Use digital check-in to enhance, not replace, guest engagement

By Nadav Cornberg 

As new regulations driven by the coronavirus pandemic forced hotels to eliminate all physical contact between guests and staff, operators scrambled to implement ways for guests to bypass the front desk entirely. Many wondered how this would affect the guest experience—after all, the front-desk greeting is often a hotel’s chance to make a great first impression, provide a welcoming experience and build personal connections with each and every guest.

The key for operators moving forward is to understand that digital check-in and personalized welcome experiences can happen simultaneously. Hotel staff can use digital check-in to complement their lobby experience, not remove it altogether.

Hoteliers must understand that “contactless” is not here to stay. Nor does contactless mean that there are no people involved. As regulations are lifted, hoteliers have an opportunity to rethink the check-in experience using digital tools to make the process smoother while implementing a new, personal approach.

Think about the last time you checked into a hotel at the front desk. It usually goes like this: You stand in line for a few minutes before it’s your turn, you walk up to a desk, an agent behind a desk asks to see your ID and credit card before leaving you standing there for minutes in awkward silence while he or she punches some keys on the keyboard.

Was the experience really all that personal?

Along with implementing a digital check-in experience, hotels can now implement a new, more “hospitable” lobby experience and welcome strategy. Instead of having the agent behind a desk, he or she can act as a greeter and welcome guests as they walk through the lobby doors.

For example, consider the airport experience with a digital check-in process like Clear. An agent greets you as you enter the line and walks you over to a kiosk, asking informal but personal questions along the way.

“Where are you headed today?” “Traveling for work or pleasure?”

“Let me help you get checked in quickly.”

Meanwhile, he or she is walking you through the process. “Look here. Touch here.” They scan your ID or passport for you.

Checking in at a hotel should be a similar, engaging experience.

“What brings you to our hotel today? Are you here on business or a relaxing getaway?”

“What can I do to help make your stay exceptional?”

Different guests want to interact with the hotel in different ways. Some want to walk in and head right to their room. Some want to stop by the front desk and ensure their reservation is correct. Others want to chat with a concierge, ask questions about the property, learn about the local market or get dinner recommendations.

The guest should be in control of this process and have several options for how they want to check in. Perhaps they want to verify payment and get their room number and room key on their personal digital device before they even arrive. Perhaps they’re more comfortable with self-service, walking up to a kiosk to confirm their information and receive their physical key. Or perhaps they want that face-to-face engagement. Hotels should provide each of these options and let the guests decide what is best for them on their own terms.

Choose digital check-in technology wisely
No matter which option the guest chooses, there are key exchanges that need to happen during the check-in process. Technology powers each of these exchanges. Data needs to move back and forth between integrated systems quickly, seamlessly and in an incredibly secure environment.

A digital check-in must: Verify the guest ID (ensure the guests are who they say they are), collect payment (authorize a credit card to keep on file without storing any personal information) and issue access to the guestroom (through either a digital unlocking process or a physical key).

Therefore, it’s not always as simple as sending guests an SMS text message when they arrive. Technology must ensure the data and information is collected and shared securely to avoid exposing any guest data. Choosing a contactless check-in provider that is properly integrated with your property management system means the guest information will be shared and room assignment will be handled seamlessly without the need for a person to manually enter data in multiple systems. And integration with leading door lock providers means guests can complete the entire check-in process, including room access, in one transaction.

Should guests choose to bypass the front desk and a kiosk, the most effective way to handle the entire end-to-end process is through an app that they download to their own mobile device. Through app functionality, hotels can offer all three components: the guests can scan their ID and face so technology can match the two and confirm identity; payment can be collected and processed through well-known, verified payment partners; and digital keys can be issued on a mobile device to allow guests to unlock their guestroom door with their device. In addition, app functionality allows hotels to provide more information, such as room upgrade options, spa reservations, property maps, local dining options. etc.

Innovative digital check-in providers are taking the process one step further and including video access to a live person at the hotel. This way, should the guest become stuck anywhere throughout the process or want more information that is not available in the app, he or she can contact a “video concierge” with the push of a button. These concierges can be located anywhere–someone who is already on property and is available to answer calls, such as the front desk clerk who now has more time, or someone in a remote location overseeing several properties.

It’s these types of innovations that will help hotels stand apart from their competitors. As the hospitality industry undergoes a digital transformation, those that stick with antiquated processes like physical front-desk check-in will be left behind. The pandemic has accelerated a monumental shift in consumer behavior and hotels must put the right tools in place to react.

Nadav Cornberg is cofounder of Virdee, an SaaS company that uses an API‐first approach that connects best-in-class platforms for ID verification, payment collection, access control and remote support.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.