One of Toronto’s oldest hotels has turned to new and innovative technology to enhance customer service.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is running a pilot project with three wireless self-serve kiosks at Toronto’s venerable Fairmont Royal York. Fairmont partnered with IBM to create these kiosks. Big Blue provided the kiosk hardware, middleware, software, application development service, as well as implementation services and will also be involved in ongoing monitoring and management of Fairmont’s kiosks.
The kiosks enable guests to efficiently check-in and out, personally select a room, receive their room key, and instantly enroll in the guest loyalty program, the Fairmont President’s Club – all without human intervention. However, human beings in the form of Wireless Guest Ambassadors, roving and dedicated guest service agents, will be on hand to assist guests through the self-service process.
“Toronto was selected because the Royal York is a very busy, business-oriented hotel, and we also have large groups coming in,” says Vineet Gupta, vice-president of information technology at Fairmont. “That’s when these kiosks really come in handy.”
In the fall, the company plans to deploy these kiosks in all its 44 North American hotels.
The kiosks allow guests to visually select a hotel room of their liking from a graphical map, a first in the hotel industry. “The kiosk will display the layout, so you can pick if you want your room to be away from the elevator, facing the waterfront, and so on,” Gupta says.
Fairmont also plans to be the first to introduce another service on its hotel kiosks this fall. Guests will be able to use the kiosks to obtain a boarding pass for any Air Canada flight, before departing for the airport. “We have a win-win situation with Air Canada because this feature may reduce the number of people in their line-ups,” says Gupta.
The Fairmont Hotel Check-In application is based on IBM’s e-access Hotel Check-In Kiosk. “Self-serve applications such as the Fairmont’s kiosk are different from desk applications because they have to run 24/7. Once deployed, there are no ways to intervene. The kiosk can’t be automatically restarted, so it needs to be a rock-solid, robust device,” says Rob Ranieri, practice lead for e-access at IBM.
Ranieri worked with the Fairmont team to customize applications running on the kiosks. “For the user interface,” he said, “the interaction with the guest had to be appropriate from Fairmont’s perspective. It is different than other hotels, as all hotels have their own brand, their own way of communicating with guests.”
According to Ranieri, security is paramount with wireless kiosks processing credit card information. Several layers of security are built into the Fairmont network. “The kiosks are sitting on a secure network, and we’re also running WEP security, a wireless encryption protocol. That’s not 100 per cent bullet proof, so there’s another server-based layer of security which authenticates transactions as well as providing another level of encryption.”
The next big step in the project is linking Fairmont’s network and Air Canada’s to enable the kiosks generate boarding passes. “The link-up is easier than you would think,” says Raineri.
He says a firewall that allows very specific traffic will need to be installed to enable the Air Canada application to co-exist on the Fairmont kiosk. “Both companies will have their network specialists create a firewall entry to allow that traffic. It’s just configuring of firewalls and routers that’s involved.”
Other hotel chains are also thinking of introducing similar kiosks, offering both hotel check-in and airline boarding pass capabilities. “The key thing is that these two applications are not being written specifically to work together – they just reside on the same kiosk. We use a standard called Common Usage Self-Service (CUSS) to allow them to co-exist,” says Ranieri.
The CUSS standard is modeled on the banking industry’s ATM and Interac network. “The CUSS standard is more powerful that Interac, which is limited to cash withdrawal transactions,” says Ranieri. “CUSS can be applied to airlines, hotels, and car rentals – another area we’re looking at.
The application is open to do whatever these sectors would like to do with their customers. CUSS allows the sharing of physical hardware and infrastructure, and that is very powerful. It can expand beyond the borders of a single industry.”