The Guest Check-in Kiosk

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April 04, 2016
Self Service | Kiosks
Bill Geoghegan - Bill@LGTconsulting.com

THE QUEST TO DEVELOP A GUEST CHECK-IN KIOSK HAS BEEN ELUSIVE FOR THE HOTEL INDUSTRY. WHILE THERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS ATTEMPTS TO PRODUCE AN EFFECTIVE AND RELIABLE DEVICE THAT WOULD ALLOW GUESTS TO CHECK IN WITHOUT GOING THROUGH A FRONT DESK ENVIRONMENT, THERE HAVE ALSO BEEN MANY ROADBLOCKS.

In 2004, Hilton Hotels Corporation announced a proprietary platform called OnQ, which included automated check-in kiosks to be distributed within the Hilton family of hotels. In early 2005, the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, among others in the chain, introduced an automated check-in kiosk. In spite of all the efforts to integrate the kiosk into the property management system environment, the early attempts for a kiosk check-in proved unreliable to the extent that guests avoided using them. In addition to failure making contact with the hotel’s reservation system or generating the wrong key, the kiosks frequently ran out of paper or keys.
As individual components, all of the hardware required to build an effective kiosk has been around for years. Key dispensers have been available since the 1990s. Credit card readers have been a simple and inexpensive commodity used in many applications such as automated teller machines. Scanners capable of reading the bar code on the back of driver’s licenses or other IDs have been used for years by law enforcement. Touchscreen monitors and reliable printers are readily available. Putting all these devices together in a cabinet is an easy task, but integrating them and developing the software to communicate with the various systems has been much more difficult.
Producing an attractive piece of hardware capable of performing the individual functions required of a hotel check-in kiosk has been championed by major suppliers to the travel industry such as IBM and NCR. Airlines have been successful at implementing self-service kiosks for flight check-in, but the wide variety of property management system implementations and regulatory requirements placed on the individual hotels has impeded the proliferation in the hotel industry. While an airline has the benefit of a closed system environment and a straightforward process, the developers of kiosks for the hospitality industry have to deal with many different issues. Innkeeper laws and record keeping requirements differ from state to state, and in some cases, city to city. While the process of reading a credit card and decoding the name and card number from the magnetic stripe is simple, the storage of that data for future use is impacted by the Payment Card Industry (PCI) requirements.
As with most technologies, it takes a number of intersecting advancements before that technology is truly ready for public consumption. In 1999, the OpenTravel Alliance (OTA) was founded by many of the major companies within the travel industry representing airlines, hotels and car rental. Its stated goal was to identify the messages that would be needed for communication within the industry and to create a standard for the messages that could be used to integrate travel components. In 2002, Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) was formed for the purpose of promoting easy interoperability among systems used in hospitality. While the OTA continues to develop messaging standards within the travel industry, HTNG provides the groundwork for testing and certification of components within the hotel industry. In 2010, HTNG issued its first set of requirements for hotel kiosks using OTA message standards supplemented by additional HTNG-developed messages. As with all HTNG standards, this was the work of numerous contributors within the industry. The kiosk standard has been embraced by the likes of Agilysys LMS and MICROS, among other property management system vendors.
Probably the most successful kiosk implementation in a smaller hotel is within the European-based boutique hotel chain citizenM. Virtually 100 percent of guests use the kiosk system to check in. Given that it has eliminated the front desk, this is not surprising. More importantly, citizenM has the benefit of a single property management system and a custom-built kiosk integration within all of their hotels.
However, one of the challenges facing most hotels attempting to implement the kiosk solution is the diversity of components within the hotel environment. Even hotels within the same flag or ownership may have different key lock systems, property management systems, credit card processors and local regulations.
For most hotels with normal traffic patterns, having a guest check-in kiosk is more an amenity than a requirement, but in a large resort hotel, it is not uncommon for lengthy lines to form at the front desk during heavy check-in periods. Resorts served by airlines will frequently have an influx of 100 or more guests arriving at approximately the same time. Nowhere is this more common than in the Las Vegas hotel casino environment. Even with drive-in clientele, the traffic patterns of guests arriving to check in can be overwhelming. Additionally, with turnovers frequently in more than 80 percent of the rooms on a single day, many guests arrive long before rooms are ready. Nothing makes the initial guest experience a negative one than standing in a lengthy line only to get to the front desk and be told that a room is not yet available.
It has long been the quest of the Las Vegas resorts to reduce or eliminate the time guests spend in any line. Caesars Entertainment, the owner of 10 properties in Las Vegas, has made attempts in the past to implement check-in kiosks for its guests, but those projects were unsuccessful. More than two years ago, Danielle Gaccione, director of digital products for Caesars Entertainment, was tasked with the development and implementation of a kiosk solution that would meet the complex requirements of multiple properties. Working with its PMS vendor, Agilysys, the Caesars Entertainment team identified these requirements carefully and thoughtfully.
With the constant expansion and renovation of Caesars Entertainment’s Las Vegas resorts, it is not uncommon for a single property to have up to three different key lock systems, so each kiosk had to be able to dispense any one of the three types of keys. A picture ID was required, with an age restriction of 21 years old, so the scanner software had to be able to decode the bar code on the back of a driver’s license (or other government-issued picture identification such as a passport), as well as capture an image of the front. With no bar code standard, each state’s coding had to be interpreted, obtaining the guest’s name and date of birth from the coded information. The system requires that the guest has a reservation in his or her own name, and a lookup of the reservation with the matching name begins the check-in process. The guest is required to tender a credit card, with Shift4 processing the credit card information and returning a token that will be used in all further billing transactions. In this way, the hotel avoids PCI compliance issues. The process then offers an upsell of room type to the guest, and, if a room of the type reserved or selected is available, the appropriate key is issued and the check-in process is complete. A check-in confirmation is printed with customized directions to the appropriate elevator bank (using as little paper as is necessary to print the pertinent information). If no room of the type requested is ready for occupancy, the guests may opt to enter a mobile number and receive a text message when a room of the selected type becomes available. Then, the guests can return to the kiosk after receiving the notification and retrieve their keys. Future enhancements planned include the ability to book show tickets or restaurant reservations at the time of check-in as well. Staff members are available in the area of the kiosks to assist guests with any issues and guide them to where their luggage can be stored if their room is not yet available.
The self check-in kiosks are currently in operation at The LINQ Hotel & Casino, Flamingo Las Vegas and Caesars Palace, with rollout planned for Caesars Entertainment’s other large Las Vegas resort properties in the near future. According to Gaccione, the usage of the kiosks by guests has exceeded the Caesars Entertainment team’s expectations; with as high a percentage of guests using the service in the first few months as was expected by the end of the year. Guests who have used the kiosks successfully tend to bypass the front desk no matter how short the line might be. 
Although the kiosk system is not capable of handling special or unusual issues, the vast majority of check-ins are straightforward. While Caesars Entertainment’s specific requirements may be unique to the large hotel resort environment, the fundamental functions apply to any hotel. Like any technology, the real test is adoption, and it appears that Caesars Entertainment’s guests are ready and willing users.

Bill Geoghegan is a consultant in Las Vegas. He can be reached for comment at Bill@LGTconsulting.com.

 
 
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