The world’s biggest hotel chain, Marriott International, teamed up with China’s Alibaba Group to make check-ins easier and faster with the help of facial recognition technology. Rather than relying on human staff to get them through the check-in process, guests can simply check in themselves three times faster. The new partnership and technology materialized with two new special kiosks in China, at Marriott hotels in Sanya and Hangzhou. People will be able to walk up to those kiosks, provide a form of ID, submit their contact information, and sign the necessary terms of service agreements, and the technology will scan the ID, take the individual’s picture, run facial recognition, pull up reservations, dispense keys and complete the check-in process with no human help whatsoever.
Alibaba and Marriott’s team in Greater China worked together on this technology for roughly six months before its initial deployment. At first, the technology will be tested in the two Marriott locations, Hangzhou Marriott Hotel Qianjiangand Sanya and Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay. If everything goes well and the option proves to be popular, Marriott and Alibaba will roll out facial recognition kiosks at more locations worldwide. While standard check-ins at the reception conducted with the help of human staff take roughly three minutes to complete and often involve long queues, the automated facial recognition process that eliminates human help would reduce that waiting time by a factor of three.
Before opting to implement this new technology, Marriott and Alibaba conducted a market study which found that 60-percent of Chinese consumers would be willing to try and rely on facial recognition technology for their hotel check-ins. Consumers in China are typically very receptive to new technology solutions that make things easier, faster, and more efficient, and facial recognition is gaining grounds in a number of areas and applications. KFC, for instance, has a “Smile to Pay” program in China, where users simply smile at a machine to pay for their meal with Alipay. The machine pulls up their Alipay account once it recognizes the user’s face. However, the implementation of facial recognition technology for the hotel check-in process does not mean that it will completely replace human staff. On the contrary, facial recognition could help those who want an expedited check-in process while also leaving human staff with more time to cater to guests who have more needs and preferences and are looking for a more personalized experience.