Adapting Next-Gen Technology for the Hotel Industry



AI is all the rage. In this podcast, Benny Bennet Jurgens, co-founder & CEO of Nect, and Christian Mager, CTO of HelloGuest Solutions, discuss with host Robin Trimingham their partnership that will seek to create an AI-based identity verification for hotel check-ins.

Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript

Benny Bennett Juergens: It supports nearly all devices because you just need the camera in your smartphone, which is essentially in every smartphone nowadays. And on the other hand, you just need your documents. So no special hardware, no special things going around. You just need your camera and you and your document, you’re good to go. The average age of people using our system is 45, and the oldest one we’ve ever verified until yet is like 96 years old. So we somehow achieved the goal of we can be used by everyone. 

Robin Trimingham: Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by HOTELS magazine, with weekly thought provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators. Welcome to the innovative hotelier brought to you by HOTELS magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham. Regardless of whether you’re an independent operator with one location or an international brand with hundreds of hotels, one of the traditional challenges that has to be contended with are long lines in the lobby at popular check in times and the endless amounts of paperwork that’s generated by this labor intensive manual process. But for some forward thinking hoteliers, this is all about to change as AI based technology is being introduced to fully enable an automated contactless check in system to provide a seamless and secure guest experience. My guest today, Benny Bennett Juergens, the co-founder and CEO of Nect, and Christian Mager, the chief technology officer at HelloGuest Solutions, are here today to discuss the cutting edge contactless identity verification and check in process that they’re partnering to introduce to the hotel industry. Join me now for my conversation with Benny and Christian. F.O.H is a global food service and hospitality company that manufactures smart commercial grade solutions. Headquartered in Miami, the company designs and manufactures all their restaurant and hotel products. They have showrooms and distribution centers located throughout the globe, and their products are always in stock and ready to ship from any of their distribution centers worldwide. Welcome, Benny and Christian. It’s great to get a chance to meet you guys. 

Benny Bennett Juergens: Hi. Good morning. How are you? 

Robin Trimingham: I’m very well. 

Christian Mager: Thanks for having us here. 

Robin Trimingham: I’m actually very excited to meet the two of you. I have to say, when I first heard about the technology that Benny’s company has been developing, I was fascinated because I haven’t heard of anything like this, at least in our part of the world. I can’t speak for everywhere. I was sort of intrigued both by the service that you’re offering and equally by how quickly it seems to be being adopted in Germany. So Benny, can you explain to our listeners exactly what the thing you have developed is capable of doing? 

Benny Bennett Juergens: Yeah, sure. Love to. Only surface would say what we are doing at an act is not that uncommon or not that unusual for most of the listeners. So it’s the self service verification, what some may already have done, like snapping a picture of the ID card, doing a selfie video. But the difference lies in the background for us. So what we’ve developed is that we come up with models who are capable of verifying the ID documents on the same security level as the border control can do, which is a main reason why we have taken up so much speed in Germany, because Germany is. One could say, very overregulated in many spaces. And when you look at diversification, that’s a good thing. You want to make sure that the person who is in front of the smartphone or PC is really the person you are onboarding into your bank account or onboarding into your insurances, whatever. And in the past, it was very easy to fake your ID when you just snap a picture of the ID document because the security features of an ID document are optical variable. So if you look at an ID document and you move it, the holograms and other features change their appearance. So we record the video of the ID document and then our machines verify all these physical security features of a document. So it’s very hard to fake your ID with our solution. And that’s why we have also been used by the German government, by the largest insurance providers, the Deutsche Telekom and all these big players in Germany, because we have managed to make it fully automatic. So very user friendly, but on the same time on a very high security level. 

Robin Trimingham: What made you first think then of offering this to the hotel industry? 

Benny Bennett Juergens: So we started in the insurance industry. So my background is I’m a software engineer, but I’ve worked like ten years for the insurance industry. And I saw that big opportunity to start in the highly regulated industry. So you could also start in the gambling or everywhere you need to prove your age. But I wanted to prove that we can make high security stuff very user friendly, and that’s why we started in the insurance industry. And then the most natural movement, the next most natural step was the bank industry and the telecommunication industry and travel and hotel industry is also, in my opinion, a very highly regulated industry where if you look at the border control, it’s like one of these things where you want to make sure that the ID is real. But on the same time, if you look at the hotel industry, you not only want to make sure that the ID is real, but you also want to also want to have a very good onboarding experience into your chat or your very good check in process. So I would say it’s a very natural fit for us that we can deliver these high security features into a very user friendly check in process. So that’s why it was a very interesting industry for us to step in. 

Robin Trimingham: But it sounds so straightforward when you explain it that way. Christian, can you give us a couple of details regarding your company, Helghast, and tell us why Nect? Ai based identification solution is a perfect fit for what you guys do. 

Christian Mager: You have to. So we provide self-service solutions for hotels, especially self-check-in solutions like kiosk stations where the guest just arrives, enters the details of the stay and can check in automatically without having to go to the reception counter. Times are changing. Not every hotel has someone sitting at the counter 24 over seven. And it also speeds up the check in process a lot. We’ll say we are serving different hotel formats, especially family owned businesses, to groups and hotel chains. These are all our customers. Our primary market is Germany and Austria and Switzerland, but we also have other companies, other customers in Iceland and Israel, for example. And yeah, the part where neck comes in is during this check in process, we’re also handling this registration form process that hotels have to do. And Nate has an excellent market coverage. So a lot of people already have the app installed on their phone, so they just arrive at the hotel and don’t have to download another app for doing the self-identity. So yeah, that’s just a perfect fit. Makes it very easy for for the user, for the guest. And yeah, that’s why we’re a good match. 

Robin Trimingham: I think that makes a lot of sense. So a lot of the viewers who are going to be interested in this discussion will be legacy hoteliers, ones who have not yet made a lot of technological advances. So let’s help them try and understand all of this a little better here from a technology and a security perspective. Christian, what would you say are the main drawbacks to a manual paper based hotel check in process, the traditional one? 

Christian Mager: Yeah. The first of all, you’ll always have to have somebody sitting at the reception desk that can do the check ins with guests that you can’t really plan when your guests are arriving, which is kind of a problem for a lot of hotels. And when it comes to the registration form process, there is a lot of security and also privacy things, especially here in Germany. Privacy is kind of a huge thing and it’s very easy for the guest, for example, to to start the chicken. They just have to enter their their last name and their round date. That’s usually enough for them. Um, and then the process starts. The process of the registration form is the manual flow is kind of prone to arrows. For example, when the, when the guest has to write down their name on a paper or something, then somebody usually has to take this paper and write the name into the system. This can cause many errors. If you can read what the person wrote, then for security perspective, your facility can can also burn down and you lose all your data. That’s well, not hope. But yeah, it could be. And if somebody will steal your your book of registration forms, this is also a privacy concern. So yeah, the weirdest thing that I personally saw when I once checked into a hotel, they had a printed Excel file where everyone wrote down the name and I was the last one in the list and I could read all the 50 other records. So yeah, that’s was actually a strange experience experiencing. 

Robin Trimingham: You know that’s true because all hotels used to operate that way, particularly the exclusive little ones. I come from a big hotel background myself. My very first job, I worked for a hotel in Toronto. It has 1100 rooms. And Friday night it used to be an absolute zoo checking in. There would be like eight check in desks and the line would be going all the way across the lobby. 1720 people, at least in every single line. Now, I realize the world’s progressed a little bit from that, but tell me, how does this thing really work? Because Hello guest has kiosk has an app. How do the two of them, I’m going to say in English, marry up so that it’s all one smooth thing that works together. 

Christian Mager: And that looks pretty easy. So you enter your last name and your arrival date. That’s really enough to start off. In some cases, you have to enter more information, especially if we have guests with the same name. Then you have to add a little bit more details, but then your reservation will be found. And directly the next or the first thing we do is asking the registration form data. And we’re displaying a QR code that you can scan with the app. Most have the app already installed. We showed this case also on a trade show in Germany earlier this year. And yeah, the guest then is redirected into the net wallet. They are doing the identity check here with self-identity. And yeah, after you finish this process in the app, this data is transferred securely back to our systems. We’re creating all the PDFs, we’re transferring the PDFs where the data is stored then to the hotel. And yeah, then we proceed with the other things like payment and handling the key cards that you get into your room. That’s how it works on our check in station. If you’re using our Self-check-in app for iOS, Android and Web, it’s actually the same flow. Just that you don’t scan the QR code, you just hit a button and redirect it then to the Nect app. The rest is completely syncing. 

Robin Trimingham: One Stop shopping. I like that. So Benny, what are the different identification methods that are available through the Net Wallet app that Christian was just talking about? And how does this actually simplify the whole process for the guest? 

Benny Bennett Juergens: Yeah, that’s what I said at the beginning, that we are most famous for the optical verification of the documents. So that’s our first method where we started with because it supports nearly all devices, because you just need the camera in your smartphone, which is essentially in every smartphone nowadays. And on the other hand, you just need your documents. So no special hardware, no special things going around. You just need your camera and you and your document, you’re good to go. But in the last years, we always wanted to build up something where you can reuse your verified ID. So that’s why we always have been integrated into all our partners. As I would always describe it as a paper process. In an online shop, you click on the PayPal button, get routed to the paper process, and they save your your payment credentials, right? And then you get routed back. The same is for us. Once you go to our process, we store your verified ID and you can reuse it afterwards. So that’s why it plays out very well in these in this scenario here that if we already know you, you’re essentially a regular guest. You’re the favorite guest of every hotel because you can check in with just a click in an app and you can still fulfill with just this click in an app, you can still fulfill all the regulatory requirements. And besides that, we support all the documents around the world. But nowadays we also support the NFC chips and the documents. So if you are, for example, in an airport and you go to the automatic gateway, you just put in your document and the gateway reads out an NFC chip in your document. And we brought that also to the to the smartphone so we can verify the documents optically. We can verify it with the NFC read out, we can reuse verified IDs and so on. So what we take care is that no matter where you’re from in the world, we verify your ID in the best possible way for the user. 

Robin Trimingham: So business travelers are going to love this. 

Benny Bennett Juergens: Yes, definitely. That’s why I think that’s the perfect match here. Right. Because in the travel industry, you have much more returning returning verification processes, right? You open up a bank account once in a while, like every five years or every ten years or whatever. But you travel like one or 2 or 3 times a year. And if you’re a business traveler, you do it like every week. So that is where our system of reusing verified ID is really playing out in the travel industry. 

Robin Trimingham: Established in 2002, so is a woman owned global food service and hospitality company that manufactures smart, savvy commercial grade products, including plateware, drinkware, flatware. Hotel amenities and more. Driven by innovation F.O.H Is dedicated to delivering that wow experience that restaurants and hotels crave all while maintaining a competitive price. All products are fully customizable, and many are also created using sustainable eco friendly materials such as straws and plates made from biodegradable paper and wood and PVC free Drinkware F.O.H Has two established brands front of the house focused on tabletop and Buffet Solutions and Room 360, which offers hotel products. Check out their collections today at So talking about the demographic characteristics of the kind of person who’s been signing up for Nect, what could you tell us about the characteristics of your I’m going to call it your typical customer or service user. I’m not sure which is more accurate. 

Benny Bennett Juergens: As we started, we always wanted to achieve that. Really, we are usable by everyone because I strongly believe that self service is something everyone likes and obviously there’s always people who want to speak to, to, to someone helping them and stuff and don’t say that this is still the case, but I wanted to make it happen that everybody can use self service if they like it. But as we started the company, I would have bet that we that only like the people in the 20 to maximum 40s want to use the process because it’s like it’s a new thing and but what we figured out over the time the average age of people using our system is like 45 and the oldest one we’ve ever verified until yet is like 96 years old. So I would say somehow we somehow achieve the goal of we can be used by everyone. The main thing is really the self service thing, because if you’re not familiar with the process or if you have if you’re a little bit afraid of new technology, it helps that you can take your own time. So it’s not like you’re rushed by an agent or something to verify your ID or check in into the order. You can do it as fast as you like so you can perfectly take your time and read through everything. We even have included like explanation videos. You can watch the explanation videos and take your time and then go through the process. You don’t need to be rushed, but if you want to be very fast, you can be very fast. And I think that was the key thing to make it possible for everyone to use the process that you can be as fast as you as you like, but also as slow as you like. 

Robin Trimingham: I think that’s fascinating what you’re saying, because as I’m listening to you, I can see older travelers absolutely loving this. We’re all so completely over standing in line and delays when we travel and huge lineups here, there and everywhere. We just want to get on with things. Yeah, could I can see people really liking this. What can you tell us, though, regarding legislation, adoption rates of digital identification processes in countries other than Germany? Because I think Germany, at least in the West, we think of you as a country that is very forward thinking when it comes to tech, anything tech. So how about the rest of the world? Are people really latching on to this? 

Benny Bennett Juergens: That’s funny because, I mean, from my perspective in Germany, we really I would say we are somewhat slow. There’s a lot of great companies, a lot of great startups who are working on awesome technology, who try to bring Germany or the European Union to the next level when it comes to technology. But if you’re looking from a German perspective, you’re always like feel a little bit overregulated and slow down with your innovation. And we are also active in Latin America and it was very refreshing how fast we can be. Same goes for Poland, for example. Our direct neighbors. Poland is so much faster in adoption of innovation around regulatory technologies like ours, like the ID verification or any new payment methods and stuff like that. So Germany is always very slow and adopting new innovations when it’s in the space of regulatory tech. 

Robin Trimingham: So I find your answer very interesting because guess this is a proof that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. So tell me now, how else could hotels potentially take advantage of next identification verification system once the guests are enrolled? 

Benny Bennett Juergens: So what we are already integrating is payment processes. The next step for us is really to not only transfer your ID verification data, but also the payment details or that you can just pay in a hotel. So instead of saying, okay, my room number is one, two, three. You can directly pay with the wallet, but also at the check in process or checkout process because you already have the connection and the connection between the whole hotel system and the net wallet. So then you can perfectly fine also do the payment through one simple process. Instead of having different process providers. We always try to connect from one spot to the next, and from there on you can always spread into other use cases. Like at the beginning, it’s maybe just a case for the direct hotel guest, but as soon as it’s taking off and more people using it, you can also think about having as a normal payment process next to your credit card or whatever. 

Robin Trimingham: So Christian, what measures are in place to ensure data privacy and ensure the safety of guests information that’s being gathered? 

Christian Mager: You know, cause all this identification things are very personal information. So there is a very high standard to that or that we have to take to protect these data. So, of course, the very first thing is every thing applies to the GDPR, the European General Data Protection Regulation. Um. So in all our systems, of course, customers or hotels have access to this data. But of course only authorized people can see it in our systems. And always if there needs to be access to a specific data record, you always have to enter a reason why you want to see this data. And of course we are limiting the access to this data very hard. Only administrative access is granted. I think we have a very high standard in protecting these data. 

Robin Trimingham: Well, that makes complete sense. And I’m sure rules like that would be quite similar all over the world. So what would you say to a hotelier who fears that the lack of human presence interaction in this check in process is going to be perceived as a downgrade in customer service as. 

Christian Mager: I guess it depends a little bit. Of course, if you are seeing the five star hotel segment, your guests will actually they will expect to receive some personal interaction. But the money they pay for you. But of course, they will be also happy if they don’t have to fill out the registration form every time they show up in the hotel. So it’s actually saving them time so they could appreciate this. On the other hand, you have a lot of business travelers who are in different hotels every other day or other week. They want to save time checking in. They want to proceed as fast as possible into their hotel room, especially if they arrive late. Hotels can always plan when the guests arrive. So I actually don’t think it’s a downgrade for a lot of people. It’s an upgrade If they can do this automatically and if they are using the app in combination with the app, they also can do this much again. And the identification process while they are on the way to the hotel. So let’s say they are in the train, the bus or in some cases even the plane, they can actually do their check in. And the other big benefit actually is why it’s an upgrade. The hotelier finally has more time to take really care for their guests. Again, they don’t have to mess with registration forms anymore. They really have. They they actually get back the time they can spend with their guests. 

Robin Trimingham: Yeah, if I may. Probably the big one. Yeah, go ahead. 

Benny Bennett Juergens: Many may ask to hear something from the from the insurance industry. If you if we look at the online registration for an customer portal, we actually found out that if you offer two different ways of doing the check in registration process, you have a lot of happier customers. So if the customer can choose himself, if he want to go that way or that way, he’s much more happier. So even in a five star hotel, I can imagine that some guests simply would love this self-service check in and benefit from the personal service on the stay. But the check in, maybe they just want to go their way and go to the hotel room and have their two hours of coming, coming to coming into the hotel instead of waiting in a line, waiting for the service or talking to someone. Maybe someone just want to go to the hotel room without talking to too many people and stuff like that. So I think if you let people choice, they would be happy with either decision because it’s their decision what way they are going to check it. 

Robin Trimingham: I think that’s an excellent point. Christian. One of the questions I know that hoteliers and hotel operators are going to have for you guys is how are they going to measure the ROI on installing a system like this? What would be your response? 

Christian Mager: Yeah. So I guess you have to compare the two systems actually. So we’re doing it manually. You have a lot of costs for your stuff. If you’re doing it paper based, it’s very time consuming. Guests are sometimes also annoyed by this. If it takes too long, they might consider not coming back again, even if that’s a process that they actually have to do everywhere. But we hear this sometimes. So you have costs for the paper, the printing, the storing. Of course. I think storing is one of the highest costs that they will have for paper based flow because you must buy the folders to store it somewhere. And also the archiving. I mean, you have to provide rooms in your basement or wherever, or you have to rent special locations where you store it securely. And also in the end, there will be a day where you also have to destroy this data again. So in Germany it’s usually a year. Other European countries have seven years of storing it. So in seven years they can be a lot of paper that you have to take care. And then you also must keep your retention periods. So doing it automatically for you if you’re taking our neck the guests advantage. So yeah, in fact you will always have a lower cost structure with digital systems here because you are not bound to all these offline storages actually. So yeah. 

Robin Trimingham: So definitely something for everybody to be thinking about. Got 1 or 2 minutes left here. Could each of you share briefly an example of a company or an organization that’s implementing this identification solution and talk a little bit about what the experience has been like? Maybe, Benny, you would go first. 

Benny Bennett Juergens: Sure. So in the past 5 to 6 years, we have been used by by insurance companies, banks, Deutsche Telekom and stuff like that. So the biggest, biggest names and in a highly regulated industry in Germany, mainly to check in or register for customer portals or if you want to buy your new iPhone online or stuff like that. What I’m very proud of is that lately we have been also integrated at an airport. So if you want to visit an airport, you verify your ID with with our solution. So that shows that we are not only working in the online context, but also in the in the offline world, so to say. And from there on, I hope that we can win some more customers in travel industry and everywhere else where you also need to prove offline your your document like, for example, age verification. If you want to enter a club or if you want to buy some alcohol or stuff like that. So that’s our next steps really to move out from the online context to the offline context. 

Robin Trimingham: Yeah, I’d say if you’ve been vetted and accepted by a banks in an airport that yeah, this is a very workable kind of technology. It’s actually quite exciting. Christian what would you add to all of this? 

Christian Mager: Now, think, Ben, you already. Told a lot of exciting examples here where this use cases can be actually seen in production already. Yeah, I can just confirm I also saw it on airports before. When border control happens, they are also doing some kind of identification. So last time I visited the US, I actually didn’t have to show my passport anywhere at the at the airport. Yeah, these are mainly the industries that it’s used for insurances or banks. They have a lot of interest in getting valid the data that they really know who are their customers. And yeah, that’s, I think that’s the primary industries that are using it. 

Robin Trimingham: I think that you guys are definitely at the forefront of a very quickly evolving new business category. Think I’m going to call you guys. I want to thank you both so much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure to meet you. You’ve been watching the innovative hotelier. Join us again soon for more up to the minute information and insights specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry. You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders. 

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