Hotels are changing the way guests check in to their rooms, eliminating the traditional stop at the front desk to speed up, simplify and, in some cases, personalize the process.
A concierge, standing, using an iPad to register a guest at the Andaz West Hollywood hotel in California. Photo: J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times
When guests arrive at citizenM, a small, boutique hotel in Amsterdam, Glasgow and London, they check in at a kiosk and go straight up to their rooms, stopping only to speak to a roving hotel "ambassador" if they have a question. The kiosk was designed to be easy to use, said Kelly Blakey, a spokeswoman for the hotel, because most travelers are encountering it for the first time.
At the Inn at St. Botolph in Boston, travelers who make reservations and enter their credit card information online receive their room assignment and two key codes in a confirmation e-mail. When they arrive at the inn, guests tap one code into a keypad at the front door to enter the property and the other to enter their room. There is a front desk in the lobby if guests have questions, but there is no need to stop there as part of the check-in procedure.
The hospitality industry is moving toward more automated check-in systems, said Tyler Craig, vice president and general manager for the NCR Corporation's travel business, which develops these systems for hotels. "Customers are used to A.T.M.'s at the bank instead of tellers, checking in for airplane flights online, and they are now looking for that same efficiency when they arrive at a hotel," Mr. Craig said. "No one wants to wait in line for the front desk anymore."
In the age of social networking, Mr. Craig added, "it's more important than ever to get the guests' experience right," because an upset customer posting to Twitter, Facebook or TripAdvisor can easily share bad impressions with a wide group of people.
Glenn Haussman, editor of the online trade magazine Hotel Interactive, said automated check-in was also a plus for hoteliers who wanted to assign additional duties to the front desk staff. "When a guest checks in late at night and the same employee can make sure the check-in goes smoothly and also sell them something to eat," he said, "the hotel has saved money on staffing, increased its revenue and increased customer satisfaction."
Mr. Craig said he expected automated hotel check-in to expand rapidly. In a typical system, guests check in by computer or phone before they arrive and enter their expected arrival time, which helps the housekeeping staff with the room cleaning schedule. A bar code is sent to the traveler to print out or display on his or her phone. At the hotel, the guest scans the bar code at a kiosk and types in the number of keys needed. The machine assigns a room and spits out the plastic key cards, and the guest can head upstairs.
Additional kiosks can be placed at elevator banks so guests who have problems with a key card during their stay can get a replacement without walking back to the front desk.
Hyatt, which already offers both a kiosk option and a traditional front desk to check in at most of its Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency and Hyatt brand hotels in major cities, is testing a different method with some of its Hyatt Gold Passport loyalty program members. The guest receives a card with a chip in it and checks in online, and the staff is able to code that card to act as the guest's room key.
The different check-in methods are meant to provide options for guests, not to supplant any, said David Nadelman, general manager of the Grand Hyatt San Francisco. "Leisure guests here for shopping, dining and culture may want the opportunity to talk with our front desk associates to get some quick recommendations, versus a person here on business who may prefer to check in though the Web or self-check-in kiosk," he said.
High-end hotels are also using new technologies to eliminate the front desk check-in line - with personal greeters who shepherd guests through the check-in process in a more comfortable setting, using an iPad or laptop.