October 09, 2020

Our Ever-evolving Commitment to Meeting the Needs of Society: The Case of the Hotel Industry's Solution to the Challenges It Faces

Solving Social Issues during the COVID-19 Pandemic (5)

The "new normal", an era of "new way of life and common sense," created by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us a new lifestyle. One of the most familiar examples is the growing interest in "contactless" customer service in restaurants and hotels. In the hotel industry, in addition to the issues of labor shortages that have been evident for some time, there are new needs for front desk operations. Here is a case of how one of the leading companies in hotel industry, APA Hotels and Resorts, and OMRON solved this issue through "Smare", a self check-in terminal for hotel.

"Contactless" customer service is at the core of ensuring customers and employees safety in the hotel industry

In many places where human interaction takes place, such as supermarket cash registers, hospital reception areas, school offices, transparent partitions made of acrylic plates and vinyl have become a familiar sight. Efforts to ensure the safety of employees and customers by preventing droplet infections under the new lifestyle are driving the rapid proliferation of such equipment.
In addition, there has been a growing need for "contactless" customer service to ensure maximum safety for customers and employees. Particularly in the hotel industry, where person-to-person contact occurs during check-in process, the adoption of self-service check-in systems that allow customers to complete the process in a "contactless" manner is rapidly increasing.

OMRON SOCIAL SOLUTIONS Co.,Ltd. has been working for development of Smare, a self check-in terminal for hotel for the hotel industry, since 2018. This was originally introduced to save labor and other purposes, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the system has received new attention as a safety protection system.

Smare project, which was underway even before the COVID-19 pandemic

It was 2018 when OMRON entered the automation business in hotel operations that led to the development of Smare. At that time, Japan was experiencing a rush of hotel construction, driven by the increasing number of foreign visitors to Japan.
Also, demand for the tourism and lodging was growing and the hotel industry was rushing to expand its facilities to capture inbound demand, and the number of hotels was growing rapidly. However, behind the scenes, it was becoming increasingly difficult to secure human resources, and a serious social issue of labor shortages was emerging. The results of a questionnaire survey on the environment surrounding the securing of employees in the environmental sanitation business showed that the hotel industry ranked first (*1) in terms of the industry sector in which it had become difficult to recruit employees.

To solve this issue, OMRON developed Smare, by leveraging its strengths in labor-saving, remote monitoring, and sensing technologies developed in its railway business including ticket vending machines with the largest market share.
The concept of freestanding model, which was born out of this development, is to allow customers to easily complete check-in procedures without having to meet front desk staff. And, tabletop model, which was released at the same time, is a minimized model for the majority of customers who made advance reservations, prepaying or pay at hotel with credit card. It realized "one-stop check-in" that enabled "labor saving of front desk operations" and the need for customers to move to a payment terminal.

Smare(Freestanding model) Smare (Tabletop model)
Smare(Freestanding model)
Smare (Tabletop model)
*1: Japan Finance Corporation, "Results of a Questionnaire on Employment Trends" (Results of a Special Survey of Economic Trends in the Environmental Sanitation Business, October-December 2016)

Smare's evolution with the changing needs of the times

To solve social issues, Smare is evolving further to meet changing needs.
In August 2020, in collaboration with APA Hotels and Resorts, we developed the industry's first application check-in model for customers who made reservation through apps, which enables high levels of hospitality even in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

This has specialized in issuing room keys by using the QR code on the app membership card, and by holding the QR code over the reader, the user can receive the room key without operating the screen.

Application check-in model<

Application check-in model

Ryoji Ohashi of the Business Development Department, says this model was created by combining APA Hotel's knowledge and OMRON's automation technology: "We have achieved a high level of hospitality by minimizing the waiting time to the last one second and escorting customers to their rooms. However, it can do more than just reduce check-in time but also minimizes the risk of infections. Customers do not need to wait at the front desk and could go to their rooms faster by eliminating the need to hand over room keys. It also streamlines the workload of front desk staff, freeing up their time to focus on their duties. It's not just about efficiency, it's about a solution that benefits the hotel's management, employee and customers alike.

Ryoji Ohashi of the Solution Business Development Department, OMRON SOCIAL SO-LUTIONS Co.,Ltd.

Ryoji Ohashi of the Business Development Department,
OMRON SOCIAL SOLUTIONS Co.,Ltd.

In the future, OMRON plans to take on the challenge of automating the entire hotel business, including remote centralized hotel operations management, robotic cleaning and monitoring. OMRON will keep contributing to solve labor shortage in the hotel industry and further improve a safe, secure and comfortable life through its services. This is another example of our ever-evolving commitment to serving society's need to respond to new lifestyles with technology.