Wireless curbside check-in at Opryland Hotel

Posted October 13, 2010

Zebra Cameo PrintersChallenge
Find an integrated solution that would allow us to have Web reservations and roving registration points, both for check-in and check-out.

Solution
Implement a Wireless solution that allows hotel agents to check-in and check-out guests, process credit cards, print receipts and program room keys anywhere in, or nearby, the hotel.

Product
Zebra® Cameo PEP (Portable Encoding Printer)

Opryland Hotel Nashville, part of the Gaylord Entertainment Company, is the largest hotel convention center under one roof in the world with 2,883 guestrooms, 600,000 square feet of convention space, nine acres of indoor gardens, a quarter-mile indoor river, retail shops and restaurants. Over four million guests stay in the hotel annually.

Opryland, always actively searching for better ways to manage these high volumes of guests, has implemented a LANSA based Wireless solution that allows hotel agents to check-in and check-out guests, process credit cards, print receipts and program room keys at the curbside or anywhere else in or nearby the hotel.

The solution, LMS Wireless Express from LANSA solution partner Inter-American Data (IAD), has reduced queues at the reception desk and allows guests to check-in and check-out closer to where their room is.

Tom Xavier, director of front office operations, says, “Bringing together all the components of checking-in is essential to the success of this system. We are providing our guests with a fast, accurate, no-hassle service. Moving the front-desk functions to anywhere in the hotel is the key here.”

Challenge
John Eslick, Director of Strategic Systems Development Opryland, explains why Opryland felt a need to decentralize check-in procedures, “There were two main issues that prompted us to think about mobile check-in points. Firstly, when you normally think of a 3,000-room property you think of towers. We have only five floors and our rooms and facilities are spread out over a square mile.”

“Secondly, because of the conventions, guest arrival patterns can be quite demanding. We often have a large influx of guests within a short time frame. For some conventions we may have over two thousand delegates arriving in the afternoon or evening before. We communicate with the meeting/convention planners about the anticipated arrival time of delegates. That allows us to prepare for large group arrivals to some degree.”

“Traditionally we have two main desks and combined those provide for 24 stationary registration work areas. We would set out stanchion holders that go back and forth to create what is notoriously known as a banking queue, instead of having individual lines behind each 24 stations. Still, with all that planning, on peak arrival days guests may need to queue for 15 minutes before they are checked-in.”

“First impressions are lasting, and to see lines of people waiting to be checked-in doesn’t set a good first impression.”

“A separate issue that we also needed to look into was our old Internet room reservation system. We had a third party hosted solution. Not only was there a transaction charge, but also there was manual maintenance of the inventory. It required a pretty close eye to keep everything synchronized and was labor intensive.”

“So we were looking for an integrated solution that would allow us to have Web reservations and roving registration points, both for check-in and check-out. Because when large groups of guests checkout, you don’t want them standing in a line either. In fact, there shouldn’t be a need for guests to come to the registration desk at all.”

Solution
Opryland chose IAD’s Lodging Management System (LMS) as their property management and reservation system, to replace its internally maintained and customized systems. In addition to having the most robust hotel management system, IAD could provide integrated Web reservations in their standard LMS offering and IAD was already in an advanced stage of piloting Wireless check-in facilities in LMS.

But Opryland didn’t want to lose their enhancements and customizations made over the years, so IAD incorporated Opryland’s ideas in their base LMS code, because the extra functionality could also benefit other IAD customers.

John says, “It worked well. It gave us the opportunity to go more towards a canned vendor supported package, which is the way our industry is going. It allowed us to reduce our IT development staff. At the same time it provided a good way for LMS to grow. It is a win-win.”

With LMS Mobile Express hotel staff can welcome customers throughout the hotel with a handheld Web enabled computer from Symbol Technologies that fits into a pocket and weighs 288 grams. Staff can use handwriting and GUI controls to perform a complete check-in, make changes to a reservation as well as other tasks that are typically performed at a stationary computer at the front desk. A Zebra® Cameo PEP (Portable Encoding Printer) strapped around the shoulder or belt gives full mobility to the process with the ability to produce receipts, read credit cards and program room keys.

The handheld devices communicate over Symbol’s Wireless LAN to access points located throughout the hotel. The access points on Symbol’s 11 megabyte wireless LAN use TCP/IP to connect to Opryland’s iSeries that runs the core business LMS system.

John explains, “The concept is to have a welcome reception for a group, and walk through to offer check-in registration. At check-in the guest’s credit card is swiped through the printer/swiper. This triggers a search for the guest’s credit card and name in the LMS system. LMS then follows the normal check-in procedures including finding the appropriate room, verifying its cleanliness and readiness, taking the credit card and going out for authorization.”

“This all happens back at the LMS business application on the iSeries. Quite a few processes going on, but it is rather quick and comes back with a response to the handheld device. The next step is to swipe the room key-card for encoding. This sends a message back to LMS that the room is accepted and a key-card has been assigned. Then the printer spits out the receipt and the guest is ready to go to his or her room without even having seen the lobby.”

Criss Chrestman, e-business practice manager at IAD, says, “In creating this Wireless solution, the LANSA part was not difficult at all. It is just a browser application, but now designed for a very small screen. The greater challenge was to be an early adaptor and integrator of the extraordinary technologies.

“The real advantage of using LANSA is that we can deliver GUI controls to the handheld client while remaining platform neutral, application centric, and still reducing the overall complexity of the solution. We have been able to control costs by rapidly delivering prototypes, and test use cases more easily by making simple changes to components that permit us to test a variety of proof scripts.”

LMS ResNet, the Web reservation system that Opryland implemented, allows for standard online bookings and will soon include automated yielding of rates and group delegate bookings. Meeting planners can have a secure Web page on Opryland’s site and control their own room list, which is fully integrated with Opryland’s reservation system. This allows for a common area where Opryland can look between their own inventory and the block of rooms reserved for a specific convention planner.

“Because of the flexible configuration options and settings ResNet not only offers B2C Web commerce and B2B for group planners, but it also enables Trading Partners to use to the web site. This is all done through the same applications and methods with automatic identification to make it seamless,” says Criss.

Benefits
“The Wireless solution allows curbside check-in when you arrive. We can greet you at the car, assist you with your luggage and at the same time we can check you in. You don’t have to walk to the reception area and stand in a line. We can also meet you nearby your room, or do group check in any of our lobbies or restaurants,” says Tom. “Wireless check-in sets a very good first impression.”

“We can meet delegates who arrive late at the room or hall where their first meeting is. Similarly, we can check you out at your room or where your last meeting is. It is so much more convenient for our guests.”

“During Country Christmas, which is a large special event for us, we attract a lot of tour bus. We can now have our staff welcome these guests on the bus and check them in while their luggage is being off loaded.”

“The reaction of our guests has been overwhelmingly positive. Because eighty percent of our guests come fore a convention, most of them are corporate oriented and familiar with the palm pilot concept. Still, the majority is fascinated and very happy with the service.”

“But Wireless check-in is not going to replace the traditional check in. Some people think that wireless check-in at the curbside is cool, while others expect the more traditional welcome at the lobby with the wood, leather and marble and everything that comes with it. Wireless check-in and check-out is about offering an alternative.”
John comments “The Wireless registration and Web room reservations are all part of the same integrated LMS solution. Now our inventory is managed in one place, as it should be.”

“Also, having our own Web reservation system rather that a third party hosted solution, allows us to better control the message that we convey to our guests. It has now become routine for our sales agents to ask prospective guests if they can have a look on our Web site for more information about the property and room types. It has decreased the number of calls to our call center and obviously reduces our costs.”

“We have found that our Web bookings system generate a relative high percentage of upgraded room reservations. With that I mean that our guests who reserve via the Web will, for example, more often ask for a room with garden view. Now, we haven’t done the analysis yet to confirm that their overall spending in the hotel is also higher, but it is what you would expect. Guests who are willing to pay a higher room rate in general also spend more on other services.”

Conclusion
Ray Waters, senior vice president and general manager Opryland Hotel Nashville, says “We made it easier for our guests to get in and out of our hotel. This is just one added feature the hotel is providing as we enhance the guest experience and continue our 3 year and $80 million renovation of the hotel.”

John, also a director on the board of the Hospitality Finance Technology Professionals organization (HFTP), says, “The hospitality industry used to be quite conservative and slow to embrace new technology. But nowadays you find that managers are more technical savvy and business oriented. The traditional registration desk, the night auditor, everything used to be so traditional. But all that is changing with technology.”

“The LMS solution with the LANSA and iSeries architecture behind ResNet and LMS Express are robust and perform well in the high volume transaction environment that a facility of our size generates.” concludes John.

“We implemented the solution in a fairly aggressive schedule here in Nashville and expect a smooth rollout to our Opryland Hotels in Florida and Texas as they open in 2002 and 2003 respectively.”

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