Going Desk-less: The New Hotel “Front Desk”

Traditionally an indispensable point of contact between a hotel and in-house guests, the front desk has always been the place where guests check in, make requests, stop to chat, and check out. But not anymore. From mobile concierges to chatbots, today’s hospitality technology makes it possible for hotels to dispense with their physical front desk.

In fact, the mobile self-check-in process, combined with keyless entry (via keypad or mobile key systems), allows guests to bypass the front desk entirely upon arrival. Self-check-in kiosks too, allow guests to check themselves in without interacting with staff.

While plenty of research shows that hotel guests want mobile and self-service technology that improves efficiency (no-one wants to wait in line), studies also show that guests desire authentic travel experiences—of which human connections are essential.

It’s important for lodging operators to stay current and use technology to improve operations and customer service, but when it comes to hospitality, technology should augment human interaction, not replace it.

Japan’s first robot hotel, Henn-na Hotel, illustrates this point beautifully. The high-tech property recently ditched half its robots because of frequent malfunctions and technical shortcomings resulting in frustrated guests. The hotel found that their robots just didn’t work as well as humans.

A hotel’s front desk customarily provides the first opportunity for the property to make a personal impression, but it can also be confining. Tied to a physical front desk, customer service suffers, especially during busy periods as the queue grows, the phone won’t stop ringing and smiles begin to wane under pressure. On the other hand, eliminating this key touchpoint with self-service solutions causes hotels to miss out on a valuable opportunity to make a personal connection with guests—the kind of connection that builds loyalty.

As always, success lies in finding the balance. Hotels can break free from the constraints of the physical front desk without losing their human touch. Here’s how:

A Welcoming Space

Think of how you might welcome a friend at your home, one you haven’t seen in a while. It would probably go something like this: you greet them warmly at the door, take their bags for them, invite them to sit down and offer them a drink. Contrast that welcoming scenario with this one: you stay seated at your table waiting for your guest to approach you, and then you spell out the house rules and tell them where their room is.

If you think about it, the latter scenario is similar to the way many hotels welcome their guests, but which scenario is more hospitable?

Hotels can greet guests in a more personable way by reducing or eliminating the focus on the front desk. A front desk is a physical barrier between hotel staff and guests, and reinforces the transactional element of the stay. Transforming a desk-based lobby into an inviting lounge area creates a more welcoming space and experience.

From comfortable sofas to indoor plants to complimentary tea and coffee, think about how your lobby can be made both welcoming and functional. Done right, your lobby has the potential to become a space your guests can enjoy, not just pass through. Read our tips for making the most of your lobby for inspiration.

If you’re not ready to eliminate your front desk entirely, consider downsizing your desk and moving it out of the central space. That way, staff can work on administrative tasks during downtime, ready to approach and assist guests as needed.

Mobile Technology

Shifting focus away from the physical front desk is of course dependent on the property’s front office software, particularly in regard to check-in/out and request resolution processes. For a successful desk-less “front desk,” mobile-friendly solutions are key.

Modern property management systems (PMS) are optimized for mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones, allowing staff to access and update reservation and hotel data from anywhere.

With a tablet or other mobile device in hand, roving hotel personnel can greet guests in the lobby, invite them to put their bags down and take a seat, offer them a cup of tea or coffee, and then continue to check them in, tell them a bit about the property and make any local recommendations. Or show them personally to their room and continue registration there, making sure everything is to their satisfaction. Such a check-in process results in a more natural, fluid welcome than one conducted across a desk, and is much more befitting of a hospitality business.

WebRezPro PMS includes electronic signature capture for a paperless check-in process, allowing guests to sign check-in receipts or registration cards electronically using a tablet or smartphone. Receipts can then be emailed to guests for their records.

Wireless EMV card readers for guest payments, keypad locking systems or mobile keys, and mobile ID scanning apps go hand in hand with mobile-friendly PMS solutions for a completely streamlined desk-less check-in experience.

When it comes to guest requests, they can be logged and resolved on the go, without having to return to the front desk. Armed with modern mobile solutions, hotel personnel can essentially take the front desk with them wherever they go for improved efficiency and customer service.

Attentive Personnel

Getting rid of your front desk is a bold but exciting move that results in a more personable and memorable stay experience. But it only works with a welcoming, comfortable space, the right technology—and attentive personnel.

Removing the front desk will catch some guests off guard, especially those from older generations, so it’s critical that staff are always available to greet guests as soon as they arrive. No guest should arrive confused, wondering where to go. Even the most meticulous staffing schedule can fall short during periods of high occupancy, but guests can still be invited to take a seat and help themselves to a drink while they wait—a much more appealing scenario than standing in a queue.

Roving personnel should be available to greet guests and check them in, answer questions, respond to requests and make local recommendations. Even properties with a self-check-in option should have staff at the ready to welcome all guests with a smile upon arrival and provide assistance as needed.

While technology is essential for streamlining hotel operations and enhancing the guest experience, it can never replace human hospitality (as Japan’s Henn-na Hotel has shown). Hospitality will always be about people and hotels will always need their human frontline—they just don’t need the desk.

Cool Tech Trends Changing Guest Experience and Expectations

Staying relevant and competitive in the hospitality industry is a constant race. You can’t find a winning formula and then sit back and expect to stay on top. Expectations and trends are continually changing, driven in large part by emerging innovations in technology. That’s why keeping your finger on the pulse of hospitality tech is critical to understanding the state of the industry. Even if you’re not ready to adopt them, tech trends tell you a lot about the typical consumer. With that in mind, here are some current tech trends that are currently changing the guest experience and will likely shape the expectations of the future.

Smart glass

Smart glass (or switchable glass) technology has been around for a while but is just beginning to pick up steam in hotel design. Notable adopters include the W San Francisco, Hilton Universal City in Los Angeles, and Eccleston Square Hotel in London.

There are different types of glass used (electrochromic, photochromic, thermo-chronic, suspended particles, micro-blind, and polymer-dispersed liquid crystal), but all adjust their opacity in response to changes in the environment and via commands from a mobile device.

For windows >> Installing smart windows is often done in the name of sustainability. The tint of the glass can be adjusted to account for the current use of the room, and the conditions outside—making guests and staff more comfortable and improving energy efficiency. In fact, Andersen Windows suggest they can reduce your energy expenditure by up to 25% (not to mention eliminating the need to buy blinds and curtains).

For bathrooms >> You have to fit a lot in a relatively small space when designing hotel rooms. But you still want it to feel spacious and comfortable for your guests. Glass-walled bathrooms are an excellent way of accomplishing just that. And by using smart glass technology, you don’t need to sacrifice privacy to make the room look bigger. When necessary, guests can simply press a button to make the walls instantly opaque.

Virtual assistants

Amazon recently announced a new virtual assistant specifically for lodging operators. Alexa for Hospitality has all the out-of-the-box features of a standard Amazon Echo with the potential to customize property-specific capabilities. For example, you can work with a third-party tech specialist so guest requests can be routed directly to your management systems and entertainment providers. That means, in addition to playing music and searching the internet, guests can also request housekeeping, find the WiFi password, ask about services and amenities and so on.

The biggest differences between personal Amazon Echos and the ones designed for hospitality have to do with security. For your guests’ privacy, hotels will never have access to search queries or answers and the history is wiped daily. For your own security, the devices cannot be factory reset and only connect to your property’s WiFi (to dissuade theft).

Facial recognition

The final tech trend we’re going to touch on, facial recognition software, is a technology that is definitely in the beginning stages for the hospitality industry. But given its ever-growing impact in our daily lives, facial recognition will only become more prevalent.

For check-in >> Marriott International just launched a pilot program at two of their properties, Hangzhou Marriott Hotel Qianjiang and Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay, that uses facial recognition software to offer a faster and easier check-in experience for their guests. Self-check-in kiosks scan guest faces, verify their identity against existing ID and booking information, and dispense the appropriate room keys.

For a personalized experience >> Facial recognition software can also be used to help deliver a more personalized experience for your guests. When they walk into the lobby, the technology can recognize the guest and automatically display their profile to staff, allowing them to greet the guest by name.

As technology changes, so do the expectations of consumers. Make sure you’re keeping tabs on emerging trends, so you don’t get left behind. And click here to read about how VR, chatbots, and robots are being used in hospitality today.

Four Considerations for a Seamless Check-In Experience

As tech solutions have transitioned to cloud-based systems, the concept of the hotel lobby has suddenly become amenable to a complete restructuring. Without a reliance on bulky legacy systems, front-desk staff are no longer tethered to the front desk. Equipped with a tablet, they can move freely around the lobby to engage with guests in a more personable and authentic way. It’s a freedom that has resulted in a new, living-room-inspired trend for hotel lobbies. And it’s a hit with guests—who get to ditch the line and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee on the couch as they’re being checked in.

For properties using cloud-based technology, empowering front-desk staff with tablets should be taken into consideration. And once you’ve made the change (or if you already have), here are four features and products to make check-in even more seamless for guests and staff alike.

A wireless EMV card reader

Most hotels have already made or will soon be making the switch to an EMV card reader. As the standard in credit card security, these terminals are becoming a must-have. There are many options out there, but not all of them are created equal. When looking for an EMV reader for your property consider opting for a wireless version. There’s no reason to tie your staff down with wired terminals when you’ve just liberated them with tablets. A wireless card reader can be carried around by front-desk staff so guests can remain comfortably seated during the entire check-in process.

Electronic signature capture

Creating an efficient check-in experience is all about simplicity. And a PMS with electronic signature capturing technology makes signing receipts and registration cards as simple as possible. Guests are able to sign on the tablet screen, allowing staff to ditch the paper and pens altogether. In addition to making check-in faster and cheaper (no printing or paper costs), electronic signature capture is an environmentally friendly alternative sure to improve your property’s ecological impact.

Keycard interface

Typically, front-desk staff must manually enter information into a keycard writer in order to program a key at check-in. For hotels transitioning away from a traditional front-desk, this can be a bit of a hassle (as staff certainly won’t be carrying card writers around with them). But it’s a hassle easily alleviated with an interface between your keycard writer and your PMS. As you’re checking the guest in, the PMS will send all the necessary information directly to the keycard writer. When the check-in process is completed, the staff member can simply retrieve the card and deliver it to the guest—no manual entry required.

Document scanner

Filling out guest profiles can be a bit of pain. Of course, if the booking is made online, guest information will have already been input. However, when hotels get a walk-in, they need to enter the customer’s name, address, and other information. It’s a time-consuming process susceptible to manual errors. With a document scanner, like the one from TTI Technologies, front-desk staff (and guests) are spared this inconvenience. The customer simply provides a piece of identification (driver’s license or passport), and the scanner will use it to auto-fill their guest profile.

 

Checking-in is the first in-person experience a guest has at your property. You should be doing everything you can to make it a good first impression. With new cloud-based technologies and mobile devices, hoteliers are better equipped than ever to provide a quick and easy check-in for their guests. So make sure you’re using all the tools at your disposal!

 

Increase Productivity and Enhance Guest Experience: Cloud PMS Software in Action

The goal of almost every hotel, from the small rural bed & breakfast to the urban boutique inn to the large international chain, is to increase staff productivity while simultaneously enhancing the guest experience.  The differences among these establishments is in what they define as ‘productivity’ and what experience they aim to deliver for each guest. Cloud-based property management systems (PMS) thrive on this diversity of need because they can be tailored to achieve the productivity you envision for your business.

So how does a cloud PMS increase staff productivity? By:

Integrating systems. The most significant reason to choose a cloud-based PMS is its ability to consolidate information from a wide range of sources. For years, hotel staff have used numerous systems that needed to be cross-referenced, but now PMS software integrates core systems like CRM, online distribution channels, revenue management software, point-of-sale systems, and payment processing software all while accelerating and easing the complexity of reservation management and building guest profiles.

Simplifying administration.  Because of seamless synchronization, property management systems have revolutionized hotel administration. Numerous spreadsheets and ledgers are things of the past, so too is the need to copy, paste, and revise documents, reducing human error and increasing data accuracy. Self check-ins and bookings—coordinated through a PMS—reduce the amount of time spent on the phone or in answering emails. Plus, once a room is booked through one reservation channel, the others are immediately updated, preventing overbooking. Rates can be set to update automatically, distributing changes to all connected channels; room availability can be easily monitored and allocated through the software’s intuitive interface, easing transitions between guests and increasing reservation efficiency; and guest profiles can be created and updated promptly and seamlessly.

PMS software is easy to use. The modern look and function will appeal to the tech-savvy members of your staff, but because the interface is designed with simplicity in mind, even the tech-challenged can be brought easily on board. Training should take just a few hours, and because each employee has a personalized account, the information they need is never more than a click away.

Facilitating marketing innovation. PMS software ushers hoteliers into the world of personalized advertising. Because PMS software gathers and centralizes pertinent guest information, insight into a guest’s spending habits and preferences can be gained, which means that the ancillary products (like additional hotel services, tour packages, concert promotions, restaurant offers) of highest interest to the guest can be sent to the them through their preferred communication avenue in real time and at the moment of decision.

Mobilizing staff. As we all know, any data can now be delivered to any device at any moment. This has led to a ‘work from anywhere’ culture that simultaneously conjures idyllic images of working on the beach and nightmare thoughts of having to work through a vacation. However, the reality of a mobile workforce looks much different on the hotel floor. Certainly, cloud PMS can enable managers and staff to access information offsite, giving much needed flexibility to a workday, but its strength is in creating a dynamic onsite workforce who can fulfill the expectations of guests in immediate and unique ways.  Your staff is your greatest asset, and with a tablet or smartphone in hand, they are no longer locked to one place. Now they can meet guests in their rooms, in the hall, or by the pool to obtain a needed signature, check-in the busy business traveler while they’re being driven from the airport, and access information to promptly respond to requests. In short, cloud technology frees staff from the front desk or back office, enabling them to focus on the minutiae that creates an individualized and memorable experience for each guest.

Connecting your workforce. The mobility encouraged by PMS software integrates with the already mobile hotel workforce. Cloud-based software enables better collaboration across departments because staff has immediate access to the information and documents that are relevant to them. The most obvious example of this in action is with housekeeping and maintenance staff. PMS software instantly communicates guest checkout, enabling housekeeping to make smarter decisions to ensure rooms are clean and available for scheduled or unscheduled guests. The instant flow of information also allows for quicker maintenance response times that help keep the building in perfect condition.

Decreasing IT demands. Once upon a time (and for many still) hotels spent time and money installing and maintaining onsite hardware, but with cloud PMS, no hardware is required. Furthermore, PMS companies not only provide the required software, they offer a comprehensive support network, so if a problem should arise, they will guide you to a solution or fix the problem themselves. The move to a PMS does mean relinquishing some control, but it also eliminates the burden of maintaining an IT infrastructure onsite. A good PMS provider will take care of updates and upgrades, routine maintenance, and ensure the safety and security of your data, saving time and money while easing stress.

So, what will this additional time mean for your business? With the need for fewer people to do more work, an increase in efficiency does contribute to a boost in revenue, but for small and large hotels alike, the primary benefit of PMS software is freedom to engage with guests and provide them the attention they want, when they want it. According to a study done by Phocuswright and Cognizant Technology Solutions, the majority of travelers would “like to see greater automation of hotel service. At least half want to use their mobile device to receive bills (58%), check-in (54%), checkout (57%), pay for hotel services (51%), and open their hotel room door (50%).” Cloud PMS software like WebRezPro, make these services available for the more than half who want them, but it also benefits the guests who don’t. More mobile services mean fewer demands and shorter lines at the front desk, which means your staff can allocate more attention to those that desire face-to-face interaction. With numerous options available for hotel services, each guest gets the experience they want. Ultimately, a cloud PMS gives you the time to personalize each guest’s stay, and in doing so you build your brand and increase guest loyalty and satisfaction. So, the question now should be: what will a cloud PMS allow your business to become?  The vision is yours to create.