Part four of a four-part series exploring the changes and opportunities ahead as we enter the new evolutionary, post-pandemic stage of hospitality.
By: David Millili, CEO, Angie Hospitality
Around the world, people have become increasingly invested in discussions surrounding “the next normal” because, as we know, 2020 has been anything but ‘normal.’As global communities continue implementing measures to mitigate the continued spread of COVID-19 and, hopefully, get ahead of the pandemic to protect already fragile healthcare systems and declining economies, we face a period of drastic change.
Social distancing, travel bans, and work-remote infrastructures have been ushered into our lives, and, for businesses, these conditions present a variety of challenges. Hotels, especially, are bearing the brunt of this impact, with record-breaking drops in occupancy and the encroaching realization that industry policies and standards will face rigorous upheaval in the coming year.
Hoteliers, especially, may find themselves circling back to the question of what the future will look like from an operational perspective. After all, history reveals that crises and global events have continually set the stage for change across the hospitality realm, often for the better. Over the past few decades, hotels have faced a number of challenges and each time the industry has not only effectively dealt with these issues, they’ve also improved protocols, standards and expectations as a result. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our industry enforced widespread changes in airline and hotel security. The SARS outbreak of 2003 inspired cleanliness reform across hotels, while hospitality leaders became more proactive in their development of crisis-response strategies and found creative ways to boost their bottom line.
No matter how grave the circumstances, history has shown that our industry is incredibly resilient. In times like these, massive change drives incredible innovation, and while timelines for recovery are still uncertain, I anticipate that this pandemic will represent a critical turning point for hospitality. In the coming months, hoteliers will pivot to embrace a contact-free service model that maintains standards of high-touch service, ironically without the touch. And while we don’t yet have all the answers, we are confident that innovative mobile platforms will lead the charge into a safe and digitally connected future.
A Hands-Off Service Model
If social distancing measures and traditional elements of hospitality appear to be an unlikely (if not entirely incompatible) pairing, it is because they were… until now. Fortunately though, this now inevitable shift does not mean the end of travel, nor will it stand in the way of guest connection — with the help of technology, of course.
The on-property experience, which was once defined by personal greetings, busy lobbies, front desk interactions, and the assignment of a physical room key, will shift to embrace a truly seamless, touchless or contactless model. This new model doesn’t refer only to guest convenience; rather, it demands a hands-free, self-service format largely facilitated by tech-driven touchpoints. Before the pandemic, many hotels around the world had already begun to embrace a high-tech, high-touch service model, and now, the rapid adoption of mobile technology will become the new industry standard.
Hotels will be expected to leverage new-age PMS and CRM systems, which provide guests the ability to check in or check out, book a future stay, ask questions, order room service, and communicate with the property in real-time, all via their mobile devices or a self-service kiosk. Digital concierge services and keyless entry should also be provided, ensuring guests have easy (hands-free) access to their rooms, property information, itineraries, local maps and suggestions, and special offers. Any on-property F&B services will likely adopt digital menus, which allow guests to scan a unique QR code that will automatically populate the restaurant menu on their devices. From a guest room perspective, ‘Smart Room’ technology will take center stage, as hotels embrace mobile casting technology for in-room entertainment, and leverage in-room, AI-powered assistants for touchless service.
Maintaining Digital Guest Connection
As we shift away from the traditional hospitality format, it’s essential to recognize that hands-free convenience shouldn’t come at the expense of excellent service, or continued guest connection. Hotels must consider the entirety of the digital guest journey to identify all touchpoints where they can interject meaningful communications, support, and offers, while also focusing on those solutions which provide a data-driven, personalized guest experience. With the continued proliferation of social media and mobile technology, hotels will be expected to remain incredibly active and responsive across social media platforms and digital forums, servicing guest needs in an accelerated, attentive fashion. Even further, those technologies which offer pseudo-human interactions (chatbots, virtual reality, and AI-powered devices) will become especially crucial in the effort to keep human experience relevant.
Within the guest room, hoteliers also have the perfect opportunity to connect on a more meaningful level with guests via a voice-activated assistant. These cutting-edge solutions give guests complete control over their in-room experience, allowing them to change room lighting, book appointments, set alarms, modify bookings, and make phone calls — completely hands-free. Using an intuitive, user-friendly interface, guests gain 24/7 access to amenities and services, secure Wi-Fi, entertainment controls, high-fidelity Bluetooth speakers, with simple voice-activated commands. These new technologies have become increasingly popular over the past couple of years. Now, they are sure to experience rapid, enthusiastic adoption around the globe to improve and transform the guest experience safely.
Pent-up demand is what drives recoveries, and the good news there’s plenty of people anxious to travel and enjoy new experiences again. As the industry begins to bounce back, guests are going to change their behaviors and tech adoption will get a much needed boost. In a post-pandemic landscape, using technology to get closer to guests via a virtual channel will, undeniably, be integral to success and continued guest loyalty. For hotels, these digital platforms represent a lifeline during the coronavirus crisis, and essential long-term investment to help properties stand out long after COVID-19 has come to pass.