As self-serve options evolve and become widespread for guests at hotels, hoteliers are mindful to not lose the human element entirely.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—From check-in and check-out to food pantries and even wine and champagne dispensers, the self-serve movement in the hotel industry continues to grow and evolve.
Guests love the convenience of these options, according to hoteliers, but from an operational standpoint, self-serve isn’t as simple as it might seem.
First, self-serve doesn’t necessarily mean no hotel staff support. Hotels still need to have people oversee these systems and be available to guests in case there are any glitches. There is also a cost element in adopting the systems.
Still, it’s worth it to expand self-serve options to grow guest satisfaction and keep up with competitors, sources said.
“Guests in general appreciate opportunities to get what they need in a more efficient and timely manner on a self-service basis. No one likes to wait in line,” said David Sangree, president of Hotel & Leisure Advisors.
Self-service food pantries are common for complimentary breakfast, but less common for paid situations, he said.
“Guests like to have the option to utilize the self-service options and expect it for larger, group-oriented properties,” Sangree said. “I think the future of these options is that they will continue to proliferate and the cost to install them will decline, allowing greater acceptance throughout hotels, similar to airlines.”
In a recent survey of 2,654 consumers by the Travel Leaders Group, 78% of respondents said they would like to see self-serve kiosks more widely available for check-in.
Meeting guest needs
However, self-service options must make sense for a particular property and its guests, said Vikram Sood, SVP of operations for RAR Hospitality.
For instance, The Lafayette Hotel in San Diego will be installing a self-serve wine and champagne dispenser in its gift shop at the end of this year, he said. A front-desk employee will help oversee the use of this dispenser—to ensure the technology is working properly, that is filled up and not running out of drinks, and of course, to ensure that only guests of legal drinking age are using it.
“The client base for this hotel is young millennials, so doing something like this makes sense for these guests and is relevant to them,” Sood said. “That human element is still very important for this kind of technology.”
Embassy Suites by Hilton recently launched two new dining concepts, both of which offer self-serve options, said Dianna Vaughan, Hilton’s global head and SVP of all-suite brands.
The brand’s full-service restaurant includes a grab-and-go extension called the BKB Market, located near the front desk, which offers packaged salads, sandwiches, and snacks and beverages. Embassy’s E’Terie Bar and Grill also includes the E’Terie Food To Go Market, which provides grab-and-go salads, sandwiches, and a variety of snacks and bottled beverages.
Homewood Suites by Hilton properties also offer guests a 24-hour Suite Shop convenience store, where they can find a wide variety of snacks as well as cold bottled beverages, Vaughan added. Home2 Suites by Hilton properties have the Home2 MKT, a 24/7 on-site store that stocks groceries and toiletries. Hilton all-suite brands also offer self-serve, complimentary breakfast for guests.
“When it comes to cost, hoteliers must ensure two things: One, that what is being offered is truly what guests want; and two, that the offerings are included in such a way that additional revenue generators are included for owners,” Vaughan said.
Hilton also offers guests the ability to use their mobile phones as digital room keys and to select rooms with digital check-in, allowing them to bypass the front desk.
These offerings do still require some servicing by staff, Vaughan said. For example, hotel employees must keep products stocked and the spaces clean. Self-serve areas also still provide opportunities for staff to connect with guests, she said.
RLH Corporation utilizes its mobile app and messaging to make self-serve options available to its guests, said Chief Information Officer John Edwards.
Guests visiting RLHC hotels can also check in and access their rooms via the digital key on the app, allowing them to bypass the registration desk. In several of its hotel lobbies, the company also features an Infoglass touchscreen display, which acts like a self-service concierge, Edwards said. New self-service iPad kiosks will soon be available for check-in, and guests will also be able to contact customer support from the iPad if they have questions, need assistance or want to submit a room upgrade request.
RLH still offers check-in at the front desk and those associates monitor the self-serve options, so there are no added costs, Edwards added.
“We understand that sometimes guests don’t prefer engaging with people during travel, so we created a way for people to make requests, communicate with our guest-service teams, arrive, check in, proceed directly to their room and even check out,” he said. “We are continuing to see a significant increase in guest communications prior to arrival using our mobile app and SMS messages.”