Homewood Suites’ online platform allows guests to select their guestrooms prior to arrival.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As new technologies emerge and evolve within the hotel industry, hoteliers continue to analyze which tools will effectively increase guest satisfaction.
Some brands have identified the ability to give guests choices during the check-in process as one way to do that, but there is some question as to whether or not the implementation of these tools actually is more efficient for the guest.
Checking-in with kiosks
As part of its Crowne Plaza refresh initiative, InterContinental Hotels Group conducted extensive research on the amenities that guests, particularly business travelers, want out of a hotel stay.
“They want us to value their time,” Gina LaBarre, VP of brand delivery for the Americas division of IHG, told HotelNewsNow.com earlier this year during the company’s Americas Investors and Leadership Conference.
“One way we feel like we can do that … is to provide different options for check-in,” she said.
For this reason, IHG is deploying digital check-in kiosks at its Crowne Plaza hotels.
“Some people are always going to want face-to-face options for check-in. That will never go away,” LaBarre said. But there are a significant number of guests who want to be in control of the check-in process, she said.
A screenshot of Homewood Suites’ echeck-in confirmation.
The new system works by sending a confirmation email to guests with a bar code attached on the day they are scheduled to arrive. After scanning the code using a smartphone or a print out at the kiosk, a prompt asks the guest how many keys they would like and then prints them out. They are then free to go to their room upon completion.
So far the system has only been implemented at the Crowne Plaza Orlando-Universal, but LaBarre said IHG has plans to continue testing it at different properties before deploying kiosks at every hotel.
It will absolutely increase guest satisfaction, she said.
Robert Rauch, president of R.A. Rauch & Associates, said kiosks are beneficial in a full-service hotel, particularly for millennials who typically don’t have any questions and just want to go to their rooms.
In boutiques or smaller properties, kiosks would be a waste of money to implement because those guests are usually looking for more personalized services, he said.
In addition, check-in lines are usually nonexistent at those hotels, Rauch said. “If there are no lines, there’s no need for a kiosk,” he said.
Online guestroom selection
Hilton Worldwide has already found success in its attempt to put the check-in process in consumers’ hands, according to Tim Flatt, director of online marketing for Homewood Suites by Hilton.
In addition to offering online check-in, Homewood upped the ante by recently introducing a Suite Selection offering to its Hilton HHonors members that allows them to select their guestroom prior to arrival as well.
Within 36 hours of arriving at a Homewood property, guests receive an echeck-in reminder and a prompt to select which guestroom they’d like to stay in on a virtual floor-plan map. At that point, the hotel is notified and when guests arrive, all they have to do is swing by the front desk, show their ID and pick up their roomkeys.
The new technology is gaining popularity, particularly among business travelers, Flatt said. “Close to 20% of our echeck-in (users) are actually using (Suite Selection).”
Digital check-in challenges
Although the initiative is included in management fees, meaning there are no additional costs on the operational side, there are several challenges, Flatt said.
The first is technology: Ensuring that the global Web platform communicates effectively with the local hotel system is always important, he said. For the Web platform to continuously update which rooms are available, the local hotel system must constantly be updating that information throughout the day.
Another challenge, Flatt said, is that some training must take place at the operational level. When a Suite Selection guest walks in, employees handling the check-in process must have that guest’s keys ready, so these employees need to be paying close attention when Suite Selection options are made.
Rauch, who operates a Homewood Suites property in San Diego, said there are more challenges associated with the Suite Selection offering.
To start, “it is a small percentage of our guests who opt to use our Suite Selection. … Less than 5% of our guests opt to decide in advance which suite they want,” Rauch said.
The major problem, however, is for guests who do use this offering, he said. “It’s very rare that the suite that a guest desires is actually available at the moment they want to book it, (so) we can’t guarantee it.”
Usually, there are certain suites the hotel’s loyal guests prefer to stay in, Rauch said. There is always a chance guests might want to extend their stay at the last minute, so that room is not available when a new guest who booked that same room with Suite Selection arrives.
“Less than 3% of our customers select their suite online and then actually get the room,” he said.
Looking forward to new technologies
Homewood’s Flatt said Hilton is constantly working to make their digital check-in system better.
“Maybe there will be a point where you don’t stop by the desk at all. … You check-in (online), and swipe your phone to get in the room,” he said.
And Rauch agrees. He believes kiosks and stopping by the front desk solely to pick up keys are just interim solutions to speeding up the check-in process.
“Smartphones are the answer,” he said.
Brands such as Hilton Hotels & Resorts and InterContinental Hotel Group’s Holiday Inn have experimented over the past few years with a smartphone solution that has an audio sensor built into the door’s lock.
Sherry Telford, a spokeswoman for IHG, said a mobile roomkey pilot is on hold indefinitely as the company continues to evaluate its priorities in the technology space.
“The (smartphone) pilot was part of our ongoing research and development efforts to identify new innovations,” she said.
IHG is in the process of seeking relevant partners and technologies to test new products that will enhance the guest experience, Telford said.
A spokesman for Hilton Hotels & Resorts was unable to provide details about the company’s smartphone roomkey developments.
As more smartphone manufacturers begin to adopt near-field-communication technology, hoteliers also can further explore that as an option for roomkeys.