Striking a balance: technology and hospitality at the check-in

Ron Swidler By Ron Swidler
Uploaded 31 August 2016

Digital check-in stations at hotels may be making the process of arrival more efficient, but at what cost to hospitality?

At The Gettys Group, we believe that creating a personal connection - to people and place - is a key component to an experience. We design hotels with these connections in mind and see guest-to-team member interaction as a key delivery mechanism for hospitality.

The hotel front desk was initially designed as an area of transaction, interaction and information: a place to be welcomed and find service (guidance and support), as well as to exhibit the brand's personality and voice. Over time, millwork barriers were removed between staff and guests and it seemed that the human touch was a priority to express hospitality. But, this may be changing as kiosks, self-check-in apps and the automated check-out have replaced person-to-person interaction.

What becomes of the front desk? How can technology aid the interaction and enhance the service delivery? How do we design for likely eventualities of untethered team members and desks, paperless commerce, keyless entry, services-on-demand through text and more?

Staying ahead of the curve

Marrying high-tech with high-touch, hospitality design firms, operators and brands are being challenged to balance labour-saving efficiency with human interaction as the needs and expectations of guests continue to evolve. Subsequently, they are seeking out solutions to these challenges in ways that fit the brand personalities and service/investment level expectations.

Solutions must be evolutionary, with ongoing ideation and evolution. Observation, consideration, testing, refinement and application of new thinking are required to create relevant and differentiated experiences. 

For example, we are presently testing a front desk solution that is essentially a long, formal dining table with a temporary podium printing station. The print station will become obsolete within the next couple of years and the table will then be used as a communal gathering point and a feature of the lobby bar.

Creativity comes in many forms

Drawing inspiration from outside hotels, we take design and service cues from other industries addressing similar needs. Improved experiences and imagination can now be found in airports: through innovative retail, diverse food and beverage offerings, art installations and reimagined membership lounges. Lounges offer numerous noteworthy solutions to how visitors are greeted, entertained, powered, given semi-privacy and fed (while balancing free offerings and items for purchase).

Retailers such as Apple can provide numerous environment and service lessons. As one of the leading global brands in technology, we expect Apple to teach us new ways of using tech to enhance the service experience and our lives. Interestingly, when opening its first retail stores, Apple hired Ritz-Carlton Hotels to consult on service delivery. Now, hotel brands are learning from Apple how technology can aid team member-to-guest interaction. But there is more that we can learn beyond service.

Apple and most retailers change the look of their stores on a seasonal basis as new products are introduced. We are inspired by retail to integrate a similar dynamism into our hotel environments and experiences. Through changing artwork, uniforms, menu items, programming, soundtracks and other brand touch-points, we can create an evolving and fresh guest experience.

Rather than just learning from retail brands, some hotel companies are partnering to create unique ways to elevate the guest experience to connect guests with the local culture. In one such example, fitness brand Under Armour recently formed a partnership with Marriott's Residence Inn brand to offer custom running routes via an app that takes guests past the most interesting sites in the city they are visiting. It is through such thoughtful consideration of guests' own technology and needs that hotel brands can become essential and trusted travel partners.

As designers of hospitality experiences, we must always be looking at the world with wide eyes and through different lenses. Great design - in all industries - not only serves, but excites and entices. As our world and expectations rapidly evolve, so must our definition and delivery of hospitality at the front desk and beyond.

Ron Swidler is principal of The Getty Group's branding group.

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