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Making the Case for Kiosks (We still have to touch the door handle)

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June 16, 2020
Jeffrey S. Parker - jeff.parker@TouchdownHospitality.co

As with many of you, the stay-at-home order has become the “get my honey do list done” order. I can’t count how many visits I’ve made to Home Depot. I can’t wait to get back to normal, I’m working too hard. Our Home Depot has gone to nearly 100% kiosks for checkouts, with only the pro desks doing any in-person checkouts. Kroger, Southwest Airlines, McDonalds and my bank have followed suit, which means it’s increasingly rare to interact with a person during the checkout process anywhere.  

Historically, hotels have been slow to embrace self-service kiosks. It’s been hard for hoteliers to see the benefits of replacing the human touch with a glorified ATM. Imagine that instead of a front desk, your hotel greets guests with a pair (or more) of socially distanced kiosks featuring large, interactive touch screens and clear workflows that make check-in a breeze. 

I can hear you asking, “Why would a hotel bother putting in kiosks, and not just move to mobile check-in and mobile key?”

Right now, most hotels aren’t ready for mobile key. Several brands have made forays into mandating it. And one major U.S. brand family is nearing universal adoption, but the vast majority of hotels don’t have a mobile key solution. 

There are a few challenges preventing the majority of hotels from implementing mobile key: 

Hardware costs: This issue tops the list for many hotels. Getting the right technology on the door isn’t cheap, especially for owners with 7- to 10-year-old locks that are still working. And even with locks that support mobilekeys in place, hotels struggle to implement the software that will allow guests to use them. There are development concerns with building an app or adding the key system to an existing app. Interfacing with the property management system is a big hurdle in terms of both short- and long-term costs. Plus, many property management systems only have a handful of lock system partners. So even if your PMS does work with your lock systems, you may not have the correct interface for standard check ins. Remote check-in with mobile key requires a higher level of orchestration between the PMS, key system, app and door locks. All of this complexity adds up. 

Exacerbating this issue is the fractured market for guest devices and underlying hardware: near field contact (NFC) versus Bluetooth low energy (BLE), Android vs. Apple, Apple Watch vs. FitBit, current model phone vs. a five-year old model. Add in lock battery issues and coverage problems, and the best mobile key program in the world can have problems with guest experience consistency.

 Adoption rates: A good adoption rate to date has been 2% to 4% of check-ins using mobile check-in and mobile key. It’s a hard call for many owners to invest in these technologies when so few guests use them. Beyond that, it’s only recently that mobile keys have become a motivating factor for guests making a buying decision. The pundits tell us this is all about to change, but hotels are still holding back. 

A number of hospitality spectrum partners are promoting contactless check-in, but they’re often only one small part of the program, like payments. They lack the rest of the components for a true automated, contactless, check-in experience. 

It’s time for a Hospitality Kiosk Revolution!

We’ve been trained to use kiosks at train stations, grocery stores, airports and even at self-service beer bars. 

I know, I know -- why would we put in kiosks when people still have to touch them? It’s easier to clean a kiosk, even after each guest, than a front desk. There are also self-sanitizing surfaces and UV lights to help keep kiosks clean at all times. 

Over and over again we are seeing that contactless check-in is the way of the future. But I haven’t seen a practical solution that allows guests to enter the room without touching a door handle. So we need to stop calling it a contactless check-in. It’s really about the need for less contact. Plus, as mentioned above, hotels aren’t ready to send guests straight to their rooms, and many are still working on technology like mobile key. 

The coming months will see a ton of investment in technology and other capital not only to keep hotels clean, but to reassure guests that they are clean. Frankly, I’m not sure how many of these items are needed long term. Nor have I seen data regarding guest demand for a straight-to-room option as part of their buying decision. This is where I see the kiosk filling many needed roles and being a great long-term investment. 

Overcoming the Challenges

One of the biggest kiosk failures in my experience is the key making process. Magazines of keys often get misaligned or stuck. For new kiosks, we need to borrow technology from major transit systems, like the Metro in Washington, DC. Thousands of people reload their Metro cards without incident. CitizenM hotels use kiosks that let guests make their own keys. Their smooth-working system is connected locally, which removes many of problems with mobile key use. In many cases the kiosk program can call the key-making system like a local desk agent would. 

Right now, some kiosks cost upward of $20,000 a piece, plus installation. But there are programs in beta testing that run less than $10,000. I hope we’ll soon see a kiosk under $5,000. 

I believe kiosks as a long-term strategy make sense. Even as pandemic concerns subside, the kiosk will be a great tool to help when staffing is tight, or when the new normal needs staffing to be near zero. Kiosks can upsell. Kiosks can book ancillary services, shuttles, restaurant reservations and deliver myriad services we haven’t even considered. 

The world has changed, and technology has led the way to keeping businesses open. Hotels have been flirting with kiosks for decades. It’s time to leverage this opportunity and give kiosks a real chance to make a difference. 

Contact-Free Option

Kiosk can help your hotel provide a contact-free guest journey. And they’re a great long-term investment. In addition to minimizing person-to person contact they offer:

Contact tracking. To properly track the virus exposure, some municipalities are discussing, or even requiring, guests to register their health status at check-in. Kiosks can automate this process. 

ID verification. Every hotel should be scanning IDs at check in. Airline and car rental kiosks can handle ID scanning. There’s no reason this can’t be ported to hotels. 

Social distancing. Current recommendations in most areas are six feet between people to control coronavirus spread. Kiosks can be placed to facilitate this. It’s much harder to relocate front desk terminals.

Thermal scanning. While there’s evidence that checking temperature is a poor indicator of COVID-19, many municipalities are requiring staff or guest temperature scanning. Kiosks can be fitted with thermal cameras that can take guest temperatures as part of the check-in process. 

Staff augmentation. As occupancy rates start to recover, hotels will gradually be able to bring back team members. But short staffing will be the norm for a while. Kiosks can help guests when headcount is low. 

The human touch. Many hotels are adding plexiglass sneeze guards to protect team members and guests, so why not increase the social distance? Bank of America kiosks establish a camera feed when you need to talk with a teller. Hotels could use this in conjunction with a central call center to help guests when needed.  

Key distribution. We are never going to get a completely contactless journey, but many steps can be completed on the guest’s device. For example, we could send the guest a QR code to present at the kiosk as the last step of the check-in process. 


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