Are hotel front desks a thing of the past?

A recent article featured on the Economist asked, “Why do hotels still bother with receptionists?” And to be fair, they have a point.

A recent article featured on the Economist asked, “Why do hotels still bother with receptionists?” And to be fair, they have a point.

For almost all hotels, the process of interacting with guests at check-in has remained fundamentally unchanged for decades i.e. The guest arrives on property; waits in a line, sometimes for a very long time; and a front desk clerk buries his or head in a computer to process the check-in, produce room keys and try to take care of the guests other “immediate” needs.

Related: Break Away From the Front Desk, Run Your Hotel on a Tablet

But times have changed. With the advent of massive developments in mobile technology, we’ve become a very self-sufficient, mobile savvy bunch. Travellers now expect a greater selection of options at check-in and seek to get in and out of the lobby as quickly as possible. “With the arrival of mobile and wearable computers, surface technology, soft copy correspondence, omnipresent Wi-Fi, and the desire by many hotels to ‘room Guests’, this place where staff seek refuge behind [and sometimes position themselves as more superior in status than their Guests] no longer has a justifiable position in a Hotel Lobby.” Terence Ronson, Managing Director, Pertlink.

However, many hoteliers wince at the very idea of technology taking over the traditional check-in process – after all hospitality involves making others feel comfortable and it is thought that these long-standing traditional values can only be successfully delivered and received as a face-to-face interaction with guest checking in at the hotel front desk. When the truth is that the current model is impersonal and often time-consuming. Guests become frustrated when waiting to get to their rooms, many travellers believe that a desk between hotel staff and guests creates a barrier from the offset, resulting in a potentially trying process of checking in or requesting a specific service. “The key is removing the barrier between the guest and the hotel — be it for better service, streamlining, experience or profit. The sitting-behind-a-desk days are not what travellers want,” James Sinclair, principal of On-site Consulting.

What many hoteliers perhaps miss is the fact that while the traditional hotel front desk may be destined for a scrap heap it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be all robots, sterile lobby environments and purely transactional encounters. While yes, mobile technology is shaking things up, hoteliers that have already dumped their imposing check-in counters, have reimagined their lobbies and replaced them with cozzy spaces to allow for one-on-one welcomes or for the time time-strapped traveller, the option of virtual check-in through kiosks or their mobile device is available.

Removing the perceived barrier of the traditional front desk allows mobile-staff to provide a highly personalized service. “…directly interact with guests on-the-floor not only bridges the gap between the operation and the guest, but more importantly, greatly enhances services levels and helps have the staff get to know the guest. This will surely add to the enjoyable experience a guest will have at your property, and bestow a significant ROI on your brand.” Terence Ronson, Managing Director, Pertlink

And, with a recent study from Hospitality Technology revealing that 15% of hotels are now leveraging tablets for check-in purposes, with the number expected to rise to 47% next year, only reinforces the point that properties who currently do not use and/or are not considering mobile on-premises may soon find themselves in the minority, which could have a detrimental effect on guest satisfaction.

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