Technology in the Hospitality Industry - Maintaining the Human Touch in the Age of Social Distancing
2020 has proven a challenging time for the global hospitality sector. As with virtually every industry impacted by COVID-19, the sector has been forced to completely re-evaluate the way it delivers its services, in order to comply with government regulations and - most importantly - guarantee the continued safety of both guests and staff.
This includes the implementation of one-way systems, the minimisation of physical contact, and the increasing automation of many aspects of the check-in / check-out process. Considering how heavily an excellent experience for guests relies on human contact and attention, how can hotels and similar institutions maintain their familiar standard of quality while adhering to such measures? And equally importantly, how can the sector achieve this while remaining profitable and sustainable in the long term?
Fortunately, innovative technology is being rolled out across the sector to accomplish just that, from the moment guests book their stay…
Guaranteeing a stress-free arrival
Historically, we have moved from paper-based boarding passes and check-in information to making the whole process available on our phones, through downloadable apps. This approach is now evolving, with web-based apps rising in popularity, largely due to users no longer needing to download anything to their phones, while retaining all the convenience of accessing services through a convenient mobile interface.
The hospitality sector has adopted such apps, emailing links to guests at the point of booking, after which they can access all the information they need ahead of their trip. This includes the ability to choose and amend their room preferences - such as their preferred method of accessing their room (key, card etc.), dining requirements and access to facilities. What's more, being able to upload documents like passports (if required), and access information on travel and local activities streamlines the whole check-in process, minimising the need for human contact.
Delivering memorable experiences
Once the guest has safely checked in, the same app can be used to provide them with the quality of service they would have enjoyed pre-COVID. For example, it is possible for such apps to arrange automatic log-in to the hotel Wi-Fi upon arrival, book restaurants as if liaising directly with the concierge, and even act as an interface for the full range of additional services on offer. This might include controlling the temperature and television in their room, or contacting reception staff, housekeeping and leisure facilities via instant messaging (or even a chatbot).
This way, staff are able to maintain continuity throughout guests' stays, tracking service delivery and gathering feedback, just as they would pre-COVID, while removing all physical touchpoints to achieve full compliance with government regulations.
Building a relationship after guests leave
Allowing guests to check-out remotely ensures the process is as smooth and simple as the check-in for both them and staff, with all billing consolidated and centralised in one system. But the real beauty of this approach is that engagement with the guest does not have to stop when they leave. Staff can easily request feedback on their stay, which combined with the data gathered throughout their stay via the app, will help paint a clear picture of the quality of experience guests are receiving and support ongoing service improvement - something which would previously have been prohibitively time-consuming to assemble.
This also enables hotels to provide targeted offers and advertising to guests, which directly supports their Marketing strategy. With these advancements, it's clear that technology is not only enhancing the experience hotels can deliver, in spite of COVID-19, but providing them with a powerful tool for transforming one-off guests into loyal, dedicated customers, boosting both reputation and future revenue.
Staying profitable in a fundamentally changed industry
As with every sector impacted by COVID-19, the hospitality industry has been challenged to stay profitable, with social distancing regulations and concerns over safety meaning guests are naturally reluctant to make bookings. But technology is once again offering a way forward. Not only does the use of web-based apps provide a smoother booking and checking-in system for guests, it provides hotels with the opportunity to upsell and deliver promotions in a smooth, non-intrusive way, which the guest can then add to their booking with just a single click. This encourages guests to explore the full range of services on offer by removing any obstacles to purchasing, while the centralisation within a single app delivers tangible cost savings for hotels by eliminating the need to purchase and maintain multiple platforms. This, combined with the consumption-based model where hotels are billed on a per-occupancy basis, provides hotels with confidence in their investment, and security where revenue is concerned.
What does all this mean for the future of hospitality?
While this period of rapid technological innovation was triggered by the current pandemic, could this be an acceleration of the inevitable? Guests have always prioritised the quality of their experience, including efficiency and accessibility; now they can experience a faster, more streamlined check-in, as well as having a wide range of different services readily accessible through their smartphones.
The success with which the industry has adapted to this new way of hosting guests bodes well for the future, and the streamlining of service delivery through virtualisation has not only ensured the safety of guests and staff, but also revealed new ways of engaging with guests and while tracking service quality and retaining control of costs. Now that the viability of these approaches has been conclusively proven, it is clear that hospitality has fundamentally changed. When we consider all the opportunities this technology has revealed in less than a year, what will the sector look like in just a few years' time?