Since Apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007, the world has seen massive expansion in the use of smartphones and tablets, with an estimated four billion of these devices currently in use globally. They have become a huge part of our lives, and for many people, a sense of security, connection, and comfort.

So it’s not surprising that guests want to bring that comfort with them when they travel. Because of this, more and more hotels are working to transform their lobbies and common areas into warm, communal places where guests can socialize, relax, and get work done on their laptops and tablets while lounging in comfortable furniture. But what about the front desk? Every single person who stays at the hotel most likely visits that area at least once during their stay. But as a physical and symbolically social barrier between hotel staff and the visitors they welcome, the front desk is often seen as interfering with the guest experience.

Hoteliers wanting to provide a friendly first impression to their guests need to get their staff out from behind that desk, encouraging them to focus more on the hospitality of welcoming their guests and less on the technology needed to check them into the hotel. The first step in making this happen is to find a property management system (PMS) that supports the use of tablets in place of the bulky computers often required by legacy vendors.

With the mobility tablets offer, hotel staff can better create an inviting atmosphere where they can assist guests with check-in, check-out, concierge services, and other transactional work without requiring the guest to wait in line at a front desk. Guest service representatives (GSRs) equipped with tablets are able to interact in a more casual, informal manner with guests when they arrive at the hotel, contributing to the “living room” feel of the lobby. The entire check-in process can happen as part of a conversation between the GSR and the guest, without the guest having to wait in line and without the formality of the imposing front desk. The guest may also read and sign the registration card directly via the tablet, with no need to print any paper.

It’s good to note that more advanced mobile guest services, such as payment terminals and key card encoders, may not be quite as mobile as a tablet. However, there are a few alternative options here as well, and a forward-thinking PMS provider will be able to offer great advice on hardware options that support more mobility than traditional implementations. In fact, it’s often preferable simply to keep the payment terminals and key encoders already in place, allowing hotel operators to experiment with a mobile front desk while also minimizing the investment in new equipment.

For hotels supporting chip-enabled credit cards, the tablet needs to be able to initiate the payment transaction with the payment terminal. Though currently only a few PMS vendors support the use of chip-enabled payment terminals via a tablet, this is an up-and-coming technology.

In the near future, we will see continuing important mobile solutions related to tablets (and smart phones). One that is already being tested on some properties is the replacement of actual room keys with a simple code sent to a guest’s phone that unlocks their door. As the technology moves further along, more and more options will be available to the hotels and their guests. The ability to simply move beyond the front desk is an advancement that, with the right PMS, you can take advantage of now.