Ariane Systems White Paper Series 2015: Build or Buy Your Hotel Online Check-in Solution?
August 27, 2015 11:04am
Part 2 : A checklist for self-service solutions
Self-service solutions are quickly becoming a standard amenity in the global hotel market, as mobile-savvy travelers increasingly demand solutions that enhance the guest experience, save them time and leverage new technologies. The decision to build or buy your next solution is often a difficult one to make, but can have a direct long-term impact on the performance and success of a property.
Part two of this whitepaper outlines the features of a self-service solution that should be taken into account, whether you are building or purchasing new technology.
A Checklist for Self-Service Solutions
The following is a short checklist highlighting some of the things that can occur “behind the scenes” during a typical self-service check-in/out process. Due to these variables, there are specific features that need to be taken into account when specifying or purchasing your solution.
Guest contact details are transferred from the OTA, CRS or GDS to the PMS. This information is used to raise the quality in your guest database and most importantly to communicate with the guest during the check-in/out process. The information is often incomplete and either e-mail or mobile phone numbers might be missing.
Your solution should have support for communication through multiple channels to increase the chance of reaching the guest and to update your guest database with accurate information, even if the origin of the reservation is external (i.e. an OTA).
Having two or three different types of reservation numbers for the same stay is not unusual. The Online Travel Agents have their own, the Global Distribution Systems often have another and the Property Management System has yet another one.
Your solution must support multiple types of reservation numbers in the same system to ensure that the guest is accurately identified and serviced.
It is common to see multiple changes in one single reservation. This can be anything from a name update, change in number of people, price, arrival / departure dates or cancelations. The changes can come from any of the systems handling reservations (OTA, GDS, CRS or PMS).
Your solution must be aware of these changes throughout the entire process to ensure correct payment, room allocations, key issuance and more. An update in one system needs to be reflected in the others and vice versa.
Every eligible guest must be invited to complete his or her check-in/out, or have another method of accessing the service directly (application, website). The invitation might be a link to an online tool, a feature in an application or part of the room-reservation process.
Your solution must provide multiple ways of enticing the guests to complete their check-in/out. It cannot be expected that a guest will complete this process without being informed of the service, and often also reminded about it closer to arrival day.
Guests use a wide variety of devices with different characteristics, including everything from PC-based web browsers, mobile phones and/or tablets to lobby kiosks and public PC’s. The device of choice often changes when at home, work or during travel.
The solution must support multiple platforms, be easy to use, provide a smooth transfer from one device and service to another. It has to “meet” the user on his device of choice, and stay current with new offerings on the market.
Reservations are usually not pre-paid before arrival at the hotel. Assigning a room automatically and enabling a full bypass of the reception makes it necessary to capture payment before the guest arrives on site.
Your solution has to support a number of secure online payment methods that work in accordance with local regulations, PCI DSS, in combination with payment devices at the hotel. For many hotel groups, this will typically also require integration and ongoing management of different Payment Service Providers and their differing software/hardware solutions across multiple regions. Online payment also creates a need for 24/7 support that is able to reimburse guests if something goes wrong in the process. Payment requirements also provide complexities around handling pre authorizations, pre-payments and deposits across the different payment channels, i.e. a guest checking in online might decide to check-out at the desk. Managing the sharing of sensitive transaction data across channels is not straightforward.
PMS integration and check-in
A successful self-service strategy depends on good integrations and full automation of the hotel’s check-in and out process. Your staff should be able to focus on tasks that are more important and interact with the guests.
Your solution must support a tight integration with your PMS, including updating reservations, room assignments, preferences, payment and of course check-in and out. Should you opt for a self-service solution as part of your PMS software – make sure it supports web applications and not only downloaded smartphone apps. You should also require full flexibility on your specific set of services and features, as well as branding to match your brand’s look and feel.
Guests are automatically assigned rooms according to their reservation, preferences and available rooms. Arrival at the hotel can be anytime during the day or late at night – but a guest who has checked-in online will not accept being turned away (due to overbooking) or getting an inferior room because of late arrival.
Your solution should be able to capture preferences and assign rooms according to estimated arrival time. This enables housekeeping to clean the rooms in the optimal order (according to arrival time) and become more efficient. Your loyal guests who have gone through the online check-in process should be checked-in and the actual room number communicated even before arrival on site – this is the only way to make them feel secure and relaxed when arriving late. eCheck-in by Ariane takes into account (1) the time when the guest is expected (2) their actual arrival time (3) loyalty status. The mix of these three criteria is dynamically managed.
Many hotels do extensive work on the pre-arrivals list. This can include anything from identifying any VIP’s, assigning club rooms to loyalty card holders, delivering messages, placing extra beds or applying other room preferences.
Your solution should support both manual and automatic room assignments. It must make it possible to move rooms, even after the room number / check-in code has been communicated to the guest. It should also automatically take any preferences into account when assigning rooms.
Support for multiple languages has always been important at hotels. The current trend is to support local language, English and the most common other languages at the destination.
Your solution should have a robust and built-in support for multiple language libraries. Any changes in text or GUI should be easy to translate into the other supported languages. It is also a great advantage if a professional translation agency or someone who speaks the local language well does this.
A large number of guests are going to connect to the online self-service solution. The numbers will vary over time, day of week and season. You can also expect regional differences in usage due to demographics, culture, age, adoption of technology, access to bandwidth and more. Usage and demand will be continually changing and the general consensus is that the drive towards greater reliance on technology solutions will keep increasing.
Make sure that your system scales well and delivers top performance even at times with extreme usage. Your strategy must be to support everyone who wants to perform an online check-in, and there is only one thing worse than waiting in line at a hotel to check-in – waiting for an online check-in web page to respond…
Room access is key
Many hotels have launched self-service solutions that are not fully automated. Guests often have to stop at the reception desk to pick up their keycard, or perform other “manual” actions. This breaks the whole guest experience, and little time or effort is saved for guests as or staff.
A true self-service check-in/out must be fully automated and provide a solution for all steps in the process. This includes support for creating keycards automatically and with no staff intervention. Room access control systems are very reliable and typically last 15 to 20 years. While NFC features are a priority for payment applications, they are not widely accepted by users for access controls.
Support for a variety of access control systems
Few hotel chains have the same keycard system installed at all properties. It is far more common to have one system per property, depending on when they were constructed.
Make sure that your self-service solution supports and interfaces with all keycard systems and vendors at your properties!
Access control for hotels is continuously evolving and new updated technologies are currently being introduced. This can either be more traditional solutions, such as RFID or various types of mobile keys.
It is advisable to plan for future upgrades and technologies upon creation of first version of your self-service offering. Make sure that you retain the ability to easily add support for new vendors, technologies and even other architectures (like mobile keys delivered over the air).
Most access control suppliers manufacture their own keycard encoders. These are proprietary, come in different sizes and use different communication protocols. Very few have the ability to store and dispense multiple cards.
Your self-service strategy must have the ability to automatically create and dispense keys for the various keycard systems you have installed in your hotels or support mobile keys.
Remote support and hardware repairs
Every system and service can fail. It might be due to hardware failures, bugs, and external circumstances or sometimes lack of knowledge and experience. Downtime equals a broken guest experience in self-service delivery, potential staffing problems and guests waiting to check in.
Make sure you have the ability to remotely support your systems and arrange for hardware repairs or replacements on-site.
Early departure and last minute consumption makes it necessary to provide guests with a way to declare and pay for what they have taken from the minibar.
Make sure your solution makes it possible to add last minute charges, so that the guest has the ability to pay all outstanding debt before he leaves your hotel.
The ability to view your invoice for the entire stay, including last minute consumption, is essential for both for leisure and business travelers.
Make sure you have the ability to automatically retrieve, display and send final invoices to your guests. It is also a good idea to make an archive of old receipts available for guests to avoid having to contact the front office to get help.
Change contact info
Many companies require having their full and correct company name and address on the receipts to deduct the costs. This information is not always entered into the reservation and needs to be added during the stay.
Make sure you give guests a way to check and update their contact and company information. It might be a simple addition of company name to the reservation, or change of e-mail address where you want the receipt to be delivered. For example, in Spain you must enter a company’s legal number on the receipt in order for the invoice to be accepted by accountants.
Guests are used to returning their room key to the reception when they check out from a hotel. This gives a sense of security and recycling.
Provide an easy and well-defined way for guests to return their keys. It can be a simple message “Please leave your key in the room when you leave” or an automatic dispenser that picks up and reads the key and alerts housekeeping that you have left.
Behind the scenes
Reports and statistics
Reports and statistics are not always on top of the priority list when specifications are created. Good reports are often time consuming to create and require an in-depth understanding of both the solution and the business drivers.
A comprehensive set of useful reports and easy access to updated statistics should accompany every successful system launch. It makes it easier to understand the performance, change over time and shortcomings and strengths of your service. It is also advisable to show performance for a selection of hotels, sub-brands or regions to get a full understanding on where it works better, and where an extra effort is needed to ensure success.
Payments can go wrong, printers stop working, integrations between multiple systems are not always stable. In short – even the best of solutions sometimes fail!
Settle for no less than a good support that understands both software and the hospitality business.
Your guests might ask why they weren’t invited, you might want to check-out what was communicated yesterday to Mr. X, or you might want to push an extra invite to get as many online check-ins as possible in anticipation of a full house and long queues.
An easy to use, accessible and updated dashboard is essential to secure the support and cooperation of your staff.
Updates and backups
Updates are necessary to keep your solution up to date and in tune with your guests. Every update requires a well-tested backup to be in place. If something unexpected happens during an upgrade, there is a potential risk of losing valuable data.
The IT team supporting your self-service system should be well trained, have good routines, take the necessary time to simulate upgrades and test your backup solution to ensure that no data is ever at risk of being lost.
A security breach where your guest’s personal information is lost, or even worse – credit card information is stolen, can destroy your reputation in no time. Your customers place trust in you, and they expect that their personal and payment information is well guarded.
Strong, secure, well tested and state of the art security measures need to be core in any solution handling personal information.
Native Solution, Web Application or a hybrid approach?
Multiple approaches and how these can be combined
Learn how to select if a native solution or web-based application is best for your hotel in part three of this whitepaper. Also learn about how a modular online check-in can be integrated with your existing applications or webpages. For more information, please visit www.ariane.com.
Contact: Jeff Councilman
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