Alibaba’s Fliggy online travel agency (OTA) and Shiji, a hotel information systems manufacturer, have rolled out a facial recognition system for hotel check-ins for the hotel industry. The new technology is available at some 50 hotels in Hainan Province, China’s biggest tropical beach getaway. With the new system, guests can book hotels on Fliggy and then check in and have credit authorized by having their faces and ID cards scanned at a kiosk at the hotel.

Photo: Shiji Information Technology

While likely not a “revolutionary” change for the hotel industry as a whole, it’s certainly a novel application of technology that is becoming more commonplace. This holds true for purposes of surveillance and law enforcement, but also for consumer technology like smartphones.

With the new technology, Shiji and Alibaba claim hotel check-in times could be reduced to only a few seconds

The goal of the project is to turn the entire hotel booking process into a faster, digital experience. Instead of checking in with a human concierge, Shiji and Alibaba claim that guests with reservations can be verified through the system with China’s Public Security Bureau and be issued a room key in 30 seconds.

According to Kevin King, COO of Shiji Group, “Our aim with this project has been to find ways for hotels to increase guest satisfaction by reducing wait times as much as possible. Working with Fliggy and our partner hotels have made this a success and we’re monitoring privacy and efficiency closely to develop ways to increase this across more hotels.”

Analysts have brought up security concerns over the use of facial recognition technology in the past

Of course, this isn’t the first time Alibaba has tested the waters with facial recognition technology integration. The company has been testing the technology with Marriott International. The pilot of this joint venture launched last month at two Marriott locations in China: Hangzhou Marriott Hotel Qianjiang and Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay.

There are limits to the technology, which explains in part why the roll-out has been limited up to now. Tech analysts have pointed out since the unveiling of the first smartphones with facial recognition to unlock that the technology is simply not as secure as a PIN. Phones unlocking for faces other than the owner isn’t an unheard of phenomenon, which is likely why Alibaba’s tentative use of the technology still requires users to have an ID card scanned. Still, there may come a day when facial scans are every bit as effective as more traditional security checks.


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