Is The Hotel Check-in Desk Dead — And Does It Matter?

The massive, inquisition-style check-in desk, once as basic to hotels as beds, pillows and running water, occupies a spot high on the endangered amenity list. But so, in some cases, do check-in staff members.

First came hotels like the Fitzpatrick Manhattan, where guests are seated at a small table opposite a staff member. Call it check-in as tete-a-tete, where conversation ensues and amenities are explained before the guest rises and heads for the room.

Next came hotels like Andaz Wall Street and Cooper Square, where guests are greeted by staffers with notebooks or hand-held devices. Though this Apple Store approach eliminates even the smallest table or desk and personalizes check-in, some guests have complained that the approach makes them momentarily uncertain about what to do when they enter the hotel.

The new Yotel Times Square offers yet another method, the airline kiosk approach.

Upon entering the cavernous, Ikea-meets-Jetsons lobby, you visit one of the computers banked against a wall, swipe your credit card and you’re set. A lone staffer patrols the lobby, much like the staff at airport kiosks, offering help with the computers to those who need it. (From what we could tell on a recent visit, most of his time was spent directing guests to the fourth-floor lounges.)

Also on view in the lobby: the Yotel Yobot, an enormous – and entertaining — white mechanized arm that grabs your bag, stores it in a wall of drawers after you check out and retrieves it when you want to leave.

But wait, there’s more. Aloft Hotels is currently testing a deskless, humanless method that allows guests to skip any form of lobby check in and head straight to their rooms. Guests who wish to partake are issued a special Starwood Preferred Guest/Aloft RFID keycard. On the day of your stay, a room number and message is sent to your mobile phone. The method, currently being tested at Aloft Lexington, Massachusetts is to be tested soon at Aloft Harlem.

It’s hard to imagine how check in can be downsized more than that, but some hotel planner is no doubt directing his or her attention to that as we write.





2 replies
  1. Paul
    Paul says:

    Intriguing, and at times amusing (the performing robots), but I was wondering if there is any service benefit from the automated approach? When ATMs replaced bank tellers, consumer banking transactions became much faster. . . . But this looks to me like the other side of automation — that is, for the benefit of the producer/supplier instead of the consumer.

    • Terry
      Terry says:

      Thanks, Paul. I think the hotels would tell you automated check-ins speed things up for the customers, but you’ve raised a good point. Also, not all guests want a speed-dial check-in.


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