As self-service technology becomes more popular in everyday life, hotel check-in kiosks increasingly are being seen as viable alternatives to traditional front-desk interaction.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As self-service technology becomes more popular in everyday life, hotel check-in kiosks increasingly are being seen as viable alternatives—but not replacements—to traditional front-desk interaction.
At Hyatt Place hotels, for example, guests who use the technology often do so with the lobby associate by their side, facilitating a more personal experience that the barrier of a traditional front desk wouldn’t allow.
“The goal of our brand is to keep the person out front and engaged with the customer,” said Gary Dollens, senior VP of franchising and select brands for Hyatt.
To encourage that type of engagement, Hyatt Place’s self-service kiosks are strategically placed in close proximity to a property’s gallery area. Doing so allows the front-desk associate, or gallery host, to move more freely in the space, attending to guests who need a quick walkthrough of the technology as well as those who prefer to check in the old fashioned way.
“You can check in with a friend or you can check in with the kiosks,” Dollens said. “You offer guests that option.”
The key is to provide that option as an alternative. While self-service technology can free up associates from doing certain tasks, it should never be used as a replacement for their services, according to Joseph Lema, assistant professor in Goodwin's Hospitality Management School at Drexel University.
“Self-service technology cannot be used as a substitute of service,” he said. “It has to be used to facilitate service and to give those guests the option if they want it.”
But what type of guest actually wants that option? No one—if you believe a percentage of operators whose unfavorable experience with the technology has given these machines the pseudonym “lobby dust collectors” for their perceived lack of use.
Lema has a different take. As various forms of self-service technology pop up in nearly every facet of our lives, check-in kiosks meet a customer-driven demand that allows guests to apply those learned behaviors within the hotel setting.
Dollens shared a similar sentiment.
“We’re in very many ways a self-service society,” he said. “Whether you’re pumping your own gas or going to the ATM, you prefer to do those functions yourselves. This is just another way to offer that to somebody.”
The bad rap, Lema explained, is a result of self-efficacy—or the lack thereof.
“(In a recent study,) I looked at some of the personal characteristics of people who are ready to engage in self-service activities, and what I found is that between all the personal characteristics, self efficacy—or the belief that I can engage in an activity and it will lead in a successful outcome—was the most highly correlated of the variables.”
Far too often in the past, check-in kiosks were either too complicated or lacked the accessible supervision of a hotel associate to generate enough positive experiences for guests. But when incorporated intelligently in a hotel’s overall operational landscape, it is much more likely guests will use it successfully the first time and then will keep on coming back for more, Lema said.
The resulting benefits from those successful interactions far outweigh occasional negative experiences, he added, saying that check-in kiosks can lower labor costs, allow for a more effective and efficient utilization of resources, allow for more free-flowing associate engagement, increase guest satisfaction, and provide a perfect platform to upsell.
“It comes down to being able to implement and facilitate it as well,” Lema said.
Still not convinced
Despite so many potential benefits, not everyone is convinced self-service kiosks are worth the trouble.
“People want to interact with the front-desk clerk at the hotel,” said Henry H. Harteveldt, VP and principal analyst of airline and travel research for Forrester Research. “They might have questions about the property. … They may have questions about their trip. The kiosk doesn’t replace that human touch for check in.”
Although the technology might allow for alternative forms of interaction with front-desk associates, it’s most commonly used—when used at all—to bypass that one-on-one experience altogether, which is a fundamental problem at high-end hotels, he added.
“The challenge for hotels, especially in the upper tier, is that kiosks are viewed as something that takes away from service, where the irony for airline travel is that if you don’t have kiosks, you’re actually impeding service.”
But perhaps most damning is the fact that Harteveldt and his team at Forrester Research just don’t see self-service kiosks being used very often in hotels.
“We don’t see it being sued in a widespread manner, and we don’t see consumers clamoring to want to use it,” he said.
Harteveldt advised hotel operators to invest the same money they would have in kiosks with an online application that allows guests to more easily and quickly check-in and check-out.
An increased demand
Whether or not self-service kiosks are in widespread use at present, Lema said it’s important to consider how the technology fit into the
“As our experience with this technology grows, we’re going to continue to see demand for this,” he said. “It’s being driven by customers.”
Doubters need look no further than generation Y. This tech-savvy demographic represents the next wave of hotel guests—travelers who have grown up with self-service technology, Lema said.
But it’s not just the youngsters who flock to those former lobby dust collectors. At Hyatt Place hotels, Dollens is seeing increased usage from seasoned business travelers.
“The traveler that is a business traveler and who is somebody that might be repeat customer, you see a much higher utilization on. And for a leisure traveler that has not stayed at a hotel before, (the utilization) is lower.”
Hyatt offers self-service kiosks in every one of its brands with the exception of Park Hyatt.
Such usage is only going to increase, something operators would be wise to consider, Lema said.
“The operators who get on board … will be the ones who really advance.”