Hilton Hotel Corp. is taking another kick at the self-service can that will see Web-based kiosks deployed in 45 of its North American properties over the next year.

The hospitality company said the project will involve 100 machines co-designed with IBM Canada and follows a successful pilot project

at two of its biggest hotels in New York and Chicago. The kiosks allow guests to check themselves in and out of a hotel, and include a message system, weather and news information, options to upgrade to executive-class rooms and promotions. Hilton’s Canadian hotels are to be included in the 2005 rollout. The company’s properties include not only the Hilton brand but Conrad, Doubletree, Embassy Suites and Hotels, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Estates by Hilton.

Hilton Corp. vice-president of customer-facing technology Robert Machen said the project was part of a plan to make the company more competitive with other hotels and to meet expectations of customers who have grown used to self-service kiosks in retail and at airports. The company had developed a reputation for a long waiting line for check-ins, which was raising stress levels among guests and guest service agents, he said. Part of the problem was a corporate policy to extend a “”warm and friendly”” welcome to each guest.

“”What we learned was customers did not want to wait in line to receive a warm and friendly moment,”” Machen said. “”When we told our operators about it, the first thing we heard was, ‘Oh, you’re going to introduce a lower level of service.'””

The attitude among guest service agents may be tied to a lacklustre self-service project Hilton launched with the help of IBM and American Express seven years ago. The bulky kiosks were “”less than stellar,”” Machen said, experiencing a number of reliability issues and problems with room key encoding. Also, if a guest’s room wasn’t clean, they received a printout that would direct them back to the registration desk.

“”Guests weren’t really there (with the concept),”” Machen said. “”We like to say that we were ahead of our time.””

Hilton had let the kiosk initiative fizzle out by the time it acquired the Promus Hotel Corp. for $3.7 billion (US) in 1999, which Machen said brought a new level of IT expertise into the organization. This time around, the firm spent two months outlining specifications and design ideas with IBM, then spent another three months in testing and implementation.

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