The vanishing hotel front desk

In my previous post I detailed the flying part of a quick trip I made to Oceanside, California to visit a cousin dear to me in declining health. Quick, as in Saturday to Monday, with a Sunday night LAX overnight to be ready for my Monday morning nonstop back to Raleigh.

To my surprise, the best rate available was at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport: $151.08. Pretty good for a full service LAX property.

After returning my rental car Sunday afternoon, I took the Hertz shuttle back to LAX and contacted the Hilton LAX for their shuttle. The hotel bus was supposed to come every 20 minutes, but it was more like 35-40 minutes between buses.

While waiting, I killed time by checking in online at hilton.com and was offered the option of choosing my room. The Hilton website displayed a large number of floor-by-floor room options in a graphic detail that reminded me of choosing a seat on an airline flight.

Some rooms showed the same price I was quoted, while others were more expensive, depending upon the amenities, size, and location.  I had great momentary fun perusing the floors and room sizes before finally selecting room 1224, shown at no extra cost. I really liked the visibility the Hilton website gave me to pick what I wanted, quite the novelty for me.

Hilton.com then asked if I wanted a digital key using my phone. I said yes because I’ve never done one and was curious.  At first Hilton affirmed the digital key, but asked me to stop by the front desk to confirm my ID. However, almost immediately thereafter I was sent a second message saying not to even stop there. Just go directly to my room.

Which I did, bypassing all hotel staff except the shuttle bus driver. As I approached room 1224 I was instructed to turn on Bluetooth and to hold my phone near the door, after which my phone unlocked it with a loud, reassuring CLUNK!  See view of Century Boulevard leading into LAX looking east from my window.

I felt foolishly elated that it worked.  Wow!  It’s a whole new impersonal hotel world.  No front desk needed.  The front desk has been made an anachronism by automation.

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One more picture, this of my room 1224 at the Hilton LAX. I was quite happy with it, a standard, no-frills, but plenty roomy.

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For the rest of the afternoon I felt a bit stunned that I completely bypassed the front desk. Especially given the long lines I noticed there, even at HHonors. That was very convenient, if impersonal.

Not that the entire hotel experience was without human interaction.  I enjoyed two glasses of different California reds and a decent meal Sunday night in the Hilton LAX restaurant (see picture below), all served by an efficient, friendly wait staff. I was too exhausted to venture out. Though I dined alone, it was nearly perfect relaxation after the harrowing drive to and from Oceanside.

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Bypassing the front desk again at 6:50 Monday morning, I made my way to the main entrance shuttle bus back to the airport. I was told buses left at 20 minute intervals, but not on a predictable clock-face schedule. Just show up, last night’s driver had told me, and I wouldn’t have to wait more than 19 minutes.

A long queue was waiting for the small shuttle. Poor planning, I thought, as lots of hotel guests needing to go to LAX must be normal at all hours. It was an airport hotel, after all, and that Hilton has a whopping 1,234 rooms. So why not a bigger bus and more of them?

The bus left when full with another full busload still in line, including me (see pix).

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A second bus appeared right behind and scooped up the rest of us and left at 7:05 AM. So I waited at the hotel 15 minutes, which I judged to be acceptable. However, we still left behind more folks in queue, and I didn’t see a third bus.

En route on the bus, I easily checked out online and was immediately sent an email with my bill.  Thus, I had zero interaction with the front desk start to finish.

The front desk Kabuki dance has become a relic of bygone days.  So how will hotels automate airport shuttle buses?

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