More hoteliers opt for self-service check-in
More hoteliers opt for self-service check-in
10 NOVEMBER 2014 8:30 AM
Self-service check-in will be the new standard, hoteliers said, as more guests want control over their check-in experiences.
GLOBAL REPORT—Some hoteliers are circumventing the traditional check-in experience at the front desk to give guests more control and a better first impression.
Brands such as CitizenM Hotels, for example, have done away with the front desk altogether, opting instead for self-service kiosks in their lobbies. HTL Hotels, meanwhile, has been implementing mobile check-in processes with pre-paid bookings. The changes run the gamut, but it’s all a push to give guests control, sources said.
“They do everything themselves,” including pumping their own gas and scanning items and processing payment at retail outlets, said Eric Jacobs, chief development officer of North America for Marriott International, during a panel at last month’s Lodging Conference. 
Millennials are driving much of this do-it-yourself mentality, he added. “Going in and checking in, they feel like they can handle this on their own.”
“They don’t want to stand in line; they don’t want to meet someone else. They just want to get in and out,” CitizenM COO Michael Levie said during this year’s HotelsWorld Australia New Zealand. 
The Amsterdam-based company opened its first property seven years ago at the city’s Schiphol International Airport. It has six properties under construction (three in London, two in Paris and one in New York City), all of which will have self-service check-in kiosks. The average check-in, including payment, takes fewer than two minutes. The average check-out is 30 seconds.
CitizenM “ambassadors” are on hand to welcome guests and provide technical support, Levie said. 
Stockholm-based HTL Hotels executives have taken a similar approach, replacing the front desk (and traditional hotel lobby) with a more accessible check-in station in a lounge-like setting, said Commercial Manager Gül Heper. As with CitizenM, hosts equipped with tablets readily offer assistance if needed.
“In the lounge, guests can opt to check- in by smartphone or simply collect their keys from a check-in station,” Heper added. Guests can bypass the check-in station entirely through a mobile app and keyless entry that emits a low-energy Bluetooth signal via smartphone to room key locks.
Several major chains also have begun implementing keyless entry via smartphone. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide on 5 November launched keyless entry at select Aloft, W and Element-branded properties for Starwood Preferred Guest members. The company will rollout SPG Keyless with plans for 30,000 doors in 150 hotels around the globe by early 2015.
Hilton Worldwide Holdings announced it will next year begin offering keyless entry for its Hilton HHonors members at U.S. properties of Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts and Canopy by Hilton brands, according to a news release.
Labor impact
Self-service platforms and solutions such as keyless entry require less full-time employees manning traditional front desks, which can translate into significant cost savings, Jacobs said.  
“There’s some labor tradeoffs that could create the value that folks are looking for,” he said. Since Marriott introduced self-service kiosks at certain properties, he said the hotels’ check-in experience satisfaction scores have gone up. 
“Self check-in will be standard,” he said. “If we can do it in the airline business, we can do it in the hotel business.” 
Marriott first implemented self-service kiosks as part of a pilot program in 2004. 
Some luxury hotels are moving in the opposite direction, employing more associates to provide one-to-one personalized experience. 
In each of Montage Hotels & Resorts’ five properties, for instance, guests are greeted by associates who walk them through the check-in process while escorting them directly to their rooms. During the process, guests receive an orientation of the hotel and its offerings, said Dan Howard, director of public relations at the 220-room Montage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, which opened in 2012.
“The guest has been trained by self-service hotels to take the key and go. You see guests wandering around the hallways,” he said. “For (our company’s) culture, it wouldn’t be acceptable to send our guests with a suitcase down the hallway.”
The luxury resort boasts a staff of more than 700 members during the winter season, Howard said, adding the return is worth the investment.
“Our staffing model has always been based on the philosophy that guests paying rates at the top end of the luxury market deserve exceptional service, and that includes a high staff/guest ratio. The high guest return rate we can achieve and the ultimate spend of those guests allows the property to make the numbers it needs to make to support the staff number,” he explained.
The majority of Montage guests have complimentary things to say about the company’s signature check-in process. But there are instances where guests can find the practice “invasive,” he said. Those guests can choose not to be escorted, especially if they know the hotel well.

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