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6/10/2005
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Kiosk Use Growing Fast For Hotels And Airlines

Fairmont is rolling out check-in kiosks at its properties and adding new services such as flight check-in, while other hoteliers are beefing up their existing kiosk deployments.

The travel industry's love affair with kiosks continues to grow. This week, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts joined the ranks of major hoteliers that are rolling out the self-service devices, and NCR Corp. subsidiary Kinetics introduced a multiairline check-in kiosk application designed for deployment at offsite locations.

Toronto-based Fairmont is launching its effort with a 10-week trial at its Fairmont Royal York property in Toronto, after which it will begin deploying the units at its urban business hotels, VP of technology Vineet Gupta says. "First we want to concentrate on where the business traveler goes, because we think that's where the pickup will be fastest," Gupta says. "Business travelers are always in a hurry." About two-thirds of the 45 Fairmont properties are urban business hotels, while the rest are vacation resorts.

In addition to providing the simple check-in functions available at existing kiosks in the market, Fairmont's devices will offer map-based room selection similar to the seat selection function available on airline check-in kiosks. The hotelier also is planning to integrate an Air Canada application that will let users check in for the carrier's flights starting later this year.

Fairmont also is in the midst of a chainwide effort to standardize on a common property-management system, and Gupta says the kiosks will only be rolled out to hotels once they're running the new platform. "This makes sure that, from a technical perspective, it's clean and works well," he says. The company hasn't established a firm time line for rolling out the kiosks, and Gupta is negotiating the specifics with IBM, which is building the kiosks using its own back-end code and Fairmont's proprietary front-end and reservations-system interfaces.

Elsewhere, the airline industry, which has seen rapid adoption of airport check-in kiosks, is branching out beyond airport borders. In addition to efforts like Air Canada's integration with Fairmont's kiosks, the new kiosk application from Kinetics could make self-service flight check-in ubiquitous at hotels, car-rental stations, cruise-line ports, parking garages, and other locations where travelers congregate.

Kinetics' application, called CheckinHere, benefits from existing deployments: It's a Web-based app that requires only an Internet connection to tap the infrastructures that support airport check-in kiosks, says Theresa Heinz, VP of business development for Kinetics. As such, airlines that have Kinetics- and NCR-built kiosks in place can make their reservations systems available to the off-site devices at no charge. Other airlines can participate by paying nothing more than a connectivity fee. Hotels, car-rental companies, and other travel suppliers that want to offer customers flight check-in will pay a monthly subscription to have the functionality added to existing machines.

Kinetics is finalizing numerous participation agreements with airlines and is seeing a lot of demand from hotels, car-rental firms, and others, Heinz says. The ability to turn kiosks into one-stop travel self-service devices should encourage more widespread adoption of the devices, she says.

Adoption doesn't appear to be an issue in the hotel industry, where kiosk rollout continues at a brisk pace. Hilton, which has been a pioneer in the use of kiosks, has them at 44 of its hotels, and it's planning to deploy them at all 175 Embassy Suites properties by mid-2006. Hyatt Hotels Corp., which wrapped up tests of its NCR-built kiosks at hotels in Chicago and New York earlier this year, has said it will introduce the devices at 100 of its hotels by the end of this year. And Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. has kiosks at 10 of its Sheraton hotels and plans to expand that to 100 properties this year.

Naturally, no new technology is without its problems, and hoteliers acknowledge that kiosks face issues with reliability and skeptical employees. Gupta says he believes Fairmont's standardization effort will help it dodge some of the reliability problems other chains have encountered in trying to link the machines to multiple property management systems. As for the fear among employees that they'll be replaced by kiosks, he says Fairmont staffers have nothing to worry about. "The intent is not to replace employees, but to give guests another option for checking in," Gupta says. "We're a luxury hotel company, so we'll never eliminate the front desk."

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