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Are biometric technologies the future for hotels?

Fingerprint readers, retina scanners and facial recognition tools are already widely used in some sectors – will hotels go the same way?

In the hotel industry, certain inconveniences seem unavoidable. There can’t be many people who have never had to dawdle interminably at a check-in desk while documents are checked, passports are photocopied and details are verified. Likewise, most of us are familiar with that sinking feeling of making a long walk to a guest room, only to find that the keycard resolutely refuses to open the door.

Help is at hand. Biometric tools are already widely used in airports – in August 2019, American Airlines became the latest air carrier to introduce biometric boarding – and there’s little reason why the same technologies can’t be implemented in hotels, making processes such as check-in as swift and seamless as possible.

Biometrics in practise

In a number of cases, in fact, they’re already in use. Hotel Alma Barcelona allows room access through fingerprint scanners, various Chinese hotels use facial recognition software and Yotel has long used handprint readers to clock staff on and off. In 2018, Accor Hotels even introduced something called the Seeker Project, which aims to suggest holiday destinations based on participants’ biometric responses to different visual stimuli. The future is now.

So, what exactly are biometrics? “A biometric is essentially any unique characteristic of your body that doesn’t change over time, at least not significantly,” says Susana Lopes, Senior Product Manager at ID verification specialists Onfido. “That could be your retina, your voice, your handprint or so on. With the check-in process, for example, the relevant data can be front-loaded before you reach the hotel, allowing you to check in and access your room in a much more expedited way, while still maintaining a level of security.”

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'We’ve heard from travellers that saving time is the most important benefit to the use of biometrics data'. Photo: credit to Almos Bechtold, Unsplash

 

“In the future, you could see a situation where you could use your face to unlock the door, for example, hire a car or even pay for drinks,” she continues, before pointing out that these technologies could appeal in different ways to different hotels. “There are two main sides to the use of biometrics. Either you’re trying to increase convenience and minimise your costs, or you’re trying to create a luxury experience, with guests living in a high-tech resort where it’s very seamless to unlock the door.”

Data and security

There’s also the more delicate matter of data privacy. Are people happy to opt in to these types of technologies? The indications are positive. A 2019 survey by market research and advisory firm Atmosphere Research Group found that 68% of US hotel guests were comfortable sharing their biometric data with hotels and governments, up from 65% in 2018, while the same figures for UK guests were at 62% in 2019, up from 58% in 2018.

“We’ve heard from travellers that saving time is the most important benefit to the use of biometrics data, followed by reducing hassle,” says Atmosphere Research Group President, Henry Harteveldt. “For hotel guests, especially in a busy property, skipping a long check-in line and getting to the room faster is like winning a gold medal. Gaining back the gift of time, even if it’s just a few minutes, is still something the guest cherishes.”

“But earning travellers’ trust may not be easy,” he continues. “Hotels face a challenge in creating confidence regarding how they will secure a guest’s biometrics data. And, as impressive as the research is in showing the interest among hotel guests in sharing their data, we can’t ignore that a critical mass of guests do not feel comfortable sharing their biometrics with travel firms.”

One initiative that might reassure those guests reluctant to share their data with multiple hotels and travel providers is the World Travel & Tourism Council (WWTC)’s Seamless Traveller Journey. Its hope is to use a single biometric identifier that could be used at all points in a traveller’s journey, from applying for a visa and crossing borders to collecting baggage and checking in to hotels. Hilton Hotels & Resorts is already a key stakeholder in the project.

“We’re very much in the early days of using biometrics in travel,” concludes Harteveldt. “I believe that as more people use biometrics in everyday use – for example, to unlock a mobile phone or other technology device – comfort using biometrics will increase.” Those days of scrabbling around at check-in for passports and papers may be drawing to a close.

 

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Hero image: credit to Mcdobbie Hu, Unsplash
Takeaway
  • Biometric technologies such as fingerprint scanners and facial recognition are already used by some hotels
  • They can save time at check-in and, in theory, offer a more seamless guest experience, from opening room doors to paying for drinks
  • For some hotels, the appeal is more to do with creating a high-tech environment for their guests
  • Questions of privacy remain over the use of customer data, though guests are becoming more comfortable with the use of biometrics

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