Identity verification for a hotel check-in experience from the futureJune 1, 2022
The global hotel industry was undoubtedly one of the hardest-hit industries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing negates travel and revenue for hotels, whether business or leisure, quite like draconian shut-downs and social distancing. The result was an industry in crisis.
The industry knew it was already in serious trouble in April 2020, just one month after the pandemic went global, according to key findings by the American Hotel & Lodging Association: for example, it was predicted the travel industry would be hit nine times harder than it was in the aftermath of 9/11 and hotel occupancy rates would be far worse for 2020 compared to 1933, i.e. at the height of the Great Depression. It was a black swan event like no other.
How did hotels adapt and thrive in light of a global event of such magnitude? There is a positive side to the pandemic – hotels started offering more seamless guest check-in and which brought greater security for guests and hotel alike. Identity verification driven by technology using intuitive artificial intelligence (AI) is an excellent way of achieving these two goals. Through sheer necessity, the pandemic undeniably fast-tracked the adoption of online verification technology by the hotel industry.
A Sleeker Check-In Journey
People are increasingly seeking online check-in solutions. This is what Deloitte had to say about what it calls ‘next-gen hotel guests’: “Hoteliers need to turbocharge the guest experience and tune into their needs to drive loyalty and increase repeat business.” Easier said than done! However, a smooth onboarding (read: check-in) experience can make a significant difference in terms of the guest experience.
This is especially pertinent for guests doing online or remote check-ins, since they are not doing a physical check-in at reception, and therefore may feel somewhat ‘vulnerable’ when doing verification online. They need, therefore, to feel secure in this process. It is also likely the first contact a guest has with your hotel, and, as the saying goes, ‘the first impression is the last impression’.
The benefits of allowing guests to complete their identity verification before they physically check into a hotel are immense, including:
- helping guests to avoid tedious and time-consuming waiting in line at the reception desk
- ensuring that identity verification-related mistakes that can be made with manual check-ins are avoided, thereby ensuring greater security and integrity of the verification process
- allowing hotels to automate check-in processes, allowing integration with hotel management systems and the automatic capture of all relevant identity-related data, as needed
- the ability for certain hotels to go ‘contactless’ and forego altogether the need for classical reception areas
Identity verification operates on a fundamental assumption of identity based on three important factors: (1) that the person being verified has provided the needed biometric information and personal data, (2) that the said information is objectively clear for the purpose of verification (for example, a photograph fits exacting criteria regarding visible facial features, clarity of the image, and so forth) and (3) both the person and their allied personal data can be cross-verified for authenticity.
It is of course far easier to verify biometric information when a person is physically standing at a hotel check-in counter. Verification becomes potentially trickier when check-in is done online, which is increasingly how people are wanting to do it today, as noted by Deloitte above.
Enter AI. Reliable, security-savvy online verification would have been impossible before the advent of AI, and, in particular, machine learning (ML). The latter AI-based technology allows systems to learn from pre-existing data models in a never-ending loop of exponential learning and intelligence. Constant learning that drives ever-greater intelligence is the mantra of ML.
As such, a smartphone-enabled online check-in solution today uses ML to ensure that ID scanning and facial biometrics are achieved, including unique features such as holograms, logos, watermarks and micro-print that have become standard for identity documents worldwide. This solution affords minimal hassle for the guest and utmost identity-related assurances for the hotel. It’s a veritable win-win solution.
Security is a very important attribute of smart identity verification. Hotels are at continued threat of being victim to criminal acts, including the fraudulent use of identity and resultant financial losses. Authentic guest identification is crucial in the event of unpaid bills or items thereof, any damage to hotel assets, whether malicious or unintentional, or other billing-related issues that may arise. Potentially serious security breaches due to fake identity usage by criminal and even terrorist elements is a further daunting challenge for many hotels.
Hotels are obliged by law in most jurisdictions to obtain and store the passport or other identity details of guests. This places an onerous security burden on hotels. The scale of this became apparent with the massive data breach that hit the Marriott hotel group in 2018, resulting in the hacking of the unencrypted passport numbers of over five million of the hotel chain’s guests.
So, what exactly should a hotel seek in their identity verification solution? For one thing, the solution must be able to verify a range of identity documents, including passports, driver licenses and national identity cards. It is important to remember that there remains no international ‘standard’ template as to how identity documents should be formulated or present data. Worldwide, identity documents can differ significantly from each other regarding, as examples, their demands regarding biometric information or how they display personal data across the said document.
For another, the solution needs to be tight and demanding when verifying ID documents remotely. The ‘old way’ of accepting IDs in the form of photocopies and screen shots left hotels vulnerable to manipulated images or those uploaded from generic online image galleries, often for nefarious purposes by the sender.
The solution needs to be intelligent enough to identify potentially dubious images, as well as automatically snap the clearest image of a document presented via a cam feed, if required. It also needs to ‘make sense’ of those images sent that may be blurry, obscured, low in resolution or presented at an unreadable angle, and reject said visual data whenever unverifiable.
Hotels cannot of course entirely eliminate the risks of being impacted by badly-intentioned or criminal guests, terrorism and theft or organisational or personal data. Nor can any identity verification process ever be entirely 100%-foolproof. However, an AI-embedded identity verification solution can go a long way to reducing a hotel’s vulnerability to identity-related risks, particularly if other non-ID document data points are also used, such as verifying proof of address or other means of personal identification.
It may be 2022 and things may be more back to normal for the hotel trade, but the financial impacts of the pandemic are still being felt. The result is hoteliers needing to be even more creative and forward-thinking regarding how they capture and maintain guests. Identity verification offers solutions that reap benefits for both hotels and their much-valued guests.