3 self-service solutions moving in on the hotel industry

May 21, 2012

It's true that the hospitality industry has been slower to adopt self-service compared to other sectors of travel. Airports, for example, have been on board for years, but hotels are finally starting to see the potential cost savings and improvements to customer service that kiosk and mobile technology can provide. In fact, check-in kiosks are one of the hottest trends in the industry, according to Condé Nast. The kiosks showed up as No.9 on the website's 2012 Hot List, which rated the Top 10 hotel innovations over the last 16 years.

Wayfinding and informational kiosks, as well as mobile check-ins, however, are also growing in popularity in the hospitality industry, according to a whitepaper sponsored by Ariane Systems, a kiosk manufacturer specializing in the hospitality sector. It revealed that nine out of 10 decision makers in the hospitality industry believe mobile and wireless technology are increasing in importance, and 56 percent of hospitality companies are planning to spend more on mobile technology to enhance the customer experience. Similarily, HospitalityTechnology's 2011 industry survey found that 75 percent of hoteliers think check-in capability via mobile phones is useful, with hotel managers across the spectrum of star levels starting to offer self-service as an amenity in its own right.

From wayfinding to mobile check-ins, several solutions promising to help hotels embrace the self-service revolution are popping up. Below are just a few that caught the attention of KioskMarketplace.com.

SmartDIGITAL recenlty made headlines when it announced it was deploying Groupon kiosks throughout the streets of Chicago, but the manufacturer also works with hotels in the city, including Hyatt locations. SmartDIGITAL is focused on kiosks with wayfinding and check-in, apps as well as scheduling, administering loyalty programs and other guest features, said George Burciaga, CEO of smartDIGITAL. The kiosks, which offer a revenue share from advertising dollars generated on the hotel's screens, help guests interact with the environment around them, whether that means finding a deal for a nearby restaurant or looking up entertainment options for a night out.

"The hospitality industry is focused on catering to the consumer," Burciaga said. "The ability to offer interactive digital technology at the consumer level is a huge value add. It's all about enhancing the individual experience, and self-service technology can play a big role. Plus, this technology is a great way to deliver advertising messages in an unobtrusive, opt-in manner while generating revenue."

The kiosks also allow users to share content directly to their mobile devices, whether it's photos, directions to a venue or a coupon for a restaurant special.

"Plus, the advertiser or hotel retains the customers email and mobile number for future communication when the customer opts in," Burciaga said.

Advanced check-in

New research shows that guest are ready for self-service options when it comes to advanced check-in. A study this year conducted by Opinion Research Corp. on behalf of NCR Corp. found that 76 percent of the more than 1,000 guests polled think being able to check in before arriving would alleviate frustration, and 41 percent of guests said they would be more likely to select a hotel that offers advanced check-in via Web or mobile device. Survey results also found that while 65 percent of respondents have booked a hotel room either online or via mobile device, only 20 percent have actually checked in using either of those methods. If it were available, however, 57 percent of those surveyed indicated they'd choose that method.

NCR used the ORC research to help create its newest solution, NCR Express Key, which allows guests who have checked in online or via mobile channels to bypass the front desk and obtain room keys by scanning printed or mobile-delivered confirmation barcodes, NFC-enabled mobile devices or mobile acoustic keys. The low-profile kiosk can be placed on counters or table tops throughout a hotel, giving more options to guests who have lost their keys, left keys in their rooms or arrive at their rooms to find that keys will not work. Currently in pilot with a leading hotel chain, the solution is now available in North America and will be launched in Europe later this year.

Runtriz is yet another mobile solution taking up residence in the hotel industry. It allows guests to purchase and book services pre-arrival, including show tickets, spa reservations and transportation accommodations from their mobile devices.

"Our approach is to leverage mobile to provide guests with what they want, when and where they want it, without having to wait on hold or even be in the hotel," said Matt Allard, CEO of Runtriz. "Guests want to explore hotel offerings and perhaps request dinner reservations, a shaving kit or perhaps a bottle of wine to be in their room on their arrival."

Because the average guest now carries two smart devices when they travel, guests are used to having information at their fingertips.

"We are allowing hotels to capitalize on that, and engage guests on multiple screens at multiple touch points. Some guests prefer to engage in a public environment, on a large interactive screen, and others prefer to use their own mobile phone, tablet or laptop for a more private experience," Allard said.

The cost of Runtriz varies depending on the hotel and its needs but ranges from free to a few dollars per room per month. The fee, Allard said, is worth it.

"In our first hotel we saw a 25 percent increase in room service, and hotels who choose to remove printing materials from the room and just direct guests to the digital compendium are saving around $30,000 per year on printing and labor," he said.

Some properties also give the ability for guests to opt in for the green program, which signs them out of typical housekeeping services, which saves the hotel about $10 for each guest who opts in, Allard said.

Self-service is here to stay

Hoteliers are embracing self-service for one simple reason — they have to.

"Guests are experiencing and expecting it more and more in their everyday lives, and hotels need to adapt," Allard said. "Self-service, if done correctly, allows hotels to operate much more efficiently while at the same time providing guests with an experience that they are comfortable with."

The chains that establish themselves as early adopters will become the industry's leaders. What are some other innovative self-service solutions you've seen in the hotel industry? Leave your comments below.

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Topics: Hotels

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