The hospitality and travel industries have always set high benchmarks for customer experience. Now, as the hazards of physical contact are being recognized, leading hotels are making a contactless guest experience their #1 priority. A recent industry survey found that 80 percent of hotel guests would download an app to make check in, check out contactless. While hotels will eventually map every touch point between their guests and staff and look for ways to turn them contactless, it helps to begin with the check in, check out process—after all, the first impressions are often the last.
Aside from reduced health risks, making the check in, check out process contactless improves operational efficiency and profitability: There are no lines at the front desk, front desk staff is released so they can attend to other tasks and it puts guests in complete control of their experience. As a secondary benefit, when guests are exposed to such advanced technology, it makes the property stand apart and improves brand salience.
Once a guest makes a booking, the hotel’s Property Management System (PMS) takes over. To enable a contactless process, a Digital Key application sends a mail with a download link—perhaps a day or two before check in — to the guest. The link allows the guest to download an app to their smartphone. This app, literally, is the key to a contactless process. It turns the phone into a replacement for the traditional magnetic key card before the guest arrives.
The solution has details of the guest such as date of arrival, duration of the booking, room number, etc., required to trigger the contactless process.
The guest arrives and goes directly to the room, using a wireless NFC/ Bluetooth/ Narrow band link with the lock to open the door. When the guest leaves the hotel, the lock is disabled for the room but, if required, could continue to allow access to other areas of the hotel.
Simple as this sounds, there are hidden complexities. It is the PMS that holds the details of the guest reservations, room allotment, check-in, and check-out process. The Digital Key solution would need to communicate to a variety of door locks (only Smart Locks) at various properties. Time-to-market would be much longer if ground up development must be carried out and it would also leave a heavy API footprint on the mobile app.
To overcome this, we see hotel chains using off-the-shelf solutions from Digital Key solution providers in the market. These solutions also provide a BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) chip that can be inserted into most smart locks without changing the existing smart locks. Once the BLE and the Digital Key server application is integrated with the hotel PMS, it works in the background. It accesses details such as guest reservations, cancellations, and modifications. This data is used to generate keys and update the validity of the ‘key’.
For the hotel, the problem boils down to flawlessly and securely integrating the PMS with such Digital Key solutions. ITC Infotech does this for its hotel customers using an API layer. The integration layer is very important to the success of the contactless check in, check out process. But it has other long-term usage that hotels should bear in mind.
The integration layer functions as a service accelerator, keeping the hotel in readiness to exchange PMS data (guest profile, property and service usage, check in, check out) with any application. For example, if the hotel moves from one loyalty system to another, it can quickly plug data into the new loyalty system. The integration layer is a critical long-term investment necessary to propel the digital transformation of the hospitality business.
Hotels have begun the contactless journey to win back customer confidence. Contactless processes will become default in the coming months. But hotels need to pause a moment, think strategically, and make certain that the integration layer can easily bind their PMS to any external system in the future—thus making their investment go beyond the immediate need for digital keys.
Hospitality Industry Head,
Lead Consultant, Application Development & Maintenance