Whether guests check in remotely before arrival or show up way before check-in time – room availability makes everyone toe the line
By Mario Bellinzona
Lately I’ve been wondering if mobile check-in is all that it’s cracked up to be. Sure, it’s supposed to zip me from the front door to my room, but depending on the hotel I choose, the time of day, whether I arrive earlier or later than planned, and many other factors, the direct-to-your-room experience doesn’t always deliver on its promises.
As a frequent traveler myself, I often wonder if other travelers feel as I do about mobile check in. Not only am I unsure if I like it, but I question whether or not it provides any advantages. One thing is certain, whether travelers like mobile check in or not, studies show travelers “say” they want it.
Business travelers especially seem hip to the idea of skipping another queue – me included. Not every “check-in before arrival” process avoids the front desk, but many do offer an express line to grab your key and go to your room. If this isn’t offered, a mobile key program may work even better; here my cell phone becomes my room key and it enables me to bypass the front desk altogether. Regardless of how I skip the traditional check-in process, mobile check-in programs are geared to help eliminate, or significantly reduce, the time spent waiting in long lines to get my reservation processed.
When given the option to skip registration and avoid the front desk, I take it. For one, it makes me feel good and gives me a shot at accelerating check in; and two, I have a certain level of professional curiosity to see how the hotel or brand is managing this process. Now, in the rare instance that my phone is turned into a magic room key that unlocks my room door and I can bypass the front desk altogether, I am elated! But . . . when I get into my room, my feeling of delight quickly begins to change.
I didn't realize the hotel had a club, and I forgot to specifically ask about a quiet room – that my bad. However, I also didn’t get the room type that I requested when I made the reservation. I specifically requested a room on a higher floor, away from noise such as from elevators and vending machines, the pool or other distractions. Also, the room had a bath tub and not the shower I asked for. Instead of the King bed I booked, I was given a Double Double.
Several questions now come to mind:
- Is the price that I pay for mobile check in convenience a compromise in choice or fulfillment of my preferences?
- Would I have received a better room, had I checked in later or at the front desk, where I can be presented with options and maybe even sweet-talk my way to a better room-type category?
- Did my advance check in before my arrival just cause me to be given one of the first rooms that became clean on my day of arrival – rather than a room I really wanted?
- As a loyalty member for that brand, did I receive the upgrade I am entitled to? As it is based on availability, what is the point in time that validation is made?
Suddenly I realize that my time in this room is precious – and the many hours I have until the next morning seems a lot compared to the minutes I saved during check in. Does this make me want to wait in a queue again?
Time Saved vs. Overall Experience As a professional in the lodging industry, I know of course that much of the time savings aren’t really savings at all, but rather shifts in time – a spreading of the workload. The night shift may be able to now do even more to prepare the arrivals. But once you get to the hotel, is your pre-assigned room really ready, or will it need to be changed a few times over to allow even earlier arrivals to get to their rooms so they aren’t just waiting in the lobby? Is there a better way to make the entire process more fluid and more precise, regardless of your method of checking in?
Working in the hotel technology space, I am interested in the hotel’s perspective. How does the front office team cope with the new mobile check in functionality? Is the time I saved as a guest time they save in operations as well? Does hotel management see a rise in guest satisfaction and loyalty? How often do guests still need to see a front desk associate because of issues with the key, the process, or the room itself? In the end, is this all about mobile check in or about not wanting to wait in line needlessly?
Having talked to many room operations staff over the last year, it is clear that the fundamental requirement of a good mobile check-in solution is not the ability to show the right room (or any room number for that matter) at the time of check in, but rather to automate the underlying reservations in queue. It is not possible to predict actual check-in time, nor is it possible to predict which of the rooms that were occupied when the mobile check-in occurred (generally up to 24 or 48 hours in advance) would be ready, vacant and clean to check into at that unpredictable time of arrival. Add to that the important question of priority. Is the most fitting room the one that should be given to a guest checking in early, or from a mobile device? The most valuable guests often arrive the latest, but should they really be the ones to have the leftover rooms?
For those reasons, I think it is important that we recognize not only the promise of mobile check-in, but also the challenges it helps uncover. Rather than dismissing these as side effects stemming from still low adoption or missing smartphone locks, we need to embrace these failures and think about using the resulting insights as a guide to addressing the real underlying challenges.
A recent Skift article titled: “This Is 2016. Why Can’t We Still Book Specific Rooms in a Hotel?” poses a very insightful question. The article quotes a mobile check-in vendor who clearly recognizes that the underlying issues lie with room selection, room assignment, and the impacted fragmentation that room selection/assignment can have on overall occupancy and RevPAR. As an industry, it’s time we deal with these critical questions.