Bypassing the front desk creates operational issues

(There will always be a segment of travelers that prefer to avoid the front desk and head straight for their rooms.)

Hotels pride themselves on the level of interaction they provide at the front desk. It is the service component that hotels lean on to differentiate themselves from industry disruptors such as home-sharing services, and yet there will always be a segment of travelers that prefer to avoid the front desk and head straight for their rooms. For these travelers, mobile check-in is the way of the future, though the service is still in its infancy.

Ron Mader, regional VP of operations for Hospitality Ventures Management Group, said the act of bypassing the front desk creates new challenges for an industry that thrives on guest interaction. As the technology becomes ubiquitous, more and more guests will be missing out on a hotel’s chance to provide a first impression.

“We have tried to be innovative and stay ahead of the technology by creating additional guest touchpoints throughout the hotel where our staff can engage and ensure that they are having an excellent stay,” Mader said.

Mobile check-in requires a balancing act behind the scenes, but guests just want it to work. 

Kerry Ranson, chief development officer for business and acquisitions at HP Hotels, said mobile check-in’s growing feature set creates other problems for operators. Specifically, the ability for guests to choose the room they book in a given hotel can create problems when a booked room is no longer available and there are no comparable alternatives.

“Unfortunately there is often a breakdown between what is booked and what is available, and that can cause issues,” Ranson said. “If a guest wants a room at the end of a hall and it’s no longer available, what can you do? You can’t kick out the previous guest, but that isn’t the new guest’s problem. Worse, the front-desk operator won’t know about the specific customer request until it’s too late.”

But it’s not all frustration. Dana Shefsky, director of digital product innovation at Hilton Worldwide, said the biggest bonus for hotels that provide mobile check-in is that it eliminates wait times for guests who choose not to go to the front desk while freeing up more time for high-touch interactions.

“We’ve done about 14 million digital check-in transactions to date at Hilton, and digital keys are available in 300 U.S. hotels,” Shefsky said. “Just over 20 percent of our Hilton HHonors members are taking advantage of the option.”