New Facial Recognition Check-In Service at Singapore Hotels Likely to Generate Controversies

Singapore, STB, hotel industry, data safety, technology

Under the cover of more efficient check-in measures, Singapore is trying a new facial recognition system to authenticate guests. The measure, which is part of a catalogue of new initiatives to make hotels more efficient, could lead to negative reactions both from travellers and countries if fully implemented…

Singapore is well known for its efficiency, sometimes even for its overzealous efficiency. This could be again the case as the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA) recently unveiled a series of “initiatives” aiming to boost productivity at hotels but also to turn the hospitality more efficient. These initiatives are designed to further boost productivity, which has grown 4.5 percent in nominal terms annually since 2015, exceeding the 2020 target of 2 percent set out in the Hotel Industry Transformation Map (ITM).

“To transform the hotel industry and support our hotels to be more competitive and innovative for sustainable growth, we continue to work in close collaboration with industry partners to drive enhanced guest experiences via new solutions and initiatives. Even as we focus on the hardware, we are also invested in the software. The human aspect is at the heart of the business, and the passion and skillset of hotel staff is what ultimately drives the industry,” remarked Ms Tan Yen Nee, Director, Hotels and Sector Manpower, Singapore Tourism Board.

Among the new measures, one is likely to generate enquiries and probably uncomfort from some travellers. The E-Visitor Authentication (EVA) System was launched to enable faster verification of guests’ stay validity, which will facilitate a seamless check-in experience for guests. Participating hotels can use facial recognition technology to authenticate their guests’ identities, and the guest data will be sent to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to verify the validity of their stay. By eliminating the process of performing manual checks on travel documents, check-in time will be reduced by up to 70 per cent.

According to both STB and SHA, the new arrangement will allow hotel front office staff to use the time saved to interact with guests and share customised recommendations on Singapore’s offerings and experiences. With the increased face-to-face engagement, hotel staff will be able to connect meaningfully with guests and in turn, improve guest satisfaction levels. STB welcomes interested hotels to explore how the EVA system can enhance their check- in processes.

Three hotels in the city are testing the program, namely Ascott Orchard, Swissotel The Stamford, and Grand Park City Hall. Facial recognition however will not be a special device like it does exist at some airports or embassies to identify guests. Rather this is the scan of the guest’s passport page with his picture. However, the online news website Skift received a confirmation from STB that there is now a “sharing of guest data between hotels and the authorities.”

According to Singapore Senior Minister for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat, some hotels have already implemented self-check-in kiosks with facial recognition technology but the new technology will now unable them to identify if they are legally into the country.  This puts the question of privacy protection of guests coming into Singapore as well as further possibilities for the Singapore government to monitor the movement of visitors.

What would also happen if a guest decided for a particular reason to change its hotel at the last minute and check-in into another property? And how about travellers looking to an Airbnb solution? Finally, how could some countries react to the feeling of privacy of their citizens could be possibly infringed by Singaporean authorities?

Asked to provide more details, both STB and ICA communication department pointed at each other or referred to their official press release. Which still leaves many questions opened to the way Singapore government will treat collected data from foreign individuals.

According to information collected on the website of the Personal Data Protection Commission Singapore (PDPC), personal data in Singapore is protected under the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA). The PDPA establishes a data protection law that comprises various rules governing the collection, use, disclosure and care of personal data. It recognises both the rights of individuals to protect their personal data, including rights of access and correction, and the needs of organisations to collect, use or disclose personal data for legitimate and reasonable purposes.

Will the act make people feeling more at ease? Only the future will be tell about travellers’ reaction once the scheme is fully implemented. However, STB, the Singapore Hotels Association or the ICA will certainly need to look for a bigger PR exercise abroad to provide a clearer statement over the way authorities might use data sharing of travellers.