After a long day traveling, the last thing any road warrior wants is to wait at a hotel check-in desk.
Don’t fret, frequent travelers: hotels have heard our pleas and help is on the way. New technologies promise to let guests skip the front desk, although it might take several years for all of us to reap the benefits.
Let’s start with the problem.
I still have bad flashbacks to a business trip to Florida several years ago. I arrived at the hotel late at night thanks to a flight delay, only to find a front-desk clerk who wanted to make small talk. Lots of small talk. Call me heartless, but all I wanted to do was go to bed. I’m sure the rest of my stay was fine, but all I recall of that hotel today was the overly friendly welcome.
Other times, clerks have rambled on about the pool, restaurants, bar, and other amenities. That’s great information, I feel like saying, but it’s midnight and I just asked you for a 6 a.m. wake-up call. Clearly, I’m not going to have time to enjoy your beautiful hotel on my one-night stay. Please ditch the script and just give me the room key.
The majority of airlines—and even a tiny start-up car rental company called Silvercar—let us use our smart phones to get on the plane or unlock our car. But most hotels don’t have an easy way for us to enter our room.
Thankfully, this is changing. For one thing, new and recently remodeled hotels have RFID locks on their rooms. Instead of inserting a plastic key into a slot (not too fast, not too slow), guests simply tap the card against a panel on the door and it unlocks.
Hyatt and Starwood’s Aloft brand have been testing programs where some top guests are given new loyalty cards with an RFID chip. Before they arrive at select hotels, they’re told their room number, and the loyalty card works as a key—no front-desk stop required. Both programs are by invitation only.
Eventually, hotels envision using near field communication technology in our smart phones so they can act as room keys.
And there are some other improvements under way as well.
• Marriott Hotels has a new program where guests at 329 properties in the continental U.S. and Canada can check in using its mobile app as early as 4 p.m. the day before arrival and receive an automatic notification when their room is ready. There’s an expedited mobile check-in desk where their key will be waiting.
• Hyatt offers check-in kiosks at 85 properties, allowing travelers to bypass humans when getting their keys. The Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago is now doing check-in via iPads on the airport shuttle bus.
• Four Seasons also offers vehicle check-in: guests using the hotel’s cars to get to the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles or the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo can connect with the hotel’s staff via Skype. Besides checking in, they can book restaurant and spa reservations and order room service. At other Four Seasons properties, repeat guests can opt for an express curbside check-in.
• Hilton Worldwide allows its elite members to pre-select their rooms online or through its mobile app prior to arrival at all of its brands. Guests know their room number and location, but still have to go to the front desk to get a key.
• InterContinental Hotels Group’s Crowne Plaza is also testing a new check-in program where guests will receive a text message telling them that their room is ready.
Personally, I love the idea of using my phone—or just a loyalty card for now—to check in during harried business trips. The front desk can still help with directions or restaurant recommendations, and I hope that personal interaction never disappears. But let’s face it: some nights you want to skip the formalities and crawl into bed.