As technology takes another step forward, vacationers pulling in late after a long drive to the beach no longer will have to wake up the night clerk to check into their motels.
The world's first electronic check-in machine goes to work Wednesday at the Fenwick Islander, a motel just past the Maryland state line.
Resembling an automated bank teller, the $9,000 machine, called Night Clerk, is ready to register hotel guests and dispense room keys at the touch of a credit card.
"I think it's the neatest thing that has hit this industry in a long time," said Deke Sheller, whose company sells laundry equipment to hotels and motels and has branched out into automatic desk clerks.
The customer inserts a major credit card into the machine and indicates the number in his party and the type of room and bed desired. The machine displays prices, runs a quick credit check and, if the card is acceptable, dispenses a room key; then it displays a personalized "thank you," using the name on the credit card.
If the card is not acceptable, the display will suggest, in print, trying another card.
Sheller said 14 major credit cards can be accepted but those the hotel or motel does not accept are blocked from the computer memory.
As the customer goes to his room, a printout containing information for use at checkout is processed.
Some hotel owners have expressed concern that Night Clerk will diminish personal contact with customers, but Sheller believes it will prevent clerks from working irregular hours and allow them to be rested and pleasant when they see the customer the next day.
"I feel the bank industry has done a lot of the footwork for us. People are used to using an automated bank teller, and this is so similar to it I don't see a difficult switchover," Sheller said. "After being on the road 10 or 12 hours a day, a guy doesn't need a clerk to talk to. All he wants to do is get to his room, take his shoes off and relax. If you could check into a motel or hotel in 30 seconds just using your credit card, how often would you use it?"
The machine is manufactured by Microtel of Vancouver, an indirect subsidiary of GTE Corp.