Let us take a selfie (to check in)

The Singapore Tourism Board announced a plan to create a guide to help hotels identify and adopt technologies, such as facial recognition and electronic payments. (Young woman is taking a selfie by mobile phone)

The selfie has reached new heights—hotel guests now can check in by taking a selfie using a new all-in-one mobile phone app debuted at the Singapore Tourism Board conference last week. 

The process is automated and there is no need for paperwork. The guest does a self-check-in using fingerprint and facial recognition technology, according to The Straits Times. With the same app, the guest can enter his or her room, and also control the lights, air-conditioner and television.

Developed by artifical-intelligence company GTRIIP, it was one of the eight innovations showcased at an annual conference organized by the Singapore Tourism Board to help the hotel industry, which faces challenges such as changing consumer demands and a continued manpower shortage for repetitive tasks. The STB also announced a plan to create a guide to help hotels identify and adopt technologies, such as facial recognition and electronic payments, which can help them address those issues. 

“Nowadays a lot more of the younger generation travel, and many of them use mobile phones. Many of the technologies on display here use (mobile) apps,” said Margaret Heng, executive director of the Singapore Hotel Association, which will lead efforts on the Smart Hotel Technology Roadmap.

The STB will work with hotel operator Far East Hospitality Management to implement productivity improvements at three new properties scheduled to open in Sentosa in 2019.

Taking Hold

Oracle research published earlier this year revealed that biometrics will play key role in the hospitality industry. The Hotel 2025 and Restaurant 2025 reports surveyed a total of 250 restaurant operators, 150 hotel operators and 702 consumers regarding their reactions to technology’s role in the guest experience over the next eight years.

The research found that 33 percent of restaurant operators and 72 percent of hotel operators believe that guest recognition via facial biometrics will be in use within the next five years. In addition, 31 percent of restaurant guests and 41 percent of hotel guests will be more likely to visit an establishment with greater frequency if they are recognized by an employee without having to give their name or show a loyalty card.

Forty-nine percent of restaurant guests and 62 percent of hotel guests believe that having this recognition would improve their experience. Meanwhile, 28 percent of restaurant customers said they would visit more often and 45 percent said it would improve their experience if they received faster service due to being recognized.

Voice biometrics is also projected to play an increasing role in the hotel and restaurant industries, with 36 percent of restaurant guests saying that ordering through a virtual assistant would improve experience and 17 percent saying they would visit more often, along with 50 percent and 33 percent of hotel guests respectively.

Just because someone might be able to use biometrics at checkout doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to happen anytime soon, though. “Biometrics are tricky,” Woodrow Hartzog, an associate professor of law at Samford University told WIRED. “They can be great because they are really secure. It’s hard to fake someone’s ear, eye, gait or other things that make an individual uniquely identifiable. But if a biometric is compromised, you’re done. You can’t get another ear.”

Databases get hacked all the time, from hotels and the IRS to Target, hospitals and banks, and until some of the very real security concerns surrounding the use of biometric technologies are better ironed out, you wouldn’t be wrong to worry about linking data about your body parts to online accounts.

Ong Huey Hong, director of hotel and sector manpower at the STB, said the idea behind the road map is to paint a vision of what a smart hotel is, regardless of size.

"We want to let hotels know what are all the technologies available, so that they can pick and choose for their own use—this is how we envisage the guide to be," she added.

Other technology on display at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre included a robotic arm that cooks eggs for guests in three minutes, whether sunny-side up, scrambled or omelette-style, as well as a delivery robot system that automates the transport of laundry within hotels. Developed by dry-cleaning company Laundry Network, RP and Starhub, it takes over menial tasks such as packing and counting linen, contributing to a 15-percent reduction in storage space.