Check in Kiosks. Good, bad or indifferent?

To automate – or not to automate. That is the question….

Self-check in kiosks. Are they a good thing? Do they entice? Do guests use them? Do they save a hotel or hostel money?

I was reading a hospitality magazine this week and inside the magazine were two very different and contrasting articles revolving around hotel check in and the guest check in experience.

Of course, with all things “appy” in this thoroughly connected world, the first article was espousing the use of technology in a way that most accommodation providers do not – and that is to have a range of self-service check in kiosks in the hotel or hostel lobby. If not to replace the reception desk completely, these self-service terminals would be ideal for the night times where staff are expensive or if nigh on impossible to recruit… (I mean, which Gen Y wants to work overnight these days?)

So the perfect solution is a kiosk…. a kiosk connected to the hotel PMS (and of course a kiosk connected to the GuestCentrix PMS!). Your hotel or hostel guest makes the booking online, the guest gets an email confirming the booking and their booking ID, and when they arrive at the hotel your guest can head straight for the self-service check in kiosk where the booking is retrieved and the key dispensed and the guest heads off to the room having never seen a member of staff.

It’s quick. It’s efficient. It’s labour saving. It’s brilliant.

So why are so few hotels adopting this strategy?

There is a hotel in Earls Court in the UK I stay in from time to time when I’m in that neck of the woods. It’s not a 5 star “Can I take your bags sir, would you like me to order a limo for you sir” kind of hotel, just one that is near a tube station to get the middle of London, or Heathrow with some ease and a very comfy bed.  Nor is it one of my clients sadly (we are working on that!).

The first few times I stayed, there in the lobby was the self-check in kiosk. Looking all gleaming and glistening and “come and use me” in its appearance. As I strode past the kiosk and towards the reception team and was checked in, by a human, with a good sense of humour after my 22 hour trip from Sydney. After assuring me of how to connect to the free wifi, confirming my departure date and after some juggling around of their rooming inventory, my room was made available at 8.00am in the morning. And off to my room I went.

The last time I stayed at the hotel – there was something missing. It was the kiosk. Gone. Vanished. Just like an old oak table (please forgive the Blackadder quote… it’s one of my favourites). I asked the shift manager what they had done with it. “Removed it” came the response. “We averaged about 1 check in a week – we have more than 200 rooms. And we had 1 check in a week”. So, for three years the kiosk sat there consuming power, hoping someone would come and use it. They didn’t.

Which brings me neatly to the second article in the magazine. “Your front desk staff are important. Teach and train them to get more direct bookings”. So I read on, intrigued at the content.

In this world of OTA’s and 12%, 15%,17% and dare I say it 25% commission rates, this article was espousing the complete opposite of a kiosk. “Make sure your guest at the front desk is suggested to book direct next time” the article hammered. “Ensure your team all know how to identify a booking from an OTA or travel agent, and ensure your team understand that these cost the hotel money.” It went on. “Then ensure your front desk team understands how to communicate and promotes your own booking site, which is connected directly to your hotel PMS and does not charge a per-booking fee. Many PMS vendors offer this as a solution” (Yes, GuestCentrix WebRes is awesome – thank you for asking!).

But it made me think. The several thousand pounds in buying the kiosk (which is supposed to save thousands more in labour costs) could just as well have been “saved” by the front desk staff they were supposed to replace in ensuring the OTA and commissionable agent was bypassed next time. Next. Time.

The reception team are already asking you to come back. In Person. “Next Time you stay with us….”

“But the kiosk is the way of the future” I hear you say “Airlines are all putting more kiosks in, taking out check in desk staff”. And yes, you’d be right. BUT – when you head to the airport lounge and you want to be allowed thru the hallowed doors to the “free” bacon sandwich and a glass of champagne, there is no kiosk there, but a very smiley and gracious lounge attendant. And when you board the flight, are you not met by another very smiley and gracious cabin crew? And is that what guests want when they arrive at their hotel?

Or has the kiosk technology already been superseded for those regular guests at the hotel, with pre-check-in via an app now being trialled by some of the large hotel chains, and using the NFC / RFID chip inside the smartphone to activate the hotel room doors? Is that in fact the way of the future and the kiosk is dead?

I’m personally not fussed which ever argument is right and which argument is wrong from a supplier perspective. I’ll sell you both a fee free booking engine and an integrated kiosk solution (we have in fact developed interfaces to kiosks in the past, but not a single hotel or hostel as in fact introduced one into the property).

But it’s an interesting choice… technology or the human touch?

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