The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated many of the changes we began to see percolating throughout the hotel industry. Among these are a broader adoption of or openness to greater uses of technology to enhance the guest experience and reduce operating expenses. While we discussed some of the benefits of technology in a previous post, it appears that we were somewhat prescient as the past few weeks have seen major front desk technology announcements.

Before discussing new technologies, let’s recall that front desks had moved to pod designs and brand standards encouraged team members to come around the desk and engage with guests. The pandemic put an immediate halt to those procedures and even rolled them back. Instead of a warm, friendly smile, team members and guests are now separated by space, plexiglass barriers, and face masks. While all of these steps are necessary elements to fight the spread of COVID-19, we must remember that people make the property, and the human element of hospitality cannot be lost in team member-guest interactions. But given that these steps are temporary, they do provide opportunities as we come out of the pandemic.

Marriott recently announced the introduction of self check-in kiosks at several properties with an anticipated rollout over the coming years. This was closely followed by IHG rolling out its digital check-in process across all hotels in the US and Canada. We have been advocating for years the transformation of the hotel front desk to look like a Southwest Airlines check-in kiosk at an airport. Multiple check-in kiosks with one front desk agent to assist as necessary still provides the warm, friendly smile guests expect while also providing for fewer team members to combat rising labor expenses. And smartphone adoption has created the opportunity to reduce the potential number of kiosks as many guests will be able to check-in on their phones.

Remember that the smiling face at the front desk is a necessary presence across many guest surveys no matter the location, property type, or brand. Technology can assist us to streamline and enhance the check-in experience, but guests want to know that a real person can help them if needed. This is especially true during Night Audit shifts when guests feel secure knowing that a team member is on property and readily accessible in the event of an overnight emergency. With guests checking themselves in, the front desk agent becomes a hotel ambassador providing information about the property, the surrounding area, and being the comfortable presence guests expect.

Many aspects of the hotel industry are experiencing accelerated transformations as a result of the pandemic and it’s past time that we embrace these changes. As discussed in our last post, adaptability and flexibility are keys to business success. Not only will you be keeping up with the times, but you will also provide increased value for guests and the asset itself.