Is Facial Recognition in Your Meeting’s Future?

Author: David McMillin       

When guests arrive at the Hangzhou Marriott Hotel Qianjiang or the Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay, they don’t need to show any ID to retrieve their room keys. Instead, they can enter their information into a self-serve kiosk that also scans their faces. The facial-recognition software — a type of biometric technology that uses statistical measurements of people’s features to digitally determine identity — is a new program and part of Marriott’s partnership with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. The hotelier has plans to expand the service to all of its properties around the world.

It’s not just about making the customer journey more efficient — although scanning a face into a database requires significantly less time than waiting in line to talk to a human being. According to Marriott, the traditional hotel check-in process takes at least three minutes; facial recognition shrinks that to less than one minute. Facial recognition has other benefits as well, according to Henry Lee, chief operations officer and managing director of Marriott International Greater China. “With technology, our hotel associates can work more efficiently to do what they do best,” Lee said in a statement, “delivering personalized service to our guests.”

Travelers may already be growing accustomed to scanning their faces at the start of their journeys. Passengers departing on certain international flights from some of the busiest airports in the U.S. — Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Houston, and Washington, D.C. — have scanned their faces to verify their identities. Those scanners are appearing later in the airport experience, too — Delta has been testing facial recognition during the boarding process.

Facial Recognition at F2F Events

Facial-recognition technology is making its way to conference registration lines as well. At The Computing Conference last October in Hangzhou, China, a one- to two-second scan replaced the typical wait-in-line-and-present-your-ID process. China makes for a fairly easy test market for facial recognition — the Chinese government plans to have approximately 570 million surveillance cameras in use by 2020.

The future-forward approach to collecting credentials at events is making its way to other parts of the globe. In 2017, the organizers of the International Corporate Events Awards in London used facial recognition to accelerate the check-in process. In April, at Keller Williams Spring Masterminds, event organizers worked with Expo Logic to use facial recognition at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Nearly half of the 1,360 attendees provided pictures for facial recognition when they registered online, and once they arrived on-site, the accelerated check-in time boosted their satisfaction levels.

“I worried about lines coming in here today and how long [registration] would take,” Matt Heilman, a realtor and attendee at the Keller Williams event, said after the event in an Expo Logic video about the initiative. “And the fact that it took two seconds for me to get registered was pretty amazing.”

Balancing Convenience With Privacy

While some attendees may love a shorter check-in process, others may balk over privacy concerns. In a business environment where data breaches happen every day, will attendees feel comfortable handing over their pictures in addition to a mountain of other sensitive data?

There will be concerns in the short term, according to Al Wyant, co-founder and CEO of Eventinterface at EventTechHub, which offers facial-recognition services. “As with any new technology, organizers and attendees will have questions about its use, security, and benefits,” Wyant told Convene. “When online registration first popped up, many attendees seemed concerned about sharing personal information and payment details online. Although online security remains a hot topic, it is rare to hear of an attendee concerned about signing up and paying online.”

Wyant thinks that as airports embrace biometrics and smartphone companies replace passwords with face scans, the general public will grow more comfortable with the technology. However, he stressed the importance of preparing event participants for the technology. “It is key for the event organizers,” he said, “to share with their attendees that facial recognition is being used for event check-in and other possible functions.”

Most likely, they’ll have questions about how their facial information will be used, so he advises organizers to do their homework. “In general, most registration platforms — not the organizer — will work with a third-party vendor to provide the facial-recognition technology to their platform, not having actual access to or control over the data collected or stored,” Wyant said. “It is vitally important that an organizer has a good understanding of how the data is being used when a third-party provider is involved.”

Stepping Up Security

As event organizers aim to enhance security measures, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has proved that facial recognition can play a pivotal role in verifying the identities of those looking to enter a country — or a conference venue. On Aug. 23, at Washington’s Dulles Airport, the facial-recognition system alerted CBP officials that a man’s face did not match the French passport he presented for entry. After secondary screening, officials found the man’s real identification, a passport from the Republic of Congo. CBP has rolled out the technology at 14 airports, but the incident at Dulles marked the first time the biometric technology detected an imposter.

“Facial recognition technology is an important step forward for CBP in protecting the United States from all types of threats,” Casey Durst, CBP’s director of the Baltimore Field Office, said in a statement after the incident. “Terrorists and criminals continually look for creative methods to enter the U.S. including using stolen genuine documents. The new facial-recognition technology virtually eliminates the ability for someone to use a genuine document that was issued to someone else.”

Read Expo Logic’s case study on the Keller Williams event’s use of facial recognition at convn.org/Keller-Williams.