From the outside looking in, checking in at a hotel seems like it should take seconds. But operators know that a number of factors affect the experience, with small factors having large repercussions on how fast guests can be processed.
According to Michael Smith, GM of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, payment choices for groups are a major source of check-in slowdown. If four people are sharing a room or a block of rooms, but are all paying in different ways (one cash, one debit, one check, etc.), a check-in that should take two minutes could turn into a 20-minute affair.
“In these cases, you have to do anything you can in order to get the line moving again,” Smith said. “If there is one group, there will be many. You may have to waive incidentals, anything you have to.”
Dana Shefsky, director of digital product innovation at Hilton Worldwide, said large brands are taking command of the data they have been collecting for years in order to present a personalized guest experience that starts at check-in. The drawback is that hotels are in a constant state of flux where rooms are being made available and then occupied, and when a guest has requested a specific room that is no longer available the check-in process grinds to a halt.
“As operators, we now have to factor in when guests are arriving, when they are departing and whether or not they may check out on time so we know not to include that room in the process,” Shefsky said. “There are times it happens where a guest will rebook for another night and we have to adapt; it’s the nature of the business, but we train team members to handle these situations by assigning comparable or better rooms to arriving guests.”
In order to hit the industry’s lofty goals for guest personalization, a large amount of data must first be processed by complex algorithms behind the scenes, and the results of that data must be quickly digested by front-desk agents during check-in. Are guests a member of a special party, such as a wedding? Do they receive gift bags? Are any of the guests disabled or require special attention?
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These are all important factors that take time. Gary Isenberg, president of asset and property management services for LW Hospitality Advisors, said a successful check-in is not only fast but also engaging for guests. Guests do not enjoy being in the dark about what is happening during check-in, and they will grow restless if they are standing in place while hotel employees type away on a computer for an extended period of time. The only answer, according to Isenberg, is training.
“Front-desk agents have to do everything they can to avoid fumbling and staring at a terminal,” he said. “Guests likely have been waiting all day; they waited to be picked up to go to the airport, they waited at the airport, they waited to come to the hotel and the last thing they want to do is wait without insight before going to their room.”