在全球拥有近1200家酒店的喜达屋酒店集团（Starwood Hotels & Resorts）也在努力提高登记效率。喜达屋目前正在测试一种叫“信号台”的无线设备，可以通过该公司的APP与你的智能手机连接，告知前台员工你是谁。该公司数码业务高级副总裁，“喜达屋优先顾客计划”负责人克里斯•霍尔德伦表示：“这样就可以赶走第一次接触时那种缺乏人情味的感觉，从第一步就让顾客体验到一种私密感。”亚特兰大的一家名叫Itesso的公司则走得更远。它通过一款谷歌眼镜(Google Glass)应用让员工可以认出每张顾客的脸。考虑到有些客人根本不想和前台打交道，喜达屋集团还在纽约和加州库比蒂诺的两家雅乐轩酒店(Aloft Hotel)试用一种基于智能手机的“电子钥匙”。客人可以远程登记，然后直接进入他们订好的房间。另外，库比蒂诺的那家雅乐轩酒店不想被Yobot比下去，它很快也将拥有自己的机器人服务员“Botlr”。
The first thing I noticed upon entering the lobby of the Yotel, a micro-hotel near Times Square in Manhattan, was the robot in the room. Behind a pane of glass stood a towering white mechanical arm, the kind you’d find on an assembly line. Its name, the hotel’s general manager ClaesLandberg tells me with an air of pride, is Yobot.
“You ask the Yobot for a bin, you put your luggage in, and it puts it back in the bin. It gives you a receipt, you come back and scan it, put in the code, and it retrieves the luggage for you.” This process of storing luggage, a task previously reserved for front desk staff, takes the lumbering Yobot an excruciatingly long time. Is this really all it does? “We also use it for when we have holidays or anything,” Landberg says. “We dress it up.”
I watched a few puzzled guests poke at the Yobot’s touchscreen, and I wondered: Is this the future of hospitality? The industry has been slow to change in the face of technological advancements, aside from perhaps an e-mailed statement of charges or use of an iPad, and for good reason. How do you introduce technology without undermining the comfort and human relationships upon which hospitality is based?
One place this battle is playing out is the hotel front desk, which is beginning to resemble an airport check-in counter. At the Yotel, six kiosks greet guests upon arrival for check-in. “It takes about 60 seconds,” Landberg says. If you know how to use the thing, that is. Inevitably, some guests do not, which is when Yotel employees swoop in as technical support. “It’s not like we completely leave you alone,” Landberg reassures me. “We still have staff.” The kiosks are an effort to make the check-in experience more personal, he says. Let the machines do the busy work so staff can focus on the guest experience.
Kevin Crawford, a traveling musician at the tail end of his Yotel stay, was dubious. “Check-in was a little over-complicated,” he says, leering at the kiosks with one eyebrow cocked. “There are always guys here to help, so I just wonder why don’t they just have the guys check you in?” The Yobot was fun, he says, but its sluggishness was “a bit ridiculous.”
Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which owns almost 1,200 hotels across the globe, is also working to improve check-in. The luxury chain is testing wireless devices called beacons that communicate with your smartphone through the company’s app to tell the front desk staff who you are. “If you look at the most impersonal experience today at a hotel, it’s at check in,” says Chris Holdren, senior vice president for the company’s digital efforts as well as Starwood Preferred Guest, the company’s loyalty program. “This takes away that impersonal first touch and makes it personal from step one,” he says. An Atlanta company called Itesso takes it a step further with a Google Glass app that would let Glass-wearing staff recognize guests’ faces. For customers who don’t want to interact with the front desk at all, Starwood is piloting a smartphone-based room key at two Aloft Hotels, one in New York and one in Cupertino, Calif. Guests can check in remotely and waltz right up to their room. And, not to be outdone by the Yobot, the Cupertino Aloft will soon get its own robotic bellhop named “Botlr.”