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Thu 22 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Identity crisis

As the hotel industry expands, traditional guest identification methods have become more of a bureaucratic nightmare for hoteliers in the region. To remain agile in this competitive market, hotels need to find more dynamic ways to capture and utilise their client data. Lee Jamieson explores new ways to identify your guests and make the most out of your most important assets.

As the hotel industry expands, traditional guest identification methods have become more of a bureaucratic nightmare for hoteliers in the region. To remain agile in this competitive market, hotels need to find more dynamic ways to capture and utilise their client data. Lee Jamieson explores new ways to identify your guests and make the most out of your most important assets.

Information is the lifeblood of any business. Being able to efficiently gather, store and recall information enables hotels to better understand their business, better understand their guests and market their product more effectively.

Although the introduction of Property Management Systems (PMS) have revolutionised the data processing capabilities of the hospitality industry, essential guest data is still difficult and time consuming to capture in the first place.

The use of the latest guest identification technology improves revenue by providing a quality guest experience which results in return business.

There are now a number of PMS interface systems coming to market to help speed up data capture, improve accuracy and more closely monitor a guest's movements. Ultimately, these technological advancements will enable hotels to tailor the hospitality experience by building up a more intimate guest profile.

"There is nothing new about this concept," says Golden Tulip Hospitality Group senior vice president ICT Riko van Santen.

"We are simply recognising and understanding our guests' profiles and using them to leverage the service provided to them. However, new technology has definitely added a new dimension to this concept."

As the Middle East's hospitality industry expands rapidly, the sheer volume of guest data could become unmanageable without efficient data capture technology in place.

"We're seeing increased interest from the Middle East in our new Scan2PMS system," says TTI Technology International president Steve Blidner.

"We're currently speaking with a large hotel in Dubai that actually employs two people full-time just to get passports from the front desk, scan them and send them to the police department - by law, they're required to do this within 24 hours. Our solution will completely automate this entire process."

This system speeds up the check in process by automatically reading the information on the client's passport or driving licence and submits the data directly to the hotel's PMS along with a photo of the guest. This information can then be automatically sent to the authorities, removing the need for paper copies and manual processing.

"The system uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to convert the information on the passport or driving licence into text," says CTO, Alex Lerner.

"Over the last five years, OCR technology has come on leaps and bounds and is now 95% accurate," he adds.

Developments in guest identification technology can also help hotels resolve a number of security and fraud related issues including identifying fake IDs and disputing charge backs.

Getting intimate

Hotels are also embracing the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) revolution, whereby a guest's mobile phone is loaded with an encrypted key. The mobile phone then doubles as a room key and a loyalty card.

"The system enables a guest to check into a hotel from their mobile phone when they arrive at the destination airport," explains SoftBrands general manager Middle East, Lesley Saunders.

"The encryption is secure and the guest receives a unique identifier. Upon arrival at the hotel, the guest can go directly to their room and use the encrypted room key access code on their mobile phone to unlock the door. This is welcomed by guests who have just arrived after a long-haul flight or overnight flight."

Again, this system is a PMS interface designed to enable a more dynamic use of client data. RFID technology also allows hotels to build up more intimate profiles of their guests and personalise their service.

To implement such a system effectively, hoteliers will need to install a fairly comprehensive network to enable the PMS to gather data from around the hotel.

"Hoteliers need to consider this network infrastructure when building or renovating a property," says van Santen.

"They will need to consider the touch points such as door locks and check in desks. They would also need to ensure that the hardware is compatible with the technology," van Senten adds.

Hoteliers should also remember that this is a developing technology with yet untapped potential. Therefore, any network installation must be easily upgradeable - for example, it is likely that hotels will want to stream music and video directly into the guest room based on the client's profile. Can the installation be easily upgraded to accommodate such ideas?

Due to the expense of installing a fully-functional RFID network in an existing property, it may be many years until RFID becomes an industry standard, but the revenue generating potential of the technology should not be underestimated. In an increasingly competitive and crowded industry, good quality client data should be a hotel's most valuable asset.

"The use of the latest guest identification technology improves revenue by providing a quality guest experience which results in return business," says Saunders.

"This is essential in such a competitive market. Also, the bottom line benefits by reducing the time currently required to perform manual check in and reducing human errors on the front desk.

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