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Why Does it Take So Long to Check into Hotels with All of Today’s Technology?

A family of four booking a hotel and a receptionist.

I was tired and a bit cranky after the 7.5-hour drive from Philadelphia to Montreal after work. I just wanted to check in and then find a place to eat and have a frosty beer.

Unfortunately, due to the inefficiency of hotel check-ins, I had to wait in line for 30 minutes while the only front desk associate tended to the needs of the multiple visitors in front of me. As Danny Meyer said, “hospitality is present when something happens for you.

It is absent when something happens to you. Those two simple prepositions – for and to – express it all.”

At this point, I wondered, ‘why aren’t hotels automating this seemingly manual and mundane process? When I go to the movie theater, I ignore the box office, so why is it important at hotels?’ I decided to conduct some research on the topic and here’s what I found!

Why Does the Current Hotel Check-In Take So Long

A man signing a hotel fee.

The check-in process currently takes so long because of the required information that must be manually entered into the system. This includes:

Basic Information

Basic information consists of your name, address, and phone number. Hotels also must verify your identity with a state-issued identification card or passport when traveling internationally. This process also applies to businesspersons who are receiving a corporate rate and must prove they work for that organization.

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Rewards Program

Countless travelers are part of hotel-specific rewards programs, which need to be captured at check-in. Depending on the level of the traveler, extra steps are often required, such as verifying the correct name or choosing a gift for high-level guests.

Choosing your Room

Selecting your room can be completed in an instant or take a long time depending on many factors. Rooms are typically assigned based on rewards level status, availability, and room requests like near the door, first floor, top floor, away from the elevator, etc.

The more requests required from guests, the longer this part of the process will take. Sometimes these requests are incorrect or when the guest arrives, the specific room that meets these needs may not be ready so another similar room must be found. The busier the hotel, the more difficult this task.


A receptionist handing a man a receipt.

Many hotels have not updated their software in decades. That means these old systems are not intuitive and every bit of information must be re-entered, even if the guest added this information online. In many instances, legacy systems don’t speak to modern systems, so this process is painstakingly slow.

What is Hotel Check-In Automation?

In the simplest terms, hotel check-in automation is the use of technology to bypass the traditional check-in process, thus enabling guests to gain access to their rooms and start their stay without going to the normal check-in desk.

This means that guests would check in and pay using a kiosk or digital system to gain entry to their room. Such devices include the code to a keypad sent via email, online check-in browser platform, app, or using a near field communication device, like a mobile phone, to unlock the room.

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Automated check-in doesn’t mean the staff is non-existent and the first view of the hotel is sterile and cold, it simply means a guest’s room access is not dependent on a staff member or receptionist to assist them. The check-in process can be a streamlined, easy, friendly, and warm situation for those who choose this method, instead of waiting in a long line.

Can Automated Check-in Maintain a Personal Touch

2 person with luggage in front of a receptionist.

One of the greatest fears of eliminating hotel reception areas is that the guest experience will suffer, and feel like a cold and faceless process, thus reducing the “hospitality” welcome that many hotels pride themselves on providing. Others fear that less contact with staff equates to fewer upsells or upgrade opportunities, or the chance to make an excellent first impression.

While this could be the case, the hotel would need to set up a way to have friendly staff available without lengthy waits.

In my opinion, eliminating the reception area is a mistake. Instead, offer the reception desk and check-in or maintenance kiosks. An excellent example of this can be found at any airport.

The check-in desks are available for those who choose to use them or have a specific need, but kiosks are also available for those who are traveling light or prefer using a more automated process.

This is the type of system more hotels should implement.

Why Hotels Should Allow a Choice

Completely scrapping human interactions is never a promising idea. The use of technology to automate processes in daily life means some guests could be desperate to have a friendly human chat. The first robot-only hotel, Henn-na Hotel, in Japan proved this need for balance.

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Guests found that the inability of robots to accommodate guest behavior nuances and the breakdowns of the hardware forced the hotel to remove 243 robotic staff.

A man in a hotel with robot receptionist.

Scrapping the physical front desk forms a barrier between guests and the staff. In most cases, the large front desks are one way of masking large computer systems with a cumbersome technology solution. Also, front desk operations create critical opportunities for creating a positive first impression on the guest.

Adopting simpler technology solutions that require minimal hardware declutters the lobby to create larger spaces for guest engagement.

Therefore, instead of having a physical front desk, hoteliers can become more creative with the options. Tech-savvy guests can pre-check in based on their reservation and walk directly to their rooms. Those who want a more hospitable experience can enter the cozy lobby and directly speak with the staff to complete the check-in process.

As James Cash Penney once said, “courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.”

A tablet-based solution is an excellent option so the staff can sit with guests, who can sip on welcome drinks, to complete the process. This provides the opportunity to maintain high-quality human interactions for those who want them. The self-check-in kiosks give travelers an option while freeing up waiting times at busy hotels.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has increased the need for contactless check-ins at hotels. However, for those who don’t mind the traditional process, having a decluttered reception area offers every guest a choice, while utilizing technology, based on their current needs and desires.


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