Industry Update
Opinion Article13 July 2021

Scrap the front desk – Can hotels operate without a physical front desk?

By Binu Mathews, CEO at IDS Next

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The front desk: the emblem of hospitality. For years and years, we have been walking into a hotel to greet smiling faces behind the familiar desk. However, as technology evolves and continues to transform the hospitality industry, does the front desk continue to be a symbol of care and luxury, or is it transforming into a beacon of tedious outdated processes?

Many industries have already scrapped their version of ‘front-desks’ in favour of more modern and tech-based approaches. The airline industry, for instance, has widely adopted self-service check-in technology. Similarly, movie theatres are also opting to use technology to allow patrons to jump straight into the cinematic experience. Mobile banking began taking over transactions carried out by tellers as far back as 2007.

Recently, Amazon launched ‘just walk out’ shops where shoppers can simply scan a code on their Amazon app, shop, and simply walk out with the groceries. A combination of sensors, cameras and AI handles the hassle of checking out items, scratching billing desks off the books.

So, why is the hospitality industry defying all trends and hanging on to a physical front desk? A well-tailored change along with adopting the right tech solutions can ensure that the guests enjoy the true highlights of their journey without wasting their time on formalities and due process. Scrapping the ancient and rigid front desk can benefit hoteliers in more ways than one.

Tailored Freedom

A looming front desk by the hotel door is not always a welcoming sight, especially for worn-out guests arriving after a long flight, or the guests who want a speedy check-out to rush to a family emergency. A physical front desk freezes check-in and check-out processes to the spot, and this rigidity can backfire when trying to cater to the unique requirements of each guest.

Research into customer sentiments proves that guests value convenience in front desk operations. A study by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) revealed that 76% of guests believe that being able to check-in ahead of time would minimise potential frustration and 41% stated that they would be more likely to select a hotel that offers the convenience of advanced check-in via web or mobile device.

Without a front desk standing in the way, hoteliers can adjust processes to tailor to each guest. It can also allow the staff more opportunities to interact with the guests as they no longer have to stare at a screen punching in guest data.

Smarter and Safer

Amongst the countless changes brought in by the pandemic are the social distancing requirements and the need to reduce touchpoints. The traditional front desk may very well be a hub for contamination as every single guest encounters it. Not to mention the heightened risk to the front desk staff, since, while a guest may only interact with the desk once or twice during their journey, the staff will encounter several such contacts within the day, exponentially multiplying the risk.

However, McKinsey suggests that this is an opportunity to “make it better, not just safer”. They identified that many hotels are doing away with the antiquated check-in process, allowing guests to go directly to their rooms with keyless entry. The calls for reducing touchpoints can be used as an opportunity to adopt a tech-based approach to replace the physical front desk.

Allow Choice

This does not go to say that hotels need to scrap human interactions. The increasing use of tech from airports to vending machines means that some guests might be desperate for a friendly chat with a human. The pitfall of the world’s first robot hotel, the Henn-na Hotel in Japan, is an excellent example of the need for a balance. The inability of the robots to accommodate the nuances in guest behaviour and the breakdowns forced the hotel to remove 243 of its android staff.

The need to scrap the physical front desk is because it creates a barrier between the guests and the staff. Often, these large desks are a way of masking large computers hosting cumbersome tech ‘solutions’. Front desk operations are key points in creating a positive impression on the guest and forcing them through rigid archaic processes will be of little benefit to hoteliers. Adopting simple tech solutions that can run with minimal hardware not only declutters the lobby but, will also create more space for guest engagement.

Instead of a physical front desk, hoteliers can get creative with these processes. Tech-savvy guests can pre-check in and walk straight to their rooms. Others can walk into a cosy lobby where the hotel staff can sit with them and complete the check-in process through a tablet-based solution, while the guests sip on their welcome drinks. This provides an opportunity for hospitality organisations to maintain quality human interactions. Self-check-in kiosks can be used to eliminate waiting times in busier hotels.

41% of persons use a smartphone a few times every hour (Forbes), and 76% of travellers say their smartphone is the most important travel companion (Openkey). These tech-savvy guests are quite familiar with mobile and social media apps and emails. Imagine the impression an archaic desk with people punching data into a large computer will leave on such guests.

Incorporating mobile technology can achieve safer and smarter operations as opposed to a physical front desk. For instance, FX GeM, a contactless mobile solution designed by IDS Next, allows guests to check-in through their own devices with facilities to upload identity documents.

Also, IDS offers FX Mobile Check-In, a tablet-based solution to check-in guests, generate bills, and handle check-outs on the go. FX Roomate, an innovative in-room solution for guests to easily make room service and other requests, eliminates the need for a dedicated physical desk to accommodate guest requests.

Hoteliers today want to change to the future. However, technology vendors stand as a barrier. Your current technology vendor might not allow you to make a change even if you wanted to. That’s why it is important to partner with futuristic companies with mobile-first solutions.

Binu Mathews

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    About IDS Next

    IDS Next is a globally leading Hotel Technology Solutions provider with decades of unmatched domain expertise. Being pioneers in Hotel ERP architecture, our forte lies in providing unparalleled technology solutions for hospitality properties across categories. With unrivalled domain expertise, our USP lies in creating solutions that help hotels increase revenues, optimize costs and above all provide enhanced guest experience.

    We are a dynamic company, which fully understands emerging markets, and its high growth needs. We provide efficient solutions across categories such as large independent hotels, chain hotels, boutique or resort hotels and even small budget hotels. Our offerings include integrated hotel management software, restaurant management software, mobile apps and mobile analytic solutions etc.

    Armed with industry-leading technology and overwhelming TCO, we command large market share in the markets we operate, and growing at an enviable speed. Our software and technology solutions have also earned the trust of over 5000+ hotels in 40 countries spread across South Asia, South-East Asia, Africa, Middle East, Sri Lanka & Maldives and Oceania. A truly dedicated 24/7-support centre ensures 98% retention of customers and unmatched customer satisfaction.

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