Improving lost-and-found with technology

The problem of guests losing items while on-property or leaving things behind when they check out is not new, but how hotels handle the issue is evolving. One option is Bounte, which leverages technology to reconnect travelers with their lost items—and to help hotel teams process found things quickly and go about their day. 

Bounte evolved from an app developer Stephen Sinclair, the company's co-founder and chief technology officer, had developed to help people find lost items by connecting them with “bounty hunters” who could help search, hence the company’s name. When Sinclair’s son left some beloved blankets in a hotel guestroom in 2018, the father found the process of retrieving the items to be unnecessarily complicated and frustrating. Sinclair decided to find a solution to the problem and began adapting his app for a broader audience. 

Sinclair had been chief technology officer at Performance Trust Capital Partners in Chicago for nearly 16 years and had worked in software development with different companies for 25 years. His familiarity with new technology gave him an edge in being able to develop a more efficient way of handling lost-and-found systems. “We started marketing it in April of 2019, and by May we started getting commitments from local Chicago-area hotels,” he recalled.

How it Works

When an item is left behind, a staff member can take a photo on his or her own smartphone. The app’s artificial intelligence identifies the image, adds it to the hotel’s digital lost-and-found and auto-tags with detailed descriptors. A GPS map then pinpoints the location where the item was found, and the staff member can add any descriptors as necessary, such as the room number or a poolside cabana to match with a reservation. Once the information is in the app, it is available to anyone with access, so a guest can ask any staff member about a missing item and get an update right away. 

In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bounte launched Bounte Protect for hotels, which seals lost items in a bag. (At the time, scientists were still unsure if the virus could be transmitted by touching surfaces.) The app can then scan the bag’s barcode for easy tracking, and if the guest has already left the hotel, an integrated shipping return wizard automates the shipping label procedure. The guest handles this part of the process, minimizing operational risk for the hotelier and the staff.

Notably, Sinclair said, the app recognizes brand logos to reduce possible confusion. “If you have BMW keys or if you have Ray Ban sunglasses, it actually understands those logos,” he said. The platform also lets team members list multiple items left behind in a guestroom and group them together so that they can all be returned in one package, and a new capability blocks out personal information from the identifying photographs to protect guest privacy. 

The Benefits

Simplicity was a priority in Bounte’s development because neither guests nor staff want to spend time learning a complicated new system. “If you can take a selfie, you can modernize your lost-and-found,” Sinclair said. “That's kind of one of our taglines.” 

Simplifying the lost-and-found process is especially important now that hotels are facing a labor shortage, Sinclair said. Leveraging technology can take the pressure off the staff that remain and help hotels meet new guest expectations. Guests have become accustomed to skipping check-in lines and using their phones as a key, scanning a QR code to order meals and paying their bills without having to talk with anyone. “All these things are now starting to become really important variables in the guest experience mix,” he said. “You have to systematically piece together what your technology stack is so that you can be a well-oiled machine.”  

When all of a hotel’s systems are connected to each other, they can be automated to do real work that an employee no longer has to do, making the operations more cost-effective. At the same time, when employees can spend less time handling paperwork, they can spend more time finding ways to improve the guest experience, “instead of being stuck in some room typing away.” 

The solution is meant to be a win-win for hoteliers and guests alike, Sinclair said. Employees can quickly process found items—and guests can get their lost things back with minimal frustration. 

Logic in Logistics

While Bounte has an office just outside Chicago in Lake Forest, Ill., and an innovation space that is part of the TechNexus innovation venue in the city, the team of five employees works remotely from different parts of the country, working with hotels in their own regions. “It's actually better to have a decentralized sales organization because they can relate to the local territory better than [from] a central location that's nowhere near their territory,” Sinclair said. “They can share personalized stories and really begin to create that connection that is really domiciled in those territories.” The team connects regularly over Zoom or conference calls and sets up a camera on top of a TV in the main Chicago office to connect remotely over Zoom when several people are there—“which is kind of a fun thing to do,” Sinclair said.

Clicking with Clients

When Bounte first launched, the team went to the properties of clients and prospective clients in person. Since the pandemic started keeping workers at home, the team has connected with hoteliers over Zoom, which presented some logistical challenges. “The content has to be compelling,” Sinclair said of the virtual presentations and consultations. “It's got to be captivating and it's got to really draw them in and [make them] really want to interact with you.” While he was initially reluctant to rely on Zoom, Sinclair found that virtual meetings can be effective. “I could do a demo for someone in California and then 35 minutes later be set up for a demo for someone in Miami,” he said. “That's phenomenal for a tech company that's in a high-growth environment.” The company also found virtual training and troubleshooting to be helpful, especially with international clients who may have different setups, protocols and terminologies.