The end of the Hotel Receptionist?

Smartphone technology will get some hotel guests straight into their room – without having to check in at the front desk

Empty receptions could soon be the norm if smartphone technology takes off

On arrival at your hotel, would you prefer to bypass reception, make your way straight to your room, wave your smartphone over the lock and hey presto, you’re checked in?

The answer will probably depend on how far you’ve travelled, the reason for your stay, and what generation you are.

For a certain kind of traveller, it’s almost certainly going to be a reason they’ll choose one kind of hotel over another.

It’s been talked about for a while, and it’s nearly here

Virtual keys, powered through an app that uses Bluetooth technology on your smartphone are being trialled and perfected by a handful of hotel chains. They signal the end of lengthy check-in queues for weary travellers, and the frustration of hotel key cards fails after you’ve dragged your bags half way across the hotel.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts in the US have been working on their virtual room key for months now. The app isn’t released yet, but they’re asking for people to ‘opt-in’ to register for the pilot. They’re confident that it will be a game changer for the industry, and as an early adopter, a real opportunity for them to carve out a distinct position.

Hardly a coincidence then that have chosen to trial the technology in their Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, California, which is just around the corner from Apple’s headquarters.

But not everyone is convinced.

The attempt to streamline the check-in process isn’t new. Some hotel chains introduced check-in kiosks in their busiest hotels, but to mixed results. They found that many travellers just ignored them, preferring to speak to a real person.

Leisure travellers, more so than the business travellers, tend to look for a personal welcome to their hotel experience. If it’s a planned trip away, or a special occasion, the guest will want to interact with staff to try for an upgrade, or request a room with a view for example. And if they don’t know the area, they’ll have more questions than most – which will be far quicker answered by a person than an app.

‘Ease and convenience’ also means less to the older traveller, who won’t necessarily be as au fait with the technology on their phone.

The potential danger

Although Starwood Hotels sees the virtual keys as a key guest attraction method, particularly for regular travellers, the opposite could also prove to be true.

Given how competitive the hospitality industry is, one of the only ways that establishments can genuinely differentiate themselves is through their customer service and brand experience. If guests are bypassing the opportunities to experience those – won’t the hotel just become faceless, and the same as everyone else?

Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between. There is no shortage of hotels offering the ability to check-in online, in the same way as you would before boarding an airline. Those guests then go to a different check-in desk to pick up their key, presumably avoiding the queues at the main check-in desk. Then guests get to experience convenience and customer service.

Whatever the answer is, you can expect smartphones to truly live up to their name in the next few years.

Smartphone technology is already the biggest news in access control since biometrics

From an access point of view, smartphone technology is poised to take over from physical items like ID cards or access key fobs/tokens. And it’s going to happen soon.

You can already use your phone to prove your identity to open the car park barriers at work, enter your office and gain access to a festival or event. Its success is obvious: it makes sense to use the one thing that the overwhelming majority of people always carry with them.

What do you think about checking into your hotel via an app? Would you use it? We’d love to know what you think.