The way we engage with hotels is undergoing a tech-driven transformation, partly as a result of 2020’s 'new normal' and partly because it’s the third decade of the 21st Century and things have changed – particularly where customer service is concerned.
Online check-in is of great value in operating within the new guidelines introduced when hotels re-opened. It provides an alternative to the traditional hotel arrival process and removes the need for guests to touch, or receive, items that they have not been sanitised.
The safety of guests is, of course, paramount – but for hoteliers there are added benefits in facilitating the customer journey through their properties, with the minimum of fuss and bother, accessing rooms quickly, comfortably and with limited intervention.
Online check-in is gaining in popularity – it’s easier, it’s managed by the smart phone that the majority of people carry with them at all times, and it cuts the time spent in the hotel lobby.
Aggregated data from our clients shows that usage of online check-in is running at an average of around 35% across UK and Irish hotels that have adopted the technology, with take-up as high as 72% in some hotels. There is clearly an appetite for such technology, and this can be unlocked through the communication of the benefits to the end user.
The pandemic effect
The global Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly hastened this change, with the imperatives of social distancing and sanitisation – but it’s also a reflection of change in other sectors which began prior the events of 2020. Advances in technology, the roll-out of the Internet of Things, the development of smartphone capabilities; all of these allow people to handle so much more for themselves.
When travelling by air, it is now routine for customers to book flights and check-in online, carry boarding passes on their smartphones and use kiosks in the airport to weigh, tag and deposit their luggage. In some hotels, similar kiosks scan software-generated QR codes, which link to the hotel’s booking engine and central reservation management system, before issuing the guest’s room key.
Our clients' data shows that it takes 15 seconds to deliver a key into the hands of a guest who’s checked-in online, compared with three minutes spent on the traditional check-in process.
Less Paperwork, More Personal
Face-to-face interaction with guests will always be valued, but is rarely best conducted in a lobby when there is a queue of people waiting impatiently to check-in. Increasingly, we find that hotels are keen to eliminate the hanging around in the lobby that’s associated with the traditional check-in process and get their guests moving through the hotel and into their rooms.
In the current climate, this is a lot to do with keeping them safe, but it’s also geared towards improving the customer experience. It will remove traditional friction points and allow staff – who will be out from behind desks in new roles such as Lobby Ambassador – to engage with guests according to the guest’s individual need.
Allowing guests to do more online makes the hotel business itself more agile and efficient, but it also generates opportunities to collect data from – and about – guests which can be used to personalise their experience and upsell additional services.
Data accrued from an online booking system allows the hotel to anticipate guest flows – when the lobby is likely to be busier, necessitating extra lobby ‘hosts’ or ‘ambassadors’, and when and how many rooms should be ready to deal with check-in volumes, allowing housekeeping to roster themselves accordingly.
Obviously, while technology can deliver the solutions efficiently and rapidly, an integral part of the process is the guest themself and the behaviour of guests varies from group to group.
P3’s data showed that at certain times during the summer, take-up of online check-in peaked at more than 50%.
This is a clear reflection that leisure travellers are more likely to use the online service than are business customers. While it’s hard to pinpoint why this would be, it is probably because guests travelling on business have not made the hotel booking themselves and often check-in at unusual hours, driven by travel arrangements and business needs.
These behaviours will be difficult to change and 100% take-up of online check-in and check-out is an ambitious target. However, it is clear that a shift can be prompted and that engagement with the online check-in process can be increased beyond its current levels.
Connected Guest Experience
Providing additional value through a connected guest experience can help precipitate such a change in behaviour. There is no reason why a guest should not, while travelling from the airport, be able to use their phone to complete registration, check-in, receive a digital pass which provides keyless access to their room, and book a table at a restaurant or a spa treatment.
The technology exists and it may be that the key to unlocking the acceptance of these and other facilities – including online check-in and check-out and the use of guest terminals/kiosks in hotel lobbies – is communication of the benefits of using the technologies.
While, currently, there will always be those who want to conduct the business of check-in with another person, more and more will be swayed by the ease, the efficiency, the time savings and the ancillary benefits that will accrue as the customer engages with the system and leaves a record of likes, dislikes and general preference.
In what we all hope will prove to be the short-term, the ongoing necessity for limiting contact with others and for maintaining high levels of hand hygiene can only assist in the ongoing acceptance of online check-in and check-out.
The change will continue, because the benefits are indisputable and because the technology is constantly evolving – what may guarantee it, ironically, is the very thing that appeared to threaten to damage the hospitality industry severely at the beginning of the year.