Scrap the front desk – Can hotels operate without a physical front desk? — Photo by IDS Softwares

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does the front desk continue to be a symbol of care and luxury, or is it transforming into a beacon of tedious outdated processes?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.

Hoteliers can adjust processes…— Photo by IDS SoftwaresHoteliers can adjust processes…— Photo by IDS Softwares
Hoteliers can adjust processes…— Photo by IDS Softwares

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.

Hoteliers can get creative with these processes….— Photo by IDS SoftwaresHoteliers can get creative with these processes….— Photo by IDS Softwares
Hoteliers can get creative with these processes….— Photo by IDS Softwares

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.

About IDS Next

Founded in 1987, IDS Next became India's largest hotel software company in its first decade of operations and Asia's largest in 2009.

Today, IDS Next is the leading provider of smart hotel software across Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, Africa, and Oceania, serving over 6,000 customers in 45 countries with $10 million in daily transactions and 300,000 daily check-ins.

With the goal to redefine the way hotels operate through smart software solutions, IDS Next has been a trusted technology partner and preferred supplier to the international hospitality industry.

From contactless check-in, front desk, guest request and housekeeping management to payroll, finance, inventory management and procurement, IDS Next's award-winning software automates and streamlines front and back-office hotel operations, making sure all departments are covered.

With an open API approach, IDS Next integrates with over 100 of the world's leading, best-in-breed technology partners to ensure hotel operations run smoothly and securely to complement a hotel's existing systems and solutions.

Available in single modules and as an all-in-one solution, IDS Next's smart hotel software is designed by hoteliers for hoteliers through the company's in-house development team comprising 135 hospitality technology professionals and supported 24/7 by 90 customer services agents in 30 languages.

With all software PA DSS certified, front-of-house solutions GDPR compliant, and the business ISO 27001 certified, IDS Next's smart software solutions are accredited, certified, and compliant with the industry's most stringent standards for data protection and security.