July 28, 2004

Hotel Check-In Kiosks

Wrap on Hilton and Starwood kiosk status

Though some industry insiders believe the industry has been behind on technology, the major brands are starting to invest in certain technologies. Now check-in kiosks are back and executives are saying this go-round will prove this concept has a necessary role in customer service. Road warriors, for example, are salivating at the idea of steering clear of long lines in favor of paperless check-in, self-service kiosks, and even some web check-in systems where you register before your arrival. Playing on the road warrior and conventioneers wants is something that brands such as Hilton, Sheraton, and Radisson believe will drive customer loyalty.

This is about giving back to our travelers one of the most precious commodities in their lives, and that is time, says Thomas Spitler, Hiltons VP for Front Office Operations and Systems.

Speed of check-in was one of the top concerns of our guests, says Julia Strongwater, Manager of Property Technology Applications for Starwood Hotels and Resorts. At Starwood, paperless check-in (which was the first of its kind to be implemented globally five years ago) takes less than one minute using a kiosk and under three at the front desk excluding wait times.

Hilton implemented five kiosks at the Hilton New York on January 5, and four at the Hilton Chicago a month later, with the intension of implementing 100 more kiosks in 45 hotels by the end of this year. Most kiosks will be for the Hilton Full Service Brand, but there will also be trials in all of Hiltons other brands. Hilton is also partnering with two major airlines to offer its customers the option to print boarding passes right from the hotel lobby, saving them even more time and hassle. Though the kiosks are portable and run on a secure wireless network using Cisco Leap Technology and a firewall, they must be plugged in.

We dont view [our kiosks] in any way as a labor saving device Its about driving customer loyalty and taking good care of our customers, says Robert Machen, VP of Customer Facing Technology for Hilton.

Hilton has been experimenting with a new wave of kiosks this year, implementing five kiosks at the Hilton New York back on January 5 and four at the Hilton Chicago a month later. They intend to add up to 100 more kiosks in 45 hotels by the end of 2004. Most kiosks will be for the Hilton brand, but there will also be trial runs of the technology in hotels representing all of Hiltons brands.

To make the technology more appealing and practical for guests, Hilton is also partnering with two major airlines to offer its customers the ability to print boarding passes right from the hotel lobby, saving them even more time and eliminating hassle. Since the kiosks utilize Ciscos Leap Technology, these wireless devices are fully portable.

Hiltons Spitler says some customers get very emotional about new technology that works well. Now that customers have been trained to expect self-service availability from using ATMs, online banking, Internet shopping and high-tech airline check-ins, they are more apt to utilize these kiosks than the last time hotel companies tried the kiosks in the late 1990s.

Nevertheless, comments Machen: We believe hotels and operators should focus on simplicity It does a few things, and does a few things very well.

The frequent travelers will expect [kiosks] at the major hotels, explains Rod Mano, Director of Property Technology Application for Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

So far, customers have been very excited about the new kiosks. Those who choose the kiosks at Hilton are asked about the quality of the kiosk experience and whether or not they would like to use the kiosks again. The average response, on a 7.5 scale, is about 6.4 according to Spitler.

We definitely want to provide guests with more options for check-in, remarks Strongwater. Fifty five percent of customers note kiosks as a feature they want, according to a guest survey conducted by Starwood. Starwoods kiosks were piloted in July of 2003 and Starwood had seven properties fully equipped as of June 18, 2004. The company is adding several new property installations each week until all its Sheraton Hotels have kiosks. Though these kiosks are considered stationary, they can be moved to conference rooms if necessary and are connected directly to the same internal network utilized by front desk staff.

We will always have a front desk and the warm, inviting features that provides, but at the same time, we will also provide a high-tech check-in experience for those interested in getting their key and immediately going up to their guest room, says Robert Machen.

Both Hilton and Starwood require the availability of what they dub kiosk service agents and kiosk ambassadors, respectively. The kiosk ambassador is really that friendly face, and instead of spending the time pressing the buttons behind the front desk, that person is out there, able to assist the guests selecting the best rooms of the ones available, or if they want to book a dinner reservation. says Strongwater.

Although Starwoods kiosks are ADA compliant and use large print, the customers with additional special needs still should have assisted self-service available according to Robert Machen. Though no complaints about confusing kiosks were reported (both Hilton and Starwoods representatives say their interfaces are intuitive and user-friendly), some customers choose not to use the kiosks. For those customers, and customers with more complicated issues, the front desk staff is available. Kiosks also help front desk users by shortening wait times all around. Its also a very cost-effective solution designed with the front desk in mind explains Starwoods Rod Mano.

As alternatives to kiosks, Starwood also considered a mobile check-in system (where the staff member carried around a PDA, a key encoder, and a printer), along with tablets (which may be implemented in the future) and web-based check-in.

Customers in Carlson Hospitality Worldwide focus groups prefer an advanced check-in system on the Internet, rather than using kiosks at the hotel to select their rooms and services.

This initiative is exactly on target with regard to delivering the company strategy to provide more choice to our guests and put the guests more in control of their experience, says Scott Heintzeman, CIO of Carlson Hospitality Worldwide. [Customers say they] do not want a kiosk in the hotel, but like the idea of how the airlines have allowed [them] to check in via the internet.

We are allowing our customers to check in online rather than in line, whether its a work station kiosk or a front desk line, he adds.

Starting September 1, customers will be able to check into any Radisson branded hotel using the Internet anywhere from seven days in advance until two hours before arrival. This new system will cut back on the no-show factor (which is currently around 15 to 20 percent), because it physically connects each customer with a room and charges his or her credit card. All the customer has to do upon arrival is show the hotel pass he or she has printed out, and obtain his or her room key.

This is enabling a much preferred service without the capital investment at the hotel, and its exactly what the customers have requested via the focus groups, says Heintzeman. Kiosks typically cost about $15,000 each, and the deployment process is slow. Hilton will be implementing a web-based check-in system later this year, as well as the ability to check-in using a wireless device such as a PDA or cellular phone.

Kiosks and remote check-in systems are making business more efficient every day. We would love to see more self-service in the hospitality industry, says Hiltons Spitler.

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Posted by Craig at July 28, 2004 02:15 PM