Miserable UX of Printing at Hotels

When I travel for work I frequently need to print something out for reference during a talk, a handout for the audience or an interview guide (yes I always use a guide). Unfortunately, printing documents at the hotel is typically a tortuous task. Unless the hotel has a FedEx/Kinko’s I find the process rarely works well. I’ve learned to expect to need at least 30 minutes to print even one single sheet of paper. It is almost always difficult and overly time consuming, but when I need words on a page it is a necessary evil.

When I attended IA Summit a few weeks ago in Vancouver, BC, Canada, it was about as easy an experience as I’ve had anywhere:

Move files to thumb drive > Figure out bizarre security/credit card system of hotel > Insert thumb drive > Open files and hope they are similar to my intent on this device > determine how to print out what I want accurately > Push button and say The Printing Prayer. The result resembled what I had intended (though portions were illegible due to the printer lacking toner. Ugh.) and it only cost 5 CAD! Since the room I was in was unattended I could not get more ink and had to be happy with what I had.

The unattended Business Office, located as far as possible from the main desk is usually an indication that there will be issues. After I saw the problem with my prints I didn’t bother to tell the desk attendant that the printer was out of toner because I was in a hurry. I had completely forgotten about the fiasco by the time I checked out. I assume most hotel guests are likewise busy and also do not report their issues, so what could be a good experience is ignored by staff and we silently suffer while paying exorbitant fees for dead trees. [Paper should be expensive to discourage printing, but most hotels use the availability of these offices to price gouge the guests].

This week I’m spending time in Kampala, Uganda and again the first few minutes seemed to go well:

Desk attendant points out computer in main room and tells me the password, which I need repeated 80 times before I get it. > Go to hotel computer, set up my computer. > Transfer docs to thumb drive. > Put thumb drive into hotel computer. > Open my docs (didn’t bother to check on layout — found out later that Uganda uses A4). > Only option is color printing — try to change that but no options (of course). > Realize I only need one copy and then desk can copy remainders (save money — yay!). > I need handout pages of a PPT which I am able to swap to grey scale. Excellent — Anticipated Success! > I went to the desk to pick up my prints.

When I got to the desk the attendant informed me that nothing printed!

The desk attendant and I then participated in an elaborate ritual with her laboriously printing directly from my thumb drive and then copying the remainder. While doing this she’s also taking care of other guests and having to redo some of my copies as she got distracted. This all took at least 20 minutes more. I mostly got what I needed this time. They had a really nice stapler.

There are printing solutions that offer better experiences, but clearly this is not a high priority for hotels. A colleague of mine travels with her own printer to save time and money. When she first mentioned it I thought that seemed excessive, but it may be the only sane solution.

What works for you?

UX Leader, speaker and community organizer. My thoughts on user research, design, AI and more. Provoking human values in AI.

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