August 09, 2023

Facial Recognition Technology: How to Balance Personalization and Privacy

Facial recognition technology has gained significant attention in recent years for its potential applications in various industries. In the realm of hospitality, hotels are exploring ways to leverage this technology to enhance guest experiences and streamline operations. While facial recognition offers exciting possibilities for personalized services and improved access control, it also raises concerns about privacy and data security. Hoteliers are considering these matters and making changes.

As facial recognition technology in hotels becomes a more plausible solution over the coming years, we should take a closer look at its potential use cases in hotels and the delicate balance between providing exceptional service and safeguarding guest privacy.

Understanding the Technology

At its core, facial recognition technology revolves around identifying individuals based on unique facial features. The implementation of facial recognition varies depending on the specific application. Deep neural networks and deep learning algorithms are commonly employed to recognize patterns in faces.

However, the technology's complexity is influenced by factors such as data requirements, resolution, processing power and cost. For rigorous access control scenarios, a more substantial model, increased CPU power, extensive training data and liveness detection may be necessary. Simpler models running on cost-effective hardware can suffice for applications like demographics analysis. The choice of technology depends on the desired outcome and available resources.

Potential Applications in Hotels

Facial recognition technology in hotels can be categorized into two primary areas. The first category of applications involves security and access control. In this context, facial recognition can enable guests to access hotel amenities, such as snack areas, restaurants, spas or fitness centers, while accurately charging them for their usage. This application, already employed in airports and lounges, simplifies transactions and enhances security. It is also being used in the new Entry and Exit System for European travel, to be implemented in 2024.

The second category is personalization. By recognizing returning guests, hotels can tailor their services and address individuals by name, thus creating a warm and personalized experience. This lightweight approach to recognition and personalization is particularly appealing in luxury-tier hotels, where attention to detail is paramount. It presents a simpler problem to solve compared to access control, allowing for a margin of error and requiring less stored information.

However, concerns about data security and privacy come into play when facial recognition is employed. Guests may question the voluntary upload of their facial data and the potential risks associated with it. Education on the technology's limitations, such as the inability to extract a full face from the captured data, is crucial to alleviate concerns.

Demand and Implementation Challenges

Public opinion regarding privacy concerns associated with facial recognition is varied. While some guests prioritize privacy, others may willingly embrace the technology for a more seamless and efficient experience. Hotels will need to carefully position themselves on this spectrum to cater to diverse guest preferences. Education is key. Facial recognition relies on biometric indicators, making it difficult to reverse the process and extract a face from data.

Personalization will likely be a slower adoption due to security concerns, while access control may gain traction sooner. However, access control requires more investment plus training data capture, to ensure security, which makes it a more complex implementation, similar to the airport lounge experience. For hotels that have already embraced mobile keys, the value of facial recognition for check-in may be limited since the contactless check-in process is already efficient. Resorts, payments, transactions, and personalization are the main areas where facial recognition can be beneficial.

The implementation of facial recognition technology involves costs and infrastructure considerations. Hardware expenses, including cameras and associated equipment, can be substantial. However, the software typically runs in the cloud to minimize latency, and the video data is streamed to processing servers. Some approaches, like leveraging edge computing, aim to bring computer servers closer to hotels for faster processing.


As for when typical travelers can expect to encounter facial recognition, it will primarily be available in higher-end tech-forward hotels. As mentioned, the costs of hardware implementation are currently high. It may take at least three years before facial recognition becomes prevalent in mid-range hotels and resorts.

However, after around five years, as the technology becomes more widespread and costs decrease, we may see a tipping point where facial recognition becomes more common even in limited-service properties. For loyalty members of hotel chains like Marriott or Hilton, or at resorts, it could offer significant value.

Facial recognition technology holds immense potential for hotels, offering improved access control, streamlined operations, and personalized experiences for guests. However, the adoption of this technology must carefully address privacy concerns and data security. Striking the right balance between personalization and privacy is crucial to ensure guest satisfaction while respecting their rights.

As the technology evolves and costs decrease, it is expected to become more prevalent in mid-range hotels and eventually reach widespread adoption. Hotels must navigate the complex landscape of facial recognition technology, providing exceptional service while safeguarding guest data.

Copyright 2023 Questex LLC. All rights reserved. From By Blake VanLandingham & SJ Sawhney, Canary Technologies.

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