The lost art of the guest arrival
 
The lost art of the guest arrival
16 AUGUST 2016 7:06 AM

Basic hospitality still forms the framework of all hotel operations, and nowhere should it be practiced with more enthusiasm than when guests walk through the front door.

A lot of talk, marketing and emphasis in the hotel industry are on personal service and experience. According to accepted mantra, today’s hotel guests—and especially coveted millennial travelers—choose hotels for the experiences they receive, not for the furniture and drapery fabrics in the guestroom.

A sometimes-overlooked element in that experience delivery happens at the front desk, or even earlier in the arrival process, such as at the front door or in the airport shuttle van. It can be a disheartening experience for road-weary travelers to arrive at hotels and encounter bored doormen and front-desk agents who barely make eye contact—if at all—and treat each customer as another task to perform before their shifts expire.

At the front desk in particular, it’s difficult for an agent to juggle the technical aspects of guest check-in with providing a warm welcome. Of course, many guests, like frequent business travelers, don’t care much about the niceties of check-in. And for them, the mobile revolution meets their needs perfectly: At many hotels they can check in online, get a room assignment via their smartphone and use the same device to access their guestrooms upon arrival.

Other guests—especially casual travelers and those on vacation—crave some old-fashioned hospitality when they arrive. At least one hotel company—Hyatt Hotels Corporation—recognizes the issue and is attempting to make a change.

The company embraced a concept called human-centered design that, as it implies, revolves around improving the one-to-one relationship between arriving guests and the front-desk associate. Instead of being hunched over a computer typing in information, Hyatt agents often use tablet computers to enter the minimal amount of data needed to get the guest on his or her way to a guestroom.

This slightly less high-tech approach presumably gives the agent the opportunity to interact with guests and assist them with any questions and concerns. At some Hyatt properties, agents accompany guests to their rooms.

The idea of improving the arrival experience is not a new one. In the early 1990s, Marriott International launched an initiative called 1st 10 with the premise that the first 10 minutes of a guest’s experience in a hotel are the most important.

While friendliness and hospitality played a role in the program, it was developed more to cut down the time required to check in a guest. When making a reservation, a guest could provide key information by phone—type of room requested, arrival time and payment information—eliminating the need to give it at check-in.

Of course, this was the pre-internet era, so this kind of procedure is outdated today. But Marriott was on the right track.

By the 2000s, John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts attempted to bring down the physical barriers between front-desk agents and guests. To do so, the company eliminated traditional high front desks at many properties, replacing them with pod-like tables at which guests could sit with an agent to complete the check-in process. 

There is no one right way to ensure a seamless, speedy and welcoming guest arrival experience. As mobile technology continues to innovate, the nonhuman check-in will probably become an increasingly favorite option for many guests. At one time, all bank transactions were made face-to-face; today, very few of them are. The same might become true in the hotel industry.

However, that doesn’t mean hotel owners and operators should abdicate the check-in experience solely to technology. In fact, increased use of technology can give guest service agents better opportunities to provide welcoming hospitality to arriving guests, even if it is merely a friendly hello. After all, last I checked it’s still called the hospitality business.

Email Ed Watkins or find him on Twitter.

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