Imagine that you are welcoming a guest into your hotel on his or her approach to the front desk. As the guest reaches you, an instant message pops up to inform you that this particular guest has some bills that are past due, before he or she even states a name or provides an ID. Milliseconds later, the guest’s stay history is made available to your screen and other customer service centers in the hotel, instantly drawing up the guest's only option, “pay up or find somewhere else to stay.” Surprisingly, this is not science fiction, but a service in use today using facial-recognition technology.
Facial-recognition technology—like fingerprinting, it falls under biometrics—scans people’s faces to map multiple, unique physical features. This includes measurements between key facial features, thermal imaging, unique facial landmarks, skin texture and more. What’s advantageous is that it can be used to recognize customers at a distance and incorporating this form of ID opens up multiple guest service and security possibilities in the hotel environment.
In fact, facial recognition has already come into play at multiple properties in China, including at limited Marriott hotels and FlyZoo, a futuristic hotel built by tech giant Alibaba. The roll-out in China is not surprising because the country is at the forefront of incorporating facial recognition technology broadly, including security. Notably, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security began its quest to build the world’s most extensive facial recognition database in 2015 with a goal to recognize its 1.3 billion citizens within 3 seconds with a 90 percent accuracy.
Returning to facial recognition’s entrée into hospitality, it has been introduced as part of the guest reservation and access journey. In the example of FlyZoo, a Chinese customer uses the Fliggy app (via Alibaba) to choose her hotel room and make reservations. Once on premises, the guest’s face is scanned as she enters—matching her to her Fliggy photo. The technology grants access to the elevator, which will lead her to the right floor and a face scan will open the guestroom door. Alternately, at the Marriott properties where similar technology has been introduced, the facial-recognition technology is used at lobby kiosks to speed up the check-in process.
These applications are just one part of the potential for facial-recognition technology. Adding facial scans to your guest profiles will help positively with guest services—immediately recognizing special customers as they enter the building and as they move throughout the property.
Securitywise, it can assist with the difficulty of securing the bustling public spaces in a hotel. Having a database of known criminals and other problem figures will alert security personnel of potential dangers. Alternately, you can use the technology to control entrance to limited-access areas.
Like all talk of future technology, it sounds too good to be true. And yes, there are many limitations and privacy concerns. Primarily, the technology is not always accurate and largely depends on the stored data and system. You might have to deal with the frustrations of mistaken identity. And even larger in today’s business environment, keeping stored personal identifiable information. With the growth of regulations protecting the storage of this type of data, will there be a tolerance for keeping a person’s face on file?
Frank Wolfe is the CEO of Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals. He can be reached at [email protected].