Andaz, Auberge, Four Seasons Hotels


The “cumbersome” of traditional hotel check-in is one of the constant findings of my research as a hospitality and customer service consultant. A traditional check-in at the front desk seems archaic and slow to many travelers today, and even more so to the customers who will soon dominate the hospitality industry market: the huge millennial generation of tech-savvy customers.

That’s why some innovative five-star luxury hotel brands are stealthily revolutionizing hotel check-in. And they don’t primarily do it the way Hiltons advertised last week. (I’ve covered this story here.) According to them, an app-only approach treats registration as purely transactional. Not like the point of contact for the service they would like it to be.

Are these hoteliers and hotel brands making the right choice here? Can check-in be a heartwarming, memorable experience (in a good way), even in these days of busy, distracted, multitasking guests? Can it, just maybe, even be a blast?

[A note before I start this survey of five-star hotels. The Grand Dame of five star hospitality brands, Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts, is rumored to have an upcoming announcement of its own along these lines. I will cover this development as soon as I have details.]

The three brands that I am going to study today are Andaz, Inn Resorts, and Four Seasons Hotels and resorts.

Andaz is the innovative new brand of five-star hotels from Hyatt Hotels. So far, there are Andaz locations in Europe, Asia, California, New York, Hawaii (Maui, pictured), Georgia (Savannah), and Costa Rica.

Auberge Resorts is a collection of 5 star (and in some cases 5 diamond and even double-five diamond) properties in California, South Carolina, Mexico and Colorado, as well as residences in Colorado and Oregon

{Disclosure: I was the keynote speaker at the Executive Summit of Auberge Resorts three years ago, this is how I know their Managing Partner (interviewed below), Mark Harmon.}

The last of the three brands surveyed, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, probably does not need to be introduced.

Three principles for a 5-star check-in revolution

1. Get rid of that tall check-in desk and go see your guests:

Mark Harmon, Managing Partner, Auberge Hotels And Resorts: “Clients have a visceral Pavlovian reaction when approaching an overhead desk. [As a guest], you instantly feel like you’re going to get hammered. So if you must have a desk, lower it to normal desk height and get your employees out from behind: come out and greet guests directly as they come in and personalize it. Use a roaming iPad to check in and verify people without making them wait in line.

Sara Kearney, Vice President of International Operations for all Hyatt brands, including Andaz: “We started to see people’s behaviors change immediately when we got rid of the front desk and replaced it with an employee with a tablet – an employee who actually stands beside the guest. The new arrangement immediately created more of a peer-to-peer relationship.

One of the funniest things that has happened is everyone wants to see what’s on screen. [of the tablet]: I would hear so many guests say, “Can I see what you see – what do you know about me?” What’s on the screen? ‘

Micah: My god, did you show it to them? Don’t you have some stuff in there that you don’t want women to see? Husbands to see? Or the guest to see – your true opinion of them, for example?

Kearney: Not really.

Micah: Come on, Sara. You can be honest with me.

Kearney: Well, if we did, it wouldn’t be on that first screen.

Micah: So did you really show them the screen?

Kearney: Yes. It’s in front of you [the guest] now. There is no way around it. So we’d be like, “Look, actually, I don’t know much about you. Why don’t you tell me more? Are there things I can put in your profile that we can make sure you receive more consistently or is there something more we can do for you? The whole idea really started to trigger that kind of socialization that it was supposed to spark.

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While portable devices speed up recording, they make recording even faster. Perception the duration of the recording. Because there is no longer a queue, no longer a nervous queue at a high counter, literally a source of division. At the Andaz Maui in Wailea, the standard single check-in desk has been replaced with discreet furniture clusters meant to provide a more welcoming and personal experience. And you can play in, or at least wiggle your toes in, a sandbox – an internal sandbox, right in the lobby – during (if) you wait.

(The sandbox in the lobby was installed by superstar designer David Rockwell, who I interviewed about it here. While I would never deign to tell Mr. Rockwell about his business, it occurs to me. that this could be an innovation that Housekeeping may not have been very enthusiastic about.)

2. Consider if you even need to register.

Mark Harmon: “Customers don’t even have to check in: 90% of the time we know when people are coming. We already have their credit cards and information, so this is basically the occasion to say hello to them.

The point of Auberge Harmon here is important: the opportunity to greet, welcome customers can and will be mistaken for the transactional part of the interaction if hoteliers are not careful. Andaz, like the Auberge, expressly shares the goal of taking the recording from a moment of transaction to a chance for a real welcome, and part of the way they do it by putting the emphasis on knowing when their guests are arriving, so they can personalize the experience, rather than playing around with the details of the transaction.

3. There is no one approach that is right for every client.

Each guest is different. And the nature of each hotel visit, even for the same client, will be different from the last. Sometimes you are as happy to chat as the day is long. Other times it’s the last thing you want. Auberge’s Harmon, “Some guests want a tactile experience, others don’t even want to be seen in the lobby, because of who they’re checking in with, or they’re celebrities, or they just don’t want to be seen in the lobby. ‘bother.”

Christopher Hunsberger, EVP Global Products and Innovation, Four Seasons: “We know [from our recent studies] that there are clients who would appreciate it if we used a technology-based approach to ensure that they could literally arrive at our hotel and never speak to anyone: check in the day before as you do with a company aerial, and literally walk to your room without ever interacting with the front desk or anyone else if you didn’t need or want to.[Note: this is very similar to what Hilton announced last week, part of it implemented in 2014 and some saved for 2015. See the article here.] On the other hand, we also know that there are some customers who like a more tactile experience. And those who will want a different approach to this visit, as opposed to their next visit, depending on the nature of the visit: is it business, leisure, healthcare, or a special occasion.

“My point of view,” concludes Four Seasons’ Hunsberger, “is to give choices.”

Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, hospitality industry speaker and most recent author of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service.


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