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    ‘Self Check-in’ and the Issue of Meeting Growing Guest Expectations

    It’s never easy meeting a guest’s expectations. When people come from all over the world to stay in a vacation rental, there can be differing views on what is and isn’t considered a standard amenity. One key area is around “checking in” to a property. 

    For instance, in Japan and South Korea, smart lock adoption is at around 60% of the market, so a guest from these countries is very likely going to expect to have a lock in a rental when they arrive as standard. Whereas in Europe, smart home adoption is at its lowest (less than 5% in most countries), so when these guests are faced with an unfamiliar smart lock, it might require more explanation about the ease of use and benefit.

    In North America, smart lock adoption is higher than in Europe (at about 20% as an educated guess), but still much less than in South Korea. So the market still has a long way to go to meet guest expectations. However, according to recent research by Booking.com, 63% of guests want a keyless solution for their rental experience. This huge mismatch between desire, expectation and reality is one of the major contributors to Booking, rolling out their new 5-star quality score for vacation rentals. 

    A quality score is something that hotels have had for a long time. To be fair, most of them have set their own scores so as to manage expectations as they wish. So a quality score based on an algorithm with 400 data points that looks at location, amenities, guest reviews and other factors is welcome to some and unwelcome to others. 

    Interestingly, a recent Skift article on the topic found that many vacation rental managers at the most recent VRMA International Conference weren’t keen on the idea of quality ratings. The main reason being that it’s already hard to manage guest expectations. It’s almost better for them to think it’s a 2-star property and surprise them with 5-star delightful stay, rather than put expectations too high and miss the mark. 

    Regardless of the amenity category, as all managers know, manage expectations can be difficult. Looking at how Airbnb defines “self check-in,” for example, has surprised me on many occasions.  

    It sounds like it means guests will be able to easily and securely check in to their accommodation at any time of the day or night without having to coordinate with another person or worry about operating hours. In reality, though, it often doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, there isn’t a proper, industry-standard term for this type of guest experience.

    Airbnb defines “self check-in” as guests being able to access a listing “any time after the designated check-in time on their arrival date”. This could mean “using a key lockbox, smartlock, keypad, or by getting a key or access from the building staff” (who “must be available 24 hours a day” if they’re required for access).

    This really just means a guest can check in at any time of the day or night. It doesn’t guarantee they can walk straight into a secured unit without any hassle, because each of the mentioned access methods has potential problems that could make the experience inconvenient or insecure.

    Key lockboxes, for example, can be hard to find, are easily stolen, broken into or sometimes confiscated by the city, and don’t always have dynamic lock codes that change with each guest. More secure solutions (which does have dynamic codes and keeps their lockboxes in a secure location inside a nearby business) come with the risk of the guest arriving after the host business is closed for the day.

    Smart locks such as Kevo or August often require the guest to pick up a key fob or install an app they’ll only use once (and won’t be able to use at all if their phone has died while travelling). Keypads are great, but rotation of codes is an industry-wide security problem. I’ve stayed at many places where the entry code was 1234 or 123456, leaving me waiting for the last guest to potentially walk in on me. In fact, this was one of the reasons why we started Operto, to introduce keyless entry and improve that crucial part of the guest experience.

    Many of us have stayed in places that were listed as “self check-in,” but didn’t feel entirely secure or convenient. Guests frequently complain of having to go on treasure hunts for lockboxes, being given the wrong keypad code, or even having keys literally left for them under the doormat. Occasionally, guests get so annoyed by all this that they keep keys or leave keys on the floor outside the unit after locking, rather than returning them.

    From a property manager’s perspective, replacing lockboxes, keys and locks can get expensive. More importantly, when guests have frustrating experiences they’re more likely to give worse ratings, which in turn leads to lower revenue.

    Developing a proper, industry-wide definition, which sets a higher and more consistent standard for the level of service that guests and managers expect when they hear the term “self check-in” can only be good for the industry as a whole. 

     


     

    About Michael Driedger 

    Michael is the co-founder and CEO of Operto Guest Technologies, an award winning property automation system that provides intelligent control of smart home/IOT devices at scale. Operto improves guest experience and operational efficiency for hotels, vacation rentals and serviced apartments. Prior to founding Operto in 2016, Michael had more than two decades of experience in architecture, building design, and construction and has a passion for energy efficiency, sustainability, and intelligent systems that are designed to improve our overall quality of life. www.operto.com.

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