Fairmont welcomes guests with self check-in kiosks

Travellers arriving at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto can now bypass lineups at the front desk and check in and out using kiosks thanks to a pilot project launched by the Canadian hotel chain.

By the end of the year,

travellers should also be able to check into Air Canada as they check out of their rooms, the hotel said.

The self check-in kiosks were launched two weeks ago, and so far about seven per cent of guests are taking advantage of them, said Michael Rodger, director of development at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in Toronto. Guests are more likely to use the kiosks to check out than check in, he said. And the number of travellers using the kiosks to check out has already exceeded the number who use the television checkout. Only five per cent of hotel guests take advantage of that feature, Rodger said. They prefer the kiosks because they can get a print out of their receipt, he said.

When checking in, guests can change their room assignment using a map layout of the hotel to select a new room. They can choose another room within their price category.

The ability to check into Air Canada flights will be added in early Q4, said Marty Hoy, director of technology and product development at Air Canada. Currently, about 35 to 40 per cent of all eligible travellers use the kiosks available at airports, with some markets, such as Edmonton and Winnipeg, as high as 70 per cent. The airline also offers Web-based check-in. Some three to four per cent of flyers use the service, Hoy said.

Both Fairmont and Air Canada are using IBM kiosk hardware and software, which will make it easier to integrate the two systems onto one box, Rodger said.

The units cost about $10,000 each and the cost of developing the software was about $200,000, he said.

Service is an important part of the experience the hotel wants to offer its guests, so Rodger doesn’t picture a time when self check-in will be the only option available to guests. The hotel introduced self check-in because travellers were asking for it, he said.

“Rather than it being a hotelier pushing the technology, we were meeting the requests coming in from guests,” he said. “It’s really treating the guests in the way they want to be treated. We don’t envision a day when there will be a faceless check-in. We’re a luxury brand.”

A “kiosk guest ambassador” is on hand by the three kiosks to help guests with any questions they have, Rodger said. So far, the most common question has simply been curiosity in what the kiosks are, he said.

Bank customers never question whether automated bank machines (ABMs) will work, and that’s the level of trust IBM’s practice lead for e-access, Robert Ranieri, would like to eventually see for self-service kiosks. They are already a must-have for airlines, he said. ABMs have already taught customers the value of self-service, making it easier to win over users to the concept kiosks, he said.

It’s difficult to build the applications to be intuitive, he said. The check-out kiosks at Home Depot, for instance, are quite wide and intimidating, he said. “It can be scary,” he said. “You’ll see innovation going forward.”

Air Canada was at the forefront of making kiosks easy to use, he said.

“Air Canada put the customer in charge and provided them with the ability to do what they want.” This includes the ability to include seats, he said. Giving guests at Fairmont the ability to change rooms was even more difficult than letting passengers choose their seat, he said. The layout of airplanes is much easier to map than hotels, he said. Also, the status of a hotel room changes from day-to-day and minute-to-minute. Rooms can be occupied, free but in need of cleaning or ready to be occupied.

The Fairmont kiosks are connected wirelessly on an 802.11b network to the hotel’s property management application using a distinct network from the one offered to guests. In 2004, Fairmont made a decision to build all its applications using Microsoft’s .Net so they could interface with each other and be reusable. The kiosks also interface with the sales system. Fairmont plans to eventually offer groups who check in to the hotel information through the television. Attendees at a conference might be able to view the agenda on their TV screens, while other guests won’t have access to the system. Because the property management and sales system have been tied together by putting a wrapper around the latter, there won’t be a need to re-enter information about which guests belong to the conference, Rodger said.

“Simplicity to deploy and reusability are the big wins with service-oriented systems,” he said.

When guests check in, any messages that are waiting withthem are printed out with the information about their rooms. Those attending conferences will receive their agendas and any other information through the kiosks.

The kiosks at Fairmont are available only in English, but the hotel will eventually add other languages as it rolls them out to other hotels, Rodger said.

The hotel chain will also consider working with other airlines, particularly in the U.S.

Fairmont is following in the footsteps of Hilton Hotel Corp., which last year said it would be deploying IBM Web-based kiosks at 45 of its North American properties.

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