Welcome to the hands-free future

Facial-recognition tech creates service, security options
A “digital fingerprint” for each guest ensures that all transactions and interactions are enabled even before he or she arrives at the hotel. Photo credit: Shutterstock

It’s no secret that the hotel industry is in deep trouble because of COVID-19. And even with government grants and subsidies to cushion the effects of travel bans and shelter-in-place orders, it’s unclear what the future will bring. But the one thing that everyone knows is that once things get back to normal, they will still be pretty far from what we’ve always thought of as “normal.” And for the next 18 months to two years, it is likely that guest health will be an ongoing concern. That’s where facial-recognition technologies can play a big role in reducing the likelihood of illness—and in creating peace of mind for travelers.

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While we still don’t know everything there is to know about COVID-19, what we do know is that it’s a lot easier to spread than other contagious diseases. That means that even seemingly innocuous physical contact can have serious consequences. It’s not just about social distancing; it’s about reducing the number of times that people touch common surfaces. And if you really think about it, hotels have a lot of those touchpoints. What if there was a way to eliminate those experiences and replace them with hands-free ones that are not only safer, but are actually more convenient for guests?

Let’s start with check-in. The “old normal” involved at least eight different moments where guests or hotel staff had to touch an object that other people had recently touched. When people park their cars, they get a paper ticket from a machine, or they hand their key to a valet and then (hopefully) give the valet a tip. They then push the door open or hand the doorman some money for doing it for them. Guests then walk to the front desk, where they give the clerk a credit card, sign their names, and receive a key. Then it’s off to the elevator, where guests push the up button to get into the lift and then select their floor. Finally, the guest pulls out the key to open the door to their room. That’s nine or 10 different physical touchpoints even before turning on the lights and flipping on the TV to catch yet another CSI marathon!

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Keeping common areas clean is critical, of course, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Credit cards can carry viruses. So can elevator buttons. And cash. And car keys. And room keys. And door handles. There has to be a better way to let guests move freely in hotels without jeopardizing their health, the well-being of other guests and the health of hotel staff. The solution is a full, hands-off experience from the moment that guests pull up to the front door until they enter their rooms.

The key to doing this is to create a “digital fingerprint” for each guest so that all transactions and interactions are enabled even before people arrive. This involves creating a virtual wallet tied to a facial-recognition app. The latest advancements in facial recognition make this method highly secure, using 3D technology to identify people in instances where there is no light, extremely bright light or if their faces are obscured with masks. Guests simply take a photo of themselves on their phone or laptop, associate it with a credit card and a form of ID, add their vehicle information and other relevant data, and they’re all set. From that point on, everything else is taken care of.

When guests pull up to the hotel, their license plates are already registered. That eliminates the need for physical tickets. They simply drive in and a camera (tied to an optical character recognition system) automatically lets them in. Guests then go to a kiosk and have their photos taken. This maps to the picture in their profiles and automates the entire check-in process. And what about keys? The good news is that there are no keys. Guests walk to the elevators and another camera verifies them and knows which floor to go to. And once they get to their room, a camera-enabled lock verifies their identity and automatically opens the door.

That’s 10 physical touches reduced to zero. And in an era of hypervigilance because of COVID-19, that translates directly to increased guest confidence—and increased occupancy rates. The best part is that the technology to do every bit of this already exists. And not just in a lab or in a beta test: Every single step listed above can be done using tools that have been deployed in the real world for years. There are zero technical barriers to make this a reality. All it takes is a recognition that the “old normal” is suddenly not good enough for what we need to keep everyone safe, secure and confident in hotels’ ability to protect people from illness.

George Brostoff is CEO of SensibleVision, which makes facial-recognition software. He can be reached at [email protected]

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