10 key steps of an online check-in
A digital check-in offers many benefits for both guests and hotels. It has increased in popularity during the current health crisis as it eliminates queues at reception and reduces physical contact.
Most importantly, it reduces the time spent on low value-added administrative tasks, leaving more time for teams to focus on their guests. For guests, checking in online speeds up their arrival and allows them to access their room more quickly, while giving them the benefit of more readily available reception staff. There is a demand for the ability to check-in online in a hotel, as guests can already do elsewhere while travelling: indeed, a Zebra Technologies study found that 68% of guests want the option to use their phone to speed up their check-in.
So what are the most important steps of an online check-in?
1. Collect information about the guest
The hotel does not always have access to important information about its guests, especially if they booked via a third-party platform (such as an OTA). However, it is important for hotels to recover at least the guest's email address in order to set up loyalty programmes and maintain contact after the stay.
The hotel can retrieve, through a pre-stay form, any missing contact information from the guest (personal email address, telephone number, nationality etc.), but this form can also be used to collect other information such as the guest’s expectations or preferences in order to personalise communications, for example the reason for their stay, their time of arrival, their interests, any recommendations they want to receive, etc. Depending on their responses, the guest will receive personalised suggestions to best meet their expectations. .
2. Remind them of the hotel’s procedures
No hotel will ever be accused of giving guests too much information, especially in the run-up to their stay. And yet the opposite still occurs, with 87% of guests saying they would like to receive more information about their stay before their arrival. It is therefore always a good idea to remind guests of the reception’s hours (even if they’re 24 hours a day), check-in time, the hotel address, the services available on site, dates of stay, type of room, the link to the hotel app, and above all to remind guests of their arrival and departure process. No two hotels impose the same procedures, especially during the Covid-19 period, and as a result guests are lost. It is important to support them as best as possible and to keep them informed in order to provide reassurance.
3. Sell additional services
The period leading up to the stay is a good time to offer guests the option to book additional services. Not only is the guest more likely to add to their stay after the booking has already been made, but it also provides an opportunity to remind them that they may have forgotten to add breakfast or a parking space.
4. Suggest activities in the local area
A guest who chooses to stay in a hotel will be looking for support and advice from the concierge and receptionist, so meet their expectations by offering your own recommendations. This can be done by providing a guest portal with a list of your recommendations of activities, restaurants, bars, cafes and points of interest on an interactive map.
If you have already collected information about the guest (preferences, reason for stay, profile, interests...), it may be a good idea to send them a personalised list of points of interest and services that you would recommend. The hotelier is in the best position to know what is going on in the local area and what the best things to do are. This is exactly what guests are looking for: to experience life as a local and discover unusual places that do not appear in guidebooks.
5. Sign the registration form
Electronic signatures are already used in many fields, so why not integrate them into hotel check-in? As the registration form is already pre-filled with information from the reservation or retrieved in advance, all that’s left for the guest to do is sign. This digital registration form can be sent to the guest's mobile phone on arrival, while at reception or on a tablet in the hotel lobby or bar.
6. Collect payment
A bank pre-authorisation makes it possible to "hold" a sum on the guest's account to be collected later (at the end of the stay, for example). The amount may vary depending on the type of reservation, the rate, the amount of hotel services, the reservation channel, etc.
This method guarantees payment for the hotel and allows them to add on any additional services ordered during the stay. Pre-authorisation is also useful in the case of a "no show" guest who does not turn up on the day of the booking, as the hotel can still charge the guest.
Ideally, the guest should be asked to complete the pre-authorisation before arriving, so that at the end of their stay they can be billed in one click without even having to take out their card. This is a real time saver for everyone at check-in and check-out!
7. Be available by email, SMS or WhatsApp
For guests who have not checked in online, an SMS reminder can be sent to remind them that it saves time on arrival. With a direct link to the check-in or pre-authorisation form, guests have no reason not to.
Using a messaging hub, the hotel can easily follow-up with the guest manually on the channel of their choice (SMS, email, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, ...) and access the conversation history.
8. Share directions to the hotel
It is also useful for the guest to receive the address of the hotel by SMS or WhatsApp on the morning of the day of arrival. This may seem like a simple gesture, but it is about thinking from the guest's perspective, as they are bound to need the hotel address whether they arrive by car, taxi or on foot from the train station.
The hotel anticipates the guests' needs whilst saving them time and making their lives easier, meaning the guest feels supported even before arriving at the hotel. There are many benefits to sending a simple SMS.
What's more, most smartphones recognise the format of an address and insert a direct link to a map or directions app, such as Google Maps, Citymapper, Waze, or to a taxi ordering service. All the guest has to do is click the link to access the hotel with ease.
9. Notify them when the room is ready
An SMS or WhatsApp notification is sent to inform the guest that they can access their room. The time of sending is programmed depending on whether the guest has booked an early check-in. Naturally, the message is sent in the language of the guest.
10. Prepare the mobile room key
A mobile room key is the digital equivalent of a keycard for opening the room. There is no need for a physical card or encoding, everything is managed automatically and updated if the room number is changed in the PMS.
The link to retrieve the mobile key is sent automatically via SMS when the guest has finished checking in. It can also be sent before arrival to familiarise the guest with the hotel's mobile app, as the mobile key is integrated into the same guest portal where the guest will find restaurant recommendations, digital room directory, service ordering (room service, spa, restaurant, gym…), etc.
Once the mobile key has been downloaded onto mobile, it can be accessed at any time during the stay, even without an internet connection.
Online check-in offers many advantages for both the hotel and the guest:
- It allows guests to complete all administrative tasks prior to their stay, in the comfort of their own home
- It simplifies the arrival process by removing unnecessary stress
- It improves the guest’s welcome as teams are more attentive
- It avoids data entry errors
- It allows for better management of late arrivals
- It allows guests who are impatient or want to be independent to access their room individually
- It gives guests more control over their stay as they can use the medium they are most familiar with
- It allows for effortless and non-intrusive upselling
- It offers greater control over guest data and more reliable data security
But when you no longer have a registration form to sign, a passport or bank card to ask for, or a key to give... how do you welcome a guest? What do you ask them? What do you talk to them about?
Indeed, the digitisation of check-in has a far greater effect than just simplifying and automating the check-in process. It revolutionises the way we welcome guests and can be seen as a differentiating asset for a hotel.
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