How Hotels Are Getting High-Tech With Their Hospitality

facial recognition

You only get one chance to make a first impression. As it turns out, so do hotels, a growing number of which are trying to make a better first impression with their guests by revamping the check-in process to make it easier, faster and more enjoyable.

The latest hotelier to target the check-in process is Marriott International, which announced today that it is partnering with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to test at two hotels in China new check-in technology that utilizes facial recognition. 

Underway at Hangzhou Marriott Hotel Qianjiang and Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay, the technology pilot is being executed in partnership with Fliggy, Alibaba's travel service platform. Here's how the solution works: When they arrive at their hotel, Chinese guests approach a check-in kiosk where they scan their photo ID, take a photo and input their contact information. The system then verifies their identity by matching the photo on their ID to the live photo they just took, ultimately dispensing a room key to the guest once it confirms their identity and booking information.

The process takes less than a minute, whereas the traditional check-in process takes at least 3 minutes -- most of which is spent waiting in line.

"We are excited to … offer an innovative and convenient check-in alternative for Chinese travelers. Marriott International has a track record of embracing cutting-edge technology to create memorable experiences for guests," said Henry Lee, chief operations officer and managing director of Marriott International Greater China. "With technology, our hotel associates can work more efficiently to do what they do best -- delivering personalized service to our guests."

Biometric Hospitality

Facial recognition -- the same technology owners of Apple's iPhone X use to unlock their smartphone -- isn't the only biometric technology hotels are embracing. Here are three more guests can expect to see more of in the future:

• Iris recognition: Iris scanning used to be something you'd see only in spy movies. Now, you're seeing it in hotels, too. For example, Boston's Nine Zero Hotel -- a Kimpton property -- introduced it over a decade ago at its rear employee entrance and in its penthouse suite. Anyone who wants to gain access to either has to first enroll in the hotel's system, which takes a scan of their eye and stores it. When they want to enter a locked door, they look into a camera that scans their iris -- located between the pupil and sclera, or white part of the eye -- and confirms their identity by mapping 135 unique points in the iris and comparing them to the scan that's stored in the system.  It's been especially useful for VIP guests who want to enter their suite without stopping by the front desk and asking for a key.

• Fingerprint scanning: Before Apple switched to facial recognition on the iPhone X, iPhone users could use their fingerprint to unlock their smartphone. At Alma Barcelona in Spain, guests can use the same technology to unlock their guest room. It's convenient -- you will never lose your finger the way you might lose a room key, or lock it inside your room the way you might your smartphone -- and secure: You can be certain that no one will be able to enter your room without your consent.

• Heart rate monitoring: To promote its loyalty program, Le Club, French hotelier AccorHotels has developed a special website that quizzes users about their travel preferences. Visitors who opt in can monitor and analyze their heart rate using their computer's webcam, which views and measures the intensity of colors in their face as a way to calculate their pulse -- which instinctively quickens when they're excited by something. AccorHotels can use the data to more precisely gauge users' travel interests in a way that will help it tailor future travel rewards to their individual tastes.

Although some consumers have concerns about sharing private biometric data with hoteliers, a recent survey by Atmosphere Research Group found that nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) would do so.