May 31, 2005

Hotel Kiosk Growing Pains

New York Times writer serves up current hotel check-in kiosks. He finds reliability to be a major issue. Employees refer to the units as dust collectors.

One guess is that the sheer exposure and publicity angle of it all degraded the actual operational effort. Incapable of communicating with hotel systems pretty much says it all.

Hotel Kiosks Experience Growing Pains
Source: New York Times

This New York Times article by Christopher Elloitt explores problems at hotel kiosks that are either not working or functioning incoorrectly. Howevcer, each hotel chain cited plans to add more kiosks in the next year.

DUST collectors. That is what employees at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers call their new automated check-in kiosks, as one guest who has repeatedly tried to use them found.

"I was checking in, and try as hard as I might, the kiosk wouldn''t cooperate," Henry Harteveldt recalled. He flagged down a staff member and said, "This doesn''t seem to work."

"Oh," she shrugged. "You mean our dust collector? It never works."

The Sheraton employee had no idea she was confiding to the vice president of travel research at Forrester Research. Otherwise she might not have been so forthright. But that situation is hardly unusual. As these automated check-in machines multiply, the scene is likely to be repeating itself in hotels across the country.

The problem is that the automated check-in kiosks are unreliable. Mr. Harteveldt estimates that more than one in 10 hotel kiosk transactions fail, either because they are incapable of making contact with the hotel''s reservation system, or, if they are able to make a link, because they generate a key to the wrong room.

Experienced business travelers often avoid the machines because their performance is so unpredictable.

Rod Mano, the senior director of property technology applications for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Sheraton''s parent company, acknowledges that the kiosks are prone to breakdowns. "At the Sheraton New York, there are times when one or two are down for maintenance," he said. "Sometimes, they also run out of paper and keys."

Sheraton already deploys the machines in 10 North American hotels and plans to increase that number to 100 by year''s end.

Not to single out Sheraton. Marriott International, which is introducing kiosks in about 20 hotels this summer, displayed some of its new check-in devices at its general managers'' conference in Orlando recently. I was hard-pressed to find one that worked.

A spokesman for Marriott, John Wolf, said the kiosks were not connected to the hotel''s reservations system. "They were there for demonstration purposes," he said. That explains the machines that were turned on but unable to process a transaction. But what about the other kiosks and hand-held check-in machines that were either not operational or that displayed error messages?

The Hilton Hotels Corporation, one of the most enthusiastic advocates of kiosks, is not immune to the technology troubles, either. It has about 102 machines in 44 hotels and plans to add about 100 more this year. But a few months ago, I spoke with John Burrows, an insurance executive from Hartford, Conn., who used one at the New York Hilton and was issued a key to an occupied room.

Rest of Story

Posted by keefner at May 31, 2005 04:48 PM