Press Releases

Technology to the Rescue. The $70 per week alternative

The biggest challenge facing motel owners today is the rising cost of hospitality staff. With government legislation forcing up wages costs that are already high, with minimum hourly rates as well as weekend and holiday loadings, making a profit often means that managers simply can't afford to hire relievers.

The average motel manager of modest size motels is a prisoner tied to the reception desk at a sacrifice to personal freedom, family life and eventually health. Stress, boredom and confinement mean that there is a very high turnover of managers with most entrants to this profession needing a significant break after burning out in two to three years. This statistic is easily checked with motel brokers and organisations like the HMAA.

Modern technology provides some relief with the new availability of a low price and affordable Kiosk solution to take over sales and manage late arrivals during those late hours of 10pm to 2 am when most managers put out the "NO VACANCY" sign rather than get up and totally ruin their workday due to overtiredness. The Kiosk solution also provides a break so mangers can go out as a family during quiet times like Sunday afternoons without losing any business.

So does it really work? Read these typical reactions from ordinary motel managers.

"Best Western Centretown Goulburn have used the Check Inn Systems Kiosk for 5 years during this period we have taken a countless number of after hours booking.
The Kiosk is also wonderful for prebooked rooms allowing Guests to arrive without disturbing the management.
Guests find the touch screen and voice prompts easy to follow and operate.
In short we find the Check Inn Systems Kiosk a valuable tool in the daily operation of our busy Motel.

Wayne Rabjohns, Proprietor"

"We installed a self check-inn kiosk into our motel about 12 months ago and we could not be happier. The machine has allowed our growing family to move of site into a house. This has been great for us and the business. The motel now has 15 rooms instead of 14 and the machine picks up extra bookings at night. In fact the machine paid for itself in 4 months, now it's all profit.

Darren Keenan
Noosa Sun Motel"

"We have been moteliers for 8 years and for the last three we have been able to have a life thanks to our Check Inn Kiosk. No more getting up in the early hours of the morning to check customers in, or leaving keys under the mat. We can go out for dinner.

Normally getting a full night's sleep is almost impossible, but since the installation of the Check Inn Kiosk our lives have changed and we wake refreshed, no longer the grumpier motelier.

Our insurance company loves the concept, with no keys left under mats; there is less chance of rooms being burglarised.

The Check Inn Kiosk can also save lives. Recently we had a client stay that had driven all night and had been unsuccessful along the way in waking some-one to get a room. He arrived here at 3.00 am and thanks to the Check Inn Kiosk he was able to get a room. The client thought that the Check Inn Kiosk had probably saved his life.

We find that it was money well spent and we don't have to pay after hour's penalty rates!

Cheryl and John Whalan
Pinnaroo Motel"

"It is a great technology ,replaces one full time staff member.

White Waratah Retreat"


Can you imagine banks running without computers?

The only way we as Australians can stay competitive and profitable in business live a high quality lifestyle is by using the latest technology to stay ahead.

Stephen Tusak
M.Sc., Dip. Comm. Eng.
Technical Director, Check Inn Systems

AUTOMATION - The new standard in customer service.

Introduction

Kiosk technology is universally accepted as the new standard in customer service in many areas of day to day business in virtually all developed countries. Drink machines where one inserted coins to get a can were the forerunner of this technology relying on simple coin acceptors and an electromechanical easy release mechanism to drop the can into the retrieval tray. The new phase of technology really started with the rapid acceptance of ATM's introduced by the banks. The general public quickly understood the ease and convenience of not having to queue or wait for service for simple day to day banking transactions and even more rapidly came to appreciate the 24 x 7 service these kiosks offered. The banks also appreciated the offloadling of significant labour costs in providing over the counter services for balance enquiries, cash withdrawals and transfers. The uptake of this technology has grown at an amazing rate and is commonplace in our lives on a daily basis. We see information kiosks, automatic self serve petrol stations, airline self check in and internet kiosks as being always there.

With our motel kiosks starting at under $10,000, how did we live without them?

Motel and Hotel Kiosks

Check Inn Systems is a pioneer in the design and introduction of kiosks for motels and hotels and have found the "Sorry, No Vacancies" sign usually means: "I'm tired, I've been up since 6am, it's now after 10pm, I've gone to bed and I really don't have the energy to get up at 1:32 am and argue with you about room prices while trying to sell you a room. Please go away."

All motel and hotel owners agree that hospitality is a service industry. We are all here to service the needs of our guests and provide them with maximum simplicity and convenience during the check in and check out procedure as well as maximum comfort during their stay. Coupled with this is the need to protect the motel and hotel operator with maximum safety and convenience. The acceptance of Check In and Check Out kiosks is growing rapidly as managers realise that kiosks do not replace humans, they provide an extra level of service and convenience that is appreciated by the client whilst providing bonuses for staff. Some of the advantages include

  • personal safety for staff especially women - working late at night
  • rapid customer service at peak times for check in and check out
  • maximise revenue by ensuring full 24 x 7 operation
  • immediate secure payment of the full asking price of a room (no-one argues with a kiosk to obtain a discount)
  • minimise the need to sit at a desk during quiet periods

Weekend and holiday rates are now such that staffing costs have become a major issue. Long hours are a given in this industry, and despite assurances of "I don't mind the hours, I'm here anyway," long hours build tiredness over an extensive period and are a major cause of the rapid turnover of motel properties. I believe mechanisation can remove much of the long boring `chained to the desk' feeling and can free up leisure time for motel owners and managers not just during the night, but also in quiet periods, such as the long summer Sunday afternoons when a day with the family would be preferred.

Functionality

Over the years, functionality and flexibility of kiosks have improved tremendously over the early models. The first kiosks worked only by dropping physical room keys or printing a code for a combination lock that had to be manually enterred. Current kiosks cater for standard room keys, combination locks, proximity locks and interface to Ving, Saflock and Onity door locking systems to automatically write room cards. They also interface to property management systems such as RMS to provided a fully integrated environment for the motel or hotel owner with all transactions being visible in the one management system.

Other currently available options include the ability to accept EFTPOS, credit cards, cash and vouchers as well as allowing prepaid options. It is now technically possible for a client to view a clients web site, book a room, arrive, order breakfast, collect a room key or room card, pay and check out without manager or operator intervention but allowing full visibility of the process at all stages.

It is also possible for a single receptionist employed by a motel or hotel chain to monitor and assist clients at multiple physical locations through the use of this technology.

Security

Our first solution of credit card-only acceptance remains a viable option today for those customers who want the lowest cost solution. Whilst valid and viable it has the limitations of all Internet gateway solutions today and that is that all these transactions are classed as "MOTO" Mail Order Telephone Order, and are classified as low security non "card present" transactions. With these transactions, it remains the responsibility of the merchant to prove the validity of these transactions which can be challenged - and often are - by less than honest customers or customers with a `bad memory.' Any merchant who accepts over the phone credit payments will, depending on industry, have experienced issues with these - sometimes months after the services are provided.

Our direct dial and secure internet fully integrated EFTPOS module provides a collection facility that is much more secure.

Ruggedness

Kiosks, by their very nature, are often in less than secure unattended environments. Physical toughness is a primary requirement. Units need to be weatherproof and vandal resistant to a high degree. The author believes there is no such thing as vandal proof due to easy access to such modern tools as chainsaws, angle grinders and the like. The best we can do is to make it as hard as possible for the average vandal to penetrate the unit while making repairs as easy as possible.

All our kiosks have the look and feel of toughness through the use of industry leading construction techniques. Models include pedestal mounting, wall mounting and flush (through wall) mounting models.

Our flush-mounting, steel-fronted models are the most rugged, utilising 3mm mild steel or stainless steel on all exposed surfaces and are designed for prolonged unattended outdoor operation.

Security Features

Cash is particularly vulnerable to vandalism. For this reason it is highly recommended that as a deterrent to vandals, the cash acceptor is presented as highly secure and preferably separate from the main kiosk. We offer this option for our unattended Kiosks and have designed the cash acceptor to physically resemble a safe totally separate from the main Kiosk body. Fully integrated options are of course available for more secure locations.

Access to room keys or cards is carefully guarded against through the use of careful internal kiosk design, so devices such as hooks cannot be used to retrieve keys. Another major deterrent is the visibility of and warning signs for video cameras. Our kiosks have the option of either a stand alone or linked video camera that is attached to the current motel or hotel security tape logging machines or can use IP link technology to allow remote viewing in cases where the Kiosk owner may be operating a 24-hour attended premises elsewhere. Remote contract monitoring is also an option with 2 way voice communications.

Low Cost KeySafe Option

For some of the smaller properties including B&B's and eight to 15 room motels, there is a real need for a method of issuing keys to clients without incurring the cost of the fully automated machines. Managers of apartment style units, real estate agents, especially with holiday letting properties, have the same needs. A common solution has been the `security doormat or flowerpot' or even leaving the room open. Some agents or property owners even went to the trouble of a safe with combination lock that held all the available property keys!

Working with my design team, we came up with a unique modestly priced KeySafe concept that holds four to 24 keys, customisable for up to 256 keys. It is based on the principal that the property manager or cleaning staff would load the available room keys during the day and would key in the clients mobile phone number as the combination to each room. The client, on arriving at the property, has only to press in their mobile number followed by the # key, and the key to their room drops out.
This is a very simple viable solution that provides a high level of security for the guest and the property manager. We recommend a direct dial telephone be located near the unit to bring the customer service level up to almost the quality of fully attended premises.

Conclusion

As banks, airlines and other service industries are discovering, customer acceptance of automatic purchase and payment technologies has been remarkably rapid and we only have to review the banks reported profit performance to see the enormous benefits for adopters of this new technology.

Stephen Tusak
Manager, Check Inn Systems
stevet@checkinn.com.au
www.checkinn.com.au

Keyless Access

Check Inn Systems have released a new model of their Keyless Access locking system that is designed primarily for the hotel and motel markets. Key management has typically been a major issue for all properties and over the last few years virtually all major properties including hotel groups and larger accommodation places have reverted to electronic card locks as a means of ensuring security and avoiding the issues of lost keys which need to be re-keyed by a locksmith at significant expense if security is to be maintained.

These issues are recognised by even the smaller motels and accommodation groups who are gradually upgrading their properties. The Check Inn System's keyless access locking system provides an alternative solution for both the smaller and larger properties. It provides a solution to some of the irritating problems of both the standard key locks and card locking systems. Card locking systems are fairly reliable and are installed as a stand alone lock and are generally battery based. There are two points of failure on these, these being the cards themselves which can be unreliable and the internal batteries in the units which need to be changed on a regular basis, both of which leave the guest in the disastrous position of not being able to access their room especially if this occurs late at night with no one on reception. These new Keyless Access locks are programmed by remote control at the front desk or at the room door with the guest's own chosen key word or code which can be as simple as a birth date or a full mobile phone number. These locks having minimal mechanical components are inherently more reliable and potentially more secure than the two alternatives mentioned above. Each guest code is deleted as soon as it is no longer needed and each lock can be programmed with a large number of codes making it possible for each manager, cleaner, maintenance worker, and service personnel to have their own codes that can be deleted upon termination of the employee. The locking system also provides full entry logging on the central computer by identifying who went into each room at what time.

Check Inn Systems have also added new automatic self-check in kiosk models to their range, details of which can be viewed on their web site.

Press Release 22/9/04

Background Check Inn Systems, the industry leaders in Automatic Motel and Hotel Kiosks for self registration have developed a series of Kiosk solutions for Self Registering and Self Checkout suitable for both Motels and Hotels. These Kiosks provide a highly friendly user interface with features such as

  • Voice feedback
  • Room Photos
  • Room availability display
  • Ability to accept debit cards, credit cards and cash (or prepayment) as payment methods
  • A simple Video Tutorial help option automatically plays for first time users who may otherwise be uncomfortable with the technology
  • Built in Video Capture or links to existing security camera system

Our system is able to drop physical room keys, issues a room code for coded (punch in) room locks or can issue or write a Room Key card. The Check Inn Kiosk can work in stand-alone mode or will work with most Property Management Systems (PMS) on a manual basis. We can now provide fully integrated functionality with PMS's as below.

New Release

Check Inn Systems, working with partners RMS and Onity, have released a new version of software that provides full integration of the Automatic Check Inn function with the RMS Property Management System (PMS) and Onity Door Locks.

This solution allows full flexibility for a customer to check in at the kiosk and receive a valid Onity Key Card to his room with a tax invoice and receipt. The kiosk remains fully synchronised with the property management system keeping an up to date list of available rooms and room charges linked in real time to any changes management may make avoiding the need to enter or update data twice. Any rooms sold or payments accepted by the Kiosk are also passed on immediately to the PMS so rooms are not double sold. The new automatic Check Out feature also allows busy travellers to check their current bill status or finalise their accounts on the Kiosk by making payment via Credit Card, Debit Card or Cash and receive a full tax invoice without having to wait at reception.

Check Inn Systems is currently working to provide similar solutions using Vingcard and Saflock door locking mechanisms.

Stephen Tusak
Manager, Check Inn Systems
stevet@checkinn.com.au
www.checkinn.com.au

Sorry, No Vacancies

The sign usually means: "I'm tired, I've been up since 6am, it's now after 10pm, I've gone to bed and I really don't have the energy to get up at 1:32 am and argue with you about room prices while trying to sell you a room. Please go away."

In the summer of 2000, my son Paul was working along the east coast of Australia. After finishing sales calls around 8pm he travelled to the next town to look for a room but found empty motel car parks and plenty of "No Vacancy" signs. He said, "Dad, you're an engineer, can't you build theses guys a machine so they can rent rooms after hours?" I said, "Sure Paul, it will take a few hours work".

Long hours are a given in this industry, and despite assurances of "I don't mind the hours, I'm here anyway," long hours build tiredness over an extensive period and are a major cause of the rapid turnover of motel properties. I believe mechanisation can remove much of the long boring `chained to the desk' feeling and can free up leisure time for motel owners and managers not just during the night, but also in quiet periods, such as the long summer Sunday afternoons when a day with the family would be preferred.

Available Products

After researching the market and finding no commercially available systems, I kept good on my promise to develop one.

IBM was granted a patent for a minicomputer-based hotel room self-service system back in 1985, but that patent has since lapsed and the project appears not to have taken off. A Canadian company filed a similar patent in Europe in 1991 for a credit card-based key dispensing machine but that also appears to have not been commercialised to any extent.

Thousands of hours and a stack of dollars later, I developed a simple kiosk product as a proof of concept. After introduction by a business associate, I offered it to Tony Sheer of Australian Pacific Inns (their motels include Lamplighter). Tony is a forward thinking recognised industry leader who has been on the board of Golden Chain, HMAA etc.

Tony, seeing the benefits, was quick to place an order and provided much useful industry feedback and advice on user interface and customer acceptability during our initial trials and long term testing phase. His input was critical in assisting us in the first stage commercialisation of the product.

Significant further development was undertaken and was greatly assisted by the awarding of a Federal Government development grant under the COMET scheme. More than the money, this demonstration of faith by experienced business analysts gave me the courage to continue the project.

In the past few months, a number of major US based hotel chains have realised the benefits of the technology and are working to roll out test sites to further refine and prove the technology.

In the hotel environments, the Check Out option is probably more important than the Check In option. This is due to the pressure on hotel staff between 8 and 9:30 am to rapidly check out long queues of business clients, all of whom want a tax invoice to take with them and many, if not all, will review their bill prior to paying. It is very expensive for hotels to put on extra staff for short busy periods as the minimum practical shift is three to four hours. Weekend and holiday rates are now such that staffing costs have become a major issue.

Features

Our first priority was designing the Check Inn machine to allow motel guests to buy their room key from a machine. Features were rapidly added to allow the client to retrieve keys for a pre-booked room if they knew they were arriving late. The other important feature was the ability to order breakfast for late arrivals or current residents. Our new kiosk's technology has advanced even more significantly and we now offer facilities such as:

  • Automatic Check In and Check Out
  • Full integration with Front Office Systems such as RMS
  • Interactive Video and Voice assistance for clients during the check in and payment processes
  • Ability to preview, check and part or fully pay a bill at the kiosk
  • Ability to finalise bill and check out with full tax invoice without waiting in line at the counter.

This, together with remote management options, allows fully automatic 24 hour machine staffing for standard reception functions.

Technology

The technology has come a long way since our early trials.

We had to develop much of the kiosk technology from the ground up. The first module to be developed was the high reliability key drop mechanism. This is designed to hold the maximum practical number of keys in a compact layout whilst ensuring ultra high reliability, ease of inserting and removing keys, anti jamming protection, tamper proof design. The final result is a modular mechanism able to safely hold and release a small bunch of keys with key tag attached with the ability to hold up to 256 keys in modules of eight. In the rare eventuality of failure of an individual key drop mechanism, the software can remove it from service until a technician replaces it.

The payment gateway proved to be a considerable challenge. Listening to our potential customers, we had to provide a full range of payment options for motel clients, including credit card acceptance, debit card acceptance and cash acceptance. Our first solution of credit card-only acceptance remains a viable option today for those customers who want the lowest cost solution. Whilst valid and viable it has the limitations of all Internet gateway solutions today and that is that all these transactions are classed as "MOTO" Mail Order Telephone Order, and are classified as low security non "card present" transactions. With these transactions, it remains the responsibility of the merchant to prove the validity of these transactions which can be challenged - and often are - by less than honest customers or customers with a `bad memory.' Any merchant who accepts over the phone credit payments will, depending on industry, have experienced issues with these - sometimes months after the services are provided.Our direct dial fully integrated EFTPOS module provides a collection facility that is much more secure.

Printing a receipt reliably first time, every time is one of the major challenges of Kiosk technology. A printer is probably the most jam prone and failure prone module, and significant testing needs to be carried out in selection of: the appropriate printer; the mounting; paper replacement access and protection from customer abuse. A major factor in printer jamming in the field is where a customer grabs and pulls a receipt before it is finished printing. We protect against this by using printers that have a `presenter' feature. The receipt is held inside the printer mechanism until it is fully printed, cut and is then ejected rapidly. Other factors affecting reliability, as experienced during field trials, include the paper quality, paper curl and paper adhesion to ejection rollers. Long term experience has helped us overcome these issues.

Room Locks

Motel room locks are based on four technologies:


  • Standard hardware keys
  • Magnetic swipe locks
  • Combination locks
  • Proximity tag locks

The most common of these is still the familiar room key with the large tag. These are addressed with or key drop technology as described above.

We have developed interface technology whereby our kiosks can issue swipe cards on demand for magnetic room locks such as Onity, VingCard and other brands. Working with the manufacturers agents, we are able to interface directly with the Room Locking Master Database to authorise and issue room cards for both walk-in customers and prebooked customers.

Certain large hotel groups and boutique properties use combination locks. These may be central software based, such as the system used by Motel Formule 1 in a number of their properties. Other locks in use include the standard Lockwood mechanical combination locks, or the CMS electronic combination locks. Our software is designed to store these combinations and print them on a receipt when selling a room or issuing a receipt for a prebooked room pick up.

Proximity tag locks are generally activated by either a card similar to a swipe card, or a small round button, usually attached to a keychain. Our kiosks treat these in the same way as physical room keys and can release pre-programmed tags or cards to motel or hotel clients.

Ruggedness

Kiosks, by their very nature, are often in less than secure unattended environments. Physical toughness is a primary requirement. Units need to be weatherproof and vandal resistant to a high degree. The author believes there is no such thing as vandal proof due to easy access to such modern tools as chainsaws, angle grinders and the like. The best we can do is to make it as hard as possible for the average vandal to penetrate the unit while making repairs as easy as possible.

We achieve this in our kiosks by providing the look and feel of toughness and by using industry leading construction techniques. By way of example, our standard kiosk is constructed with a 1.6mm mild steel chassis with 4mm glass fibre filled plastic body. The key access door is reinforced and the touch panel is 3mm toughened glass, which is designed to withstand a blow from a hammer. Double or triple locking bars are used with security key access. The full-length hinge is of 2mm stainless steel. The EFTPOS unit is of a cast aluminium design with " glass panel and toughened all metal keys. The Kiosks are securely wall mounted or pedestal mounted utilising internally accessible mounting points.

Our flush-mounting, steel-fronted models are even more rugged, utilising 3mm mild steel or stainless steel on all exposed surfaces and are designed for prolonged unattended outdoor operation.

Security Features

Cash is particularly vulnerable to vandalism. For this reason it is highly recommended that as a deterrent to vandals, the cash acceptor is presented as highly secure and preferably separate from the main kiosk. We offer this option for our unattended Kiosks and have designed the cash acceptor to physically resemble a safe totally separate from the main Kiosk body. Fully integrated options are of course available for more secure locations.

Access to room keys or cards is carefully guarded against through the use of careful internal kiosk design, so devices such as hooks cannot be used to retrieve keys.

Another major deterrent is the visibility of and warning signs for video cameras. Our kiosks have the option of either a stand alone or linked video camera that is attached to the current motel or hotel security tape logging machines or can use IP link technology to allow remote viewing in cases where the Kiosk owner may be operating a 24-hour attended premises elsewhere. Remote contract monitoring is also an option with 2 way voice communications.

Low Cost KeySafe

Option For some of the smaller properties including B&B's and eight to 15 room motels, there is a real need for a method of issuing keys to clients without incurring the cost of the fully automated machines. Managers of apartment style units, real estate agents, especially with holiday letting properties, have the same needs. A common solution has been the `security doormat or flowerpot' or even leaving the room open. Some agents or property owners even went to the trouble of a safe with combination lock that held all the available property keys!

Working with my design team, we came up with a unique modestly priced KeySafe concept that holds four to 24 keys, customisable for up to 256 keys. It is based on the principal that the property manager or cleaning staff would load the available room keys during the day and would key in the clients mobile phone number as the combination to each room. The client, on arriving at the property, has only to key in their mobile number followed by the # key, and the key to their room drops out. I feel this is a very simple viable solution that provides a high level of security for the guest and the property manager. We recommend a direct dial telephone be located near the unit to bring the customer service level up to almost the quality of fully attended premises.

Conclusion

As banks, airlines and other service industries are discovering, customer acceptance of automatic purchase and payment technologies has been remarkably rapid and we only have to review the banks reported profit performance to see the enormous benefits for adopters of this new technology.

Stephen Tusak Manager,
Check Inn Systems

ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY THE IMPACT ON PROFITABILITY

With the world heading to financial crisis, many businesses, including motels, are taking a new look at what it is going to take to survive in 2009 and beyond.

With business costs escalating, the main component of which is the cost of labour, and profits rapidly dwindling due to falling occupancy rates and overheads, motel owners in the United States and elsewhere have started looking more and more towards technology as the means of survival.

In terms of motel operations, the tradition has always been to try and present a cheery faced human to provide a warm welcome 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But the reality is that this luxury is becoming non-affordable especially for the smaller properties of 4 stars and under. Motel owners and managers, whilst professing to be open "full time 24 x 7", in reality resort to the standard "No Vacancy" sign in order to avoid the cost of a night manager and also as a method whereby they can to try to steal some sleep.

This is in reality just false economy as we head into a world where customers do expect supermarkets to open all night and have traditionally expected motels to be open all hours. Kiosks have been available as a solution to this situation for some time however the perception is that they are too expensive and "high tech" for the average customer. The reality is that kiosk prices are dropping. This is even more true in real terms when you look at the rising cost of wages to the point where kiosks represent a small fraction of the cost of a receptionist. This is especially the case during those wee hours when there is not really that much work to justify a salary. It is just that someone needs to be there for those few guests that turn up late. In most cases where there is at least some late night trade, a kiosk pays for itself. This is through the extra business it brings in and through labour savings by not retaining employees unnecessarily well within 12 months and often faster.

Leave out this paragraph if space does not allow Kiosk technology is also developing rapidly, and some of the functions available include the ability for a property owner to select whether he takes cash, credit card, debit card or any combination of the above as a method of payment. It is also possible to ask for security deposits from cash clients as a means of adding to the comfort level of an unattended kiosk solution. For a continuation of this article please download from www.checkinn.com.au/downloads.html The author, Stephen Tusak, M Sc, Dip Comm Eng, is the technical director of Check Inn Systems, a manufacturer of kiosks and electronic locking systems.

ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY THE IMPACT ON PROFITABILITY

With the world heading to financial crisis, many businesses, including motels, are taking a new look at what it is going to take to survive in 2009 and beyond.

With business costs escalating, the main component of which is the cost of labour, and profits rapidly dwindling due to falling occupancy rates and overheads, motel owners in the United States and elsewhere have started looking more and more towards technology as the means of survival.

In terms of motel operations, the tradition has always been to try and present a cheery faced human to provide a warm welcome 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But the reality is that this luxury is becoming non-affordable especially for the smaller properties of 4 stars and under. Motel owners and managers, whilst professing to be open "full time 24 x 7", in reality resort to the standard "No Vacancy" sign in order to avoid the cost of a night manager and also as a method whereby they can to try to steal some sleep.

This is in reality just false economy as we head into a world where customers do expect supermarkets to open all night and have traditionally expected motels to be open all hours. Kiosks have been available as a solution to this situation for some time however the perception is that they are too expensive and "high tech" for the average customer. The reality is that kiosk prices are dropping. This is even more true in real terms when you look at the rising cost of wages to the point where kiosks represent a small fraction of the cost of a receptionist. This is especially the case during those wee hours when there is not really that much work to justify a salary. It is just that someone needs to be there for those few guests that turn up late. In most cases where there is at least some late night trade, a kiosk pays for itself. This is through the extra business it brings in and through labour savings by not retaining employees unnecessarily well within 12 months and often faster.

Kiosk technology is also developing rapidly, and some of the functions available include the ability for a property owner to select whether he takes cash, credit card, debit card or any combination of the above as a method of payment. It is also possible to ask for security deposits from cash clients as a means of adding to the comfort level of an unattended kiosk solution.

Security issues have also been addressed with options including the latest IP cameras built in to the kiosk which can be recording all activity. A third party service can also provide security monitoring whenever there is movement in the field of vision i.e. when a client approaches to book a room. It is now possible for a single operator to monitor images and check-ins from up to 20 properties plus simultaneously from a location anywhere in the world.

Other options that are being made available include scanning of signatures and passport or drivers license photos, linking these to images of faces being captured at the time of check-in with an operator confirming remotely that the photo on the document matches the face at the screen. This solution may even be acceptable in those countries where it is mandatory for hotel and motel guests to present formal identification at the time of checking in.

Other technologies that are developing are in the area of door locks. Every one is familiar with the current common technology of master keys and non reproducible room keys as one security method. Electronic locks have become popular as a means of replacing standard room keys to avoid the huge management cost and pain of re-keying locks when guests inadvertently "lose" their room key or simply fail to return it.

Card locks have been around for some time and have a number of known inherent problems such as batteries failing or the magnetic stripe failing to read. Newer technologies are evolving to overcome these issues. Contactless card locks using RFID and smart cards technology are starting to be deployed. These overcome the problems associated with errors reading and writing magnetic strips. The cost of smart cards or "MiFare" cards are quite high and can eat into a managers profits if guests fail to return them. There is still the persistent problem of battery life and lock management. In all of the above, locks must be managed on a room by room basis and need to be physically updated from time to time to maintain time of day etc., especially when daylight saving comes around and when the manager wishes to read room log records for security or monitoring reasons.

Other technologies are being developed and are aiming at solving some of the costly problems mentioned. As an example, Check Inn Systems has developed a cardless locking systems based on number pads programmed with individual codes for each guest and for each staff member. This overcomes the issues of security and the cost of providing new cards on a continuous basis.

The locks can be centrally managed from reception or from anywhere in the world by secure communications so that the manager can set new guest codes and / or delete employee access, all without leaving his desk. The locks may be either wired in, which is optimum for new properties, or they may be controlled via the broadband wireless IP networks currently in place in more and more properties.

These locks are also able to be fully integrated with a kiosk to provide an ideal high technology low cost environment whist providing full convenience and service to the guest. Remember the guests? They are the reason we are all here.

In conclusion, the author strongly believes that technology is the only viable solution for keeping a lid on costs and remaining profitable in the rapidly changing hotel motel industry.

The author, Stephen Tusak, M Sc, Dip Comm Eng, is the technical director of Check Inn Systems, a manufacturer of kiosks and electronic locking systems.