Facial recognition check-in rolled out at 50 hotels in China

With the new technology, Shiji and Alibaba claim hotel check-in times could be reduced to 30 seconds. Photo credit: Shiji Group

Alibaba’s Fliggy online travel agency and Shiji, a hotel information systems manufacturer, have rolled out a facial-recognition system for hotel check-ins at about 50 hotels in Hainan Province, China. With the new system, guests can book hotels on Fliggy and then check in and have credit authorized by having their faces and ID cards scanned at a kiosk at the hotel.

With China's rapid advance in new retail systems and mobile technology, the country has become a pioneer in integrated business processes to improve the customer experience using mobile technology, according to the Shiji Group.

"Our aim with this project has been to find ways for hotels to increase guest satisfaction by reducing wait times as much as possible,” Shiji Group COO Kevin King said in a statement. “Working with Fliggy and our partner hotels have made this a success and we're monitoring privacy and efficiency closely to develop ways to increase this across more hotels.”

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The goal of the project is to turn the entire hotel booking process into a faster, digital experience. Instead of checking in with a human concierge, Shiji and Alibaba claim that guests with reservations can be verified through the system with China’s Public Security Bureau and be issued a room key in 30 seconds.

Alibaba has tested the waters with facial recognition technology integration with Marriott International. The pilot of this joint venture launched last month at two Marriott locations in China at the Hangzhou Marriott Hotel Qianjiang and Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay.

While likely not a “revolutionary” change for the hotel industry as a whole, it’s certainly a novel application of technology that is becoming more commonplace. This holds true for purposes of surveillance and law enforcement, but also for consumer technology like smartphones, reports Jing Travel.

There are limits to the technology, which explains in part why the roll-out has been limited up to now. Tech analysts have pointed out since the unveiling of the first smartphones that can be unlocked with facial recognition that the technology is simply not as secure as a personal identification number. Phones unlocking for faces other than the owner isn’t an unheard of phenomenon, which is likely why Alibaba’s tentative use of the technology still requires users to have an ID card scanned. 

This check-in system is not the first hotel use for facial recognition. The technology was added earlier this year as one of the capabilities of Agilysys’ rGuest Stay property-management system to help streamline operations and deliver an improved guest experience. With rGuest Stay, the face of a returning guest can be digitally recognized as they approach the front desk, and the system will display their profile information to the agent, allowing the employee to provide a personalized welcome and improved guest service. The system can show any information saved about the recognized guest, including room preferences, arrival and departure time, and much more. The facial recognition feature is optional and can be easily enabled or disabled as appropriate.