Checking In: When Speed Compromises Service
Over the past few years, a trend has arisen in hotel management regarding new and innovative solutions for guest registration. As an experienced hotelier, it has been unclear to me what the motive is for managers to change this process. In theory, using technology could save on labor costs or possibly speed up the process. However, I'd argue that the most useful alteration would be the addition of a human touch.
Presently, the majority of hotels follow the traditional procedure of having guests register with a friendly, knowledgeable staff member. After all, isn’t that what we do when guests visit our homes? We don’t have an electronic kiosk to greet them at the door and show them to their rooms. In this way, our sense of hospitality has remained the same since ancient times, rooted in the belief that one should treat his or her guests better than him or herself.
I recently visited the Sands Hotel and Resort in Pennsylvania with my family. While the service was good overall, I noticed upon arrival that the hotel has invented a new way to check guests in. After standing in a short line, I was asked to sit at a desk facing a guest service agent, who was seated in front of a computer. The procedure was similar to most hotels, except that I was asked to swipe my credit card through a machine on my side of the table, rather than handing my card over to guest services. In effect, the transaction reminded me of the check-out process at a grocery store in that it transferred part of the check-in process—however small—to the guest.
On another note, a few hotels have installed ATM-like kiosks in their lobby for efficiency-minded travelers. In large hotels like at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, or the many Las Vegas hotels with thousands of rooms, this machine is a smart way for guests to avoid lengthier lines. However, checking in often involves a guest asking questions, or at least receiving directions to their room. Unless the client is a repeat guest, the kiosk does not aid in the check-in process. In fact, I've observed many guests waiting in line to speak to a concierge even when a kiosk is readily available.
The advances in technology that apply to the hospitality field are thus multifaceted—some positive and some ineffective or unnecessary. An example of the latter would be technology that allows guests to comment on social media sites as they stand in the check-in line—a misplaced opportunity, as guests' comments are most useful when collected at the end of their stay. In general, unless guests are regulars at the same hotel, already have a reservation, are paying by credit card and are in a hurry, kiosks or other efficient technology does not improve the guest experience. While speed is certainly an element of good service, it is only part of the equation. For the foreseeable future, the traditional check-in process is here to stay.