Every industry has seen change via technology and digital advancement in some way or another.
The hotel industry is no exception. The way we book our hotels to the way we tell others about them has all seen change or even been replaced by technology moving through into the Noughties and beyond.
Tech Vs Front Desk
One of the longest standing, traditional and humanised aspects of the hotel industry that has managed to palm off any significant tech replacement, on the other hand, is the Front Desk.
But why has this hotelier-staple not been completely replaced by some sort of I-pad on a plinth self-check-in system?
Mcdonald’s lets you order your big mac and nuggets on a screen. You can avoid all human contact apart from security in an airport by simply checking in through your smart-phone. You can even do all of your banking and finance from an ATM or app…
How has the front desk stood fast? It’s not needed for security or design anymore! The hotel’s of the world could surely save some expenditure by having a system opposed to an attendant on an hourly rate or salary?
What is the tech Alternative?
An article from way back in 2013 by the New York Times almost surely predicted the industry moving towards a complete automated check-in system.
Quoting from a self-check-in company VP, who said…
“Customers are used to checking in for plane flights online, and they are now looking for that same efficiency when they arrive at a hotel. No one wants to wait in line for the front desk anymore.”
He has a point, waiting in line when you’ve just got off a long-haul is frustrating, at busy times there are only so many clerks for so many guests…
So… why hasn’t the tech taken off?
If you’ve been to any major chain recently you’ll notice that this technology has not kicked off entirely.
Although Premier Inn in the UK now incorporates this tech in its foyers, there is still also a front-desk. Why?
It’s not the physicality of the Front Desk or indeed its sub-par functionality, but the unmatchable service it provides to guests that solidify its test against time and tech.
Undoubtedly, checking in by tapping a screen is easier and faster than going to a clerk. But, can that i-pad let you know the best tapas around the corner and show you on the map? Or automatically upgrade you due to a mixup? Nope, not at the moment.
Let’s delve deeper…
Hospitality forward-thinkers Skift has stated in a recent publishing that, “The travel industry needs to rethink its chase of digital tools and services as a proxy to the human experience, and build real social experiences as part of the social spaces it incorporates.”
This has all stemmed from sites such as Trivago, comparison modules and the larger OTA’s. Who, while making the process of booking a travel package easier and cheaper have inadvertently voided the personality of the previous services, such as booking through a local travel agent etc.
The human interaction just isn’t present in the proposed digital-process.
One problem we can see with a full-tech front desk is the lack of ability to resolve any issues there and then. If a customer is having a problem with tech their first point of call is a support system or review page. Without a customer-focused adviser there to help, any problems could lead to damaging reviews.
Reviews are so important when it comes to deciding who to spend money with, and more importantly telling others if that spend was worth it. Look at the rise of TripAdvisor and Trustpilot as proof! Why risk the damage?
How can hotels occupy the ‘social space’ effectively?
One non-travel company has hit the nail on the head.
Barclays Bank employ staff who are equipped with I-pads to stroll foyers and entrance-ways, helping out customers before they queue. This blueprint could be utilised by hotels to create harmony in the world of human-touch vs tech, by taking advantage of both sides proficiencies.
Giving guests the option to go to the front desk absorb some information, try their luck at an upgrade etc. While others (depending on preference) can check in and shoot straight up to their room for a nap.
Hotels utilising their social space, employees and tech as a new-age front desk, accommodating all guest preferences under a more fluid system is surely the perfect mid-ground moving forward!
Predicting the future is hard, but with the advancements in AI, in a few decades, we could easily see this technology having a place at the front desk! Even wheeling or walking around the foyer!
Although that’s a long time away, it’s exciting to think of what the future holds!
Let us know your thoughts on the issue? Do you think the Barclays model is the obvious step-forward? Looking to the future; would an AI clerk freak you out or be a commendable future alternative?