Opinion

The biggest problem that travel brands need to fix

6 min read

04 May 2016

Last week, I experienced one of my biggest annoyances. I walked into the lobby of my hotel, where I’d booked a room online. I’d already provided all my personal information – my address, my credit card, everything – but when I arrived to check in, they didn’t have any of these details.

The queue was at least ten people deep, and I had to stand there with my bags for nearly half an hour, waiting for the staff at the check-in desk to go through the process with each guest, manually typing every piece of data into their computer.

That data they were typing in, remember, was data they should’ve already had, because all of us had already provided it online.

That got me thinking about where this process is breaking down. A lot of us moan about hotels not having the data we’ve sent them in their system – but how many of us have asked the question, “Why don’t you have my info?”

When I started paying closer attention to how the staff at hotel check-in desks receive their information on guests, I began to understand where the process was broken.

Information breakdown

Most of us book our hotel rooms online – but how does that information actually get transferred to the front desk? Look closely next time you’re at a hotel, and you’ll see.

Most likely, the manager has received the guest info in an email, which they then printed out – minus the credit card number and other sensitive details – and clipped into a binder at the check-in desk.

That’s the sum total of the info that makes it to the check-in staff.

And this isn’t just a problem with hotel check-ins. I’ve experienced the same issue when I queue up for a rental car, or when I show up at the airport with an extra bag – which I’ve already paid for online – only to be told I have to pay for it again, because there’s no record of it at the airline check-in counter.

All these processes are broken at the same point – the point where information is supposed to get transferred from one system to another.

Unfair inconvenience

The problem is, most of the information from our online bookings gets lost in the move from online to email to paper. And sure, I wouldn’t want my credit card number and home address sitting on a piece of paper at the check-in desk. It’s good they redact those things. The question is, though, why are they using a printed piece of paper at all?

All that information already exists in a secure database. But those poor staff members at the check-in desk have to recreate most of that data from scratch, while a whole queue of tired, angry travellers look on.

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Those staff members are usually doing their best to be welcoming and friendly – but this broken system puts them at an unfair disadvantage. They know the process isn’t working the way it should, but all they can say to their groaning guests is, “I’m sorry, sir, I don’t have that information.”

It’s not their fault – the blame lies with the person who designed this system – or who shoehorned email and online bookings into the same old check-in system they’ve been using for 30 years.

That person, or those people, engineered the check-in system to work as quickly and easily as possible for the hotel; but they never stepped back and actually went through the whole process themselves to see how frustrating the experience feels for their customers.

Simple solutions

I’ve had the privilege of staying at one hotel where they get check-ins exactly right. This hotel was a little mum-and-pop place in the middle of nowhere – but when I showed up, they handed me an iPad with all my details already filled out. I signed it, swiped my credit card, and one minute later I was relaxing in my room. Whenever I’m in that area, that’s the hotel I choose now.

It’s a little sad, though, that I have to choose my hotel based on that fact – that the owners don’t force me through a stressful, obsolete check-in process, like so many big hotel chains do.

Solutions for this problem already exist. Adobe Document Cloud provides some of those solutions, on the backend side – and the web is full of apps and other software that can make every check-in process as quick and easy as a signature on an iPad.

It all comes down to fixing the ways we transfer data from one system to another. If the people in charge of these brands can fix that, they can fix their guest experiences – and leap out far ahead of their competitors.

If these travel businesses continue to deliver a poor customer experience then the performance won’t end well – meet the businesses that were sunk by TripAdvisor reviews.

Richard Langham is head of EMEA at Adobe Document Cloud

Image: Shutterstock