Will mobile check-in, keys become mandatory?

Think for a moment about the last time you physically dialed for a taxi. Unless you are, ahem, old school, you’ve likely moved on to the far more convenient method of going on your phone then, with only a few taps, an Uber or Lyft is on its way. That transition took a decade, and this duration would also make for a fair forecast of how long it will take to phase out the front desk.

We’ve known for years that mobile check-in, mobile check-out with folio settlement and mobile keys were in the works for most hotel’s future. The pandemic didn’t create this trend; it merely accelerated it whereby a mobile-first experience became all the rage as everyone wanted everything to be contactless. Of course, right now, in 2022, it’s about implementation, testing, safety and flexibility.

And that last word requires some unpacking in that you can’t change overnight. Some guests and hotel brand standard officers may still prefer having guests check-in at the front desk, both for rapport development and safety concerns. Plus, it takes time to build the QA for these mobile systems. You must be flexible, but rest assured there is a sizeable, and still growing, cohort that would prefer to have a mobile-first experience. It will soon flip from a value-add to an expectation and you don’t want to be a tech laggard for this amenity.

The scary part of this shift in guest behavior is that it is being led by short-term rentals like Airbnb. Such platforms are now market leaders, influencing downstream demands for other lodging providers like your hotel. Think about an experience on Airbnb: you book online, you chat with your host via the app to make any prearrival arrangements and you enter the unit using a keypad or other instructions communicated virtually. It’s a rarity, and not the norm, to ever meet your host in person.

Moreover, Airbnb customers never have to wait in line at the front desk. This alone is a huge irritant for current hotel guests and detractor from 5-star satisfaction scores, especially when we are having problems finding the staff who would help to mitigate these lineups by giving hotels the bandwidth to increase labor at the front desk during peak hours.

Importantly for you, as more and more demographics become accustomed to this expedited method of transacting, they will start to view it as the ‘new normal’ while the traditional front desk becomes a relic. Broader, this doesn’t just pertain to the check-in and room entry processes but numerous other features where hotels that stick to their guns could easily find themselves as the taxi company in an Uber world.

Hinted above, one of the biggest concerns with implementing a mobile-first experience is that the hotels lose a touchpoint with guests to build that human connection to the brand. In fact, the opposite is true. Mechanical processes like checking a guest in, handing out the WiFi password or swiping their credit card are what’s deemed ‘transactional conversations’ that do not actually build strong emotional attachments. Instead, by shifting these processes online, you are freeing up labor to have real conversations with guests because your team isn’t bogged down by repetitive tasks that can be straightforwardly automated.

Almost counterintuitively, the ‘no touch’ of technology gives you the flexibility for ‘high touch’ service.