrives at your hotel. When they arrive, they simply need to go to the front desk and collect a key. Key card dispensers are now also available which can streamline key collection. Pre-arrival check-in can reduce the contact time at the front desk from five minutes to less than a minute.
High Touch Service – Is it needed?
Some hoteliers are concerned that reduced contact is a bad thing as we need to be high touch and I couldn’t agree more – we are a people business. I see contactless check-in as enabling high touch as the staff can focus on welcoming the person instead of the admin associated with checking their credit card details. In addition, my belief is that we should allow the guest to choose. If the guest wants to check-in via the traditional manner they can. The fact that 71% of the guests would prefer to use contactless check-in speaks volumes.
71% of Hotel Guests want Contacless Check-In
I don’t always like using other industries as an example, but I think the airline industry has shown us that checking into the flight before you get to the airport works. The numbers confirm this with approximately73% of passengers using this technology to check-in rather than queuing at the counter.
For the guest/passenger, it’s a matter of convenience. If you make it simple and convenient for them then they will use it.
The other option is a kiosk which, when you think about it is like ATMs or the Self Check-out machines that were introduced by Banks and Supermarkets many years ago. Kiosks can certainly help from a staffing point of view. However, kiosks can require a substantial investment. The implementation time for a kiosk is normally around three months. There are interfaces required for the property management system, the payment gateway and your door locking system.
Above and beyond the cost, a kiosk literally transfers the queue from the reception desk to the kiosk. The idea is that it will reduce wait times because it will be more efficient. The biggest advantage is that you need less staff because you simply have ambassadors helping guests check-in rather than them actually checking them in.
I highly recommend that you have ambassadors assisting guests because they will play an integral part in the guest’s experience. Hotel groups such as CitizenM have perfected the kiosk model over the last 10 years and this is what they have found works best.
A number of hoteliers think the mobile key is the holy grail and that once it’s implemented, it will solve all the problems. Guests will be able to check-in, get the key on their phone and bypass reception completely. Many believe that there will no longer be the need for the reception desk. I don’t believe this will ever be the case as the front desk can offer a personalised choice to guests looking for that little extra which will enhance their stay. We are a people business and we need to offer guests a choice. The format of the reception desk will change over time, but the personal touch will always be required.
Are We There Yet?
Mobile key is a technology we have been playing with now for at least 10 years. But we are not there yet. (See Technology Concierge interview with Daryl Brett from Vintech). Up until now, we have been working on a technology called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and a lot of door locks are fitted with that technology. As of December 2021, Apple and Hyatt are testing a different technology called Near Field Communication (NFC) the same technology that is used for tap-to-pay.
VHS or Beta?
Right now we are at a VHS Vs Betamax moment and we are yet to see which technology will win out. One of the biggest limitations of the current BLE technology is that the guest needs to download an app to their phone to be able to take advantage of mobile key and this is not a popular thing just to stay at a hotel for the weekend. With NFC that goes away. The key will be downloaded to your Apple wallet or presumably your Android wallet.
So how much does an Apple cost?
The Apple trial is a step in the right direction. At this point, however, we don’t have a solution for Android, so we’re only catering to 50% of the market. The other issue that is still yet to be resolved is the business model. What is Apple going to charge? Is a hotel going to be charged a fee every time the door is opened or will it be a fee per room per month? I think we’re still a couple of years away at best before mobile key will really come into play.
There are also CAPEX costs involved with the implementation of mobile key. Many hotels have older locks which do not support either technology which means they will need to be completely replaced. And if you have BLE locks, you’ll need to get them upgraded to support NFC.
In my mind, mobile key is a good long-term solution. It will be something that your corporate guests will be looking for. They know your property well, are time-poor and would love the ability to bypass check-in & the reception desk and the need to collect a key and go straight to the room. Kiosks are a good secondary solution. They allow guests who are not regular guests with you and may have booked through an OTA to actually check-in efficiently. You can streamline check-in and certainly reduce the number of staff required by using a kiosk.
So Where’s the Low Hanging Fruit?
The best solution as it’s the quickest to implement and the most cost-effective is what I call pre-arrival check-in. It’s also often called contactless check-in or mobile check-in. Its software and the implementation costs are minimal. The setup time is normally less than a week and the upsells offered to guests pay for the solution many times over. Most of the solutions also offer contactless checkout and some also offer guest messaging.