Technology now allows hotels to welcome guests as they enter hotels, right in the lobby. This space began its metamorphosis a few years ago to keep up with the latest evolutions in terms of technology and consumer behavior. They were reinvented under the attentive gaze of design professionals and interior decorators such as Gérard Laize, President of VIA (Valorisation de l’Innovation dans l’Ameublement) : “When it comes to lobbies, the goal is twofold: to do away with the bank-teller reception area and offer a warmer welcome with improved efficienev and speed.” The efficiency sought bv professionals must be achieved rirst and foremost at check-in, by bringing guests to their rooms and providing concierge services, which are increasingly dematerialized. Dematerialization of check-in takes off As lobbies are used less and less exclusively for reception and in creasingly include catering services and areas for people to gather and meet, the idea of totally elimma- nng traditional reception desks becomes a serious possibility. According to Gérard Laize, “Desks are becoming obsolete, especiallv with the rise of check-in by portable telephone which makes it possible to check in directly from rooms. There is no longer any need for lobbies.” Today the industrv is seeing an unfurling of Interner and mobile check-in.
The Accor group has begun to integrate this technology at its hotels with the unfurling of a new digital solution to update hotel reception. It consists of four simple stages that need to be followed, for personnel and clients in order to check-in: betore arrival the client receives an invitation to prepare for check-in online, if he has reserved with Accor directly or if he carries a group loyalty card; on the day of arrival, he receives a text message from reception to confirm his room is readv and waiting for him and to give him some practical information (means of transportation to the hotel, access codes to the parking garage,…); upon arrival, he receives the kev immediately with none of the usual administrative formalities; upon departure, he simply returns the key and the invoice is sent via email. The group wants to take advantage of digital technology to receive guests in an increasingly personalized manner. As reception focuses less on administrative formalities, the hotelier is more available to guests. “The combined personalized and civilized reception of our guests and time savings made possible by the new technology have been the core of this innovative work. Results at hotels where it has been deployed are verv encouraging: more than 90% of clients who have used this service say they would like to use it again. Waiting lines gradually disappear and hoteliers are more available to serve their clients. They are thus able to dedicate themselves to their core business of hosting, which is their passion,” explains Christine Pouletty, Project Director. Tested for one year at twenty or so properties in France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, this new systern is now used at 60 hotels in 13 countries, and the Group’s ambition is to roll it out to 1 000 hotels, or close to 30% of he network by the end of the year 2014.
B&B Hotels also has a remote check-in program exclusively for members of its e-club loyaliv pro gram. This service allows guests who so desire to receive their room numbef and access code the same day. Thus they do not need go through reception and may access the system via Internet directly from their mobile telephone, smartphone or tablet.
Beyond the virtualization of check-in procedures, which make it possible to reduce waiting I mes at reception desks, that of keys eliminates them altogether.
The company Itesso takes techno- logical innovation a step further. This supplier of cloud Computing solutions make it possible to use Google Glasses to facihtate guest check-in at hôtels. Presented at the HITEC 2014 exhibition in Los Angeles last June, this solution allows hotel personnel to recognize guests when they arrive at reception and even before saying hello. Since they are connected to the cloud, also supplied by Itesso, Google Glasses are able to compare the faces ot customers to photos of them published publically on social networks such as Linkedin. Once the guest has been identified, a simple vocal command is enough for hotel personnel to finalize check-in, making the procedure faster, more efficient and more available to guests. “As far as the hotel sector is concerned, Itesso has adapted Google Glasses in order to provide a long sought- after tunction: the ability to iden- tity guests in the blink of an eve,” declared Bas Blommaart, président of Itesso.
Towards a 2.0 room key
Beyond the virtualization of check-in procedures, which make it possible to reduce waiting lines at reception desks, that of keys eliminates them altogether. Wireless technology is part of an ideal alternative to magneric cards and smartcard and otfers guests more freedom, so that atter check-in on Internet, they may go directly to their room without going to reception, regardless ot their arrival time. Today this is made possible through the development of NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, which some smartphones on the market are already equipped with. NFC allows its users to send and receive data instanta- neouslv and securely over short distances. Customets are thus able to receive access signais directly on their mobile phone and it is enough for them to pass the téléphone in iront of the NFC reader on their door to open it. This new techno logy also makes it possible to make check-in totally virtual at hotels and to transtorm the mobile phone into a key object for the hotel stay, With ail the clear advantages of NFC, several properties have already attempted the experience, especially within the Holiday Inn brand and in the network of the Hyatt group. Nonetheless, there is a considerable persistent obstacle preventing this new technology from being more widely adopted: only consumers equipped with a last generation mobile phone may access NFC. But the perpetual renewal or equipment and the consumer craze for mobile téléphones, the possibility ot opening a room using a portable should bccome more of a reality in a near future. In fact, one studv realized by the mobile phone Consulting agency Berg Insight shows that 30 million smart phones with Near Field Communication had already been sold in 201 1 and that this number should approach 700 million by 2016.
While waiting for NFC technology, suppliers are developing other solutions that allow guests to do without a key or keycard to open their hotel room. Considering that 75% of the population Worldwide own a mobile phone, Sesame Technology has, for example, implemented a solution that requires the use ot QR codes. It consists of installing an external device on a door. The user scans his QR code to enter. For a hotel room, an internai device is also installed that makes it possible for clients to communicate with personnel at the property using a variety of different messages: “please do not disturb”, “make up room please”, “room empty”. It also makes it possible to track entries and exits and to transmit messages via tac tile screen to the holder of the QR code. Whether it is a hotel or holiday rental, the idea is to replace keys witli a QR code that may be received on the mobile phone so it may be (lashed under the device on the outside of die closed door. The devices may also be personalized to blend into the design and decoration of properties.
The French company OpenWays has also helped make intelligent locks a reality with a Mobile Key accessible even to people who do not have a smartphone. Upon arrival at a property, guests may thus access their room directly and open the room using their mobile telephone, thanks to Crypto Acoustic Credential (CAC) technology. To open doors, this System uses the emission ot a unique Sound wave sent to the guest in advance by text message. Any fraudulent tone will not work to open the doors. Personality Holels already uses this technology at two of us San Francisco properties, the Hotel Diva and the Hotel Union Square. When booking their room, clients may chose the Mobile Key option by OpenWays through which they will receive all the necessary information about their room via text message, as well as the access tone. Okko Hotels has also adopted this tool for its rirst nine French pro perties. “Mobile Key by OpenWays allows clients to opt for self-service or assisted service depending on their needs. Fewer guest transactions at the front desk means lower transaction costs and the ability to streamline staff to other areas ot the hotel where guest-tacing services are needed most. It also reduces costs associated with purchasing plastic keycards; because Mobile Key is made only of data, it is the greenest key on the planet,” explains Pascal Metivier, founder and CEO of OpenWays.
New generation concierge service
The arrival experience is not limited to check-in and room access, but concerns the hotel lobby overall. As a space through which clients must pass, the latter should in fact be convivial and practical while encouraging sharing. One of the priorities is thus to avoid any type of disturbance of customers, such as waiting lines at difterent counters, and oftering them a maximum of freedom and personalization. The new technologies once again make it possible to adapt tools to these evolutions. Suppliers and hotel groups thus seek to the dematenalization of concierge services, something that is taking place at the chain Novotel. The service is available via touch screen in lobbies and was reproduced in mobile applications. The screen is installed in the center of multi-use spaces and allows clients to navigate to discover all the information linked to the brand and the destination where the hotel is located. The tool also includes other innovative services such as mailings ot virtual post cards. This is the kind of solution offered to hoteliers by the Touch Innovation firm with its range of personalizable terminais and totems available to guests in the public spaces of properties.
Other sector professionals are counting on the mobile for their concierge service, so their clients may discover the hotel and its surroundings even when they are outside the hotel. Several smartphone application suppliers are positioned on the segment, such as LoungeUp which allows hoteliers to offer their clients advice for going out, restaurants, as well as ordering room-service or asking questions to the hotel’s personnel. Hotelcloud, another player on the sector, has also developed a platform that allows hotel clients to discover and place immediate requests for hotel services and for services available in the area. It becomes easy to reserve a service in the hotel (housekeeping, spa treatment, room service), and to discover and request local activities (transportation, meal delivery, restaurant booking, visits). All these activities are partners of Hotelcloud, and are approved and recommended by the hotel. Supplier applications make it pos sible to increase room reservations, improve customer impressions and to easily generate revenues through pre-negotiated contracts with local suppliers.
To dematerialize their concierge service and make it available to use on ail kinds of mobile phones, other brands opted to use the social networks. Presented at the last edition of the Worldwide Hospitality Awards, the Four Seasons’ Pin Pack Go program, for example, offers an interactive service on Pinterest that is fed by guests and hotels. It is about allowing guests to contact local experts before staying at the properties. After making contact several times, the latter may “pin” items togerher to creare an entirely personalized itinerary, with experiences at hôtels and highpoints at destinations. Pin Pack Go thus uses the power and popularity of Pinterest to put clients in touch with local experts at Four Seasons properties around the world.
Many hotels prefer to avoid complete dematerialization and keep personnel dedicated to concierge services at their property and use technology to help their daily work. The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco has some of the most advanced innovations and has outfitted its concierges with Google Glass to have all the information they need about their clients.