When we think of hospitality, we think of the personal touch—white gloves, silent service, anticipating needs. But as our world changes, so do the ways that this personal touch can be provided to our clients. As COVID-19 took hold over a year ago, it became clear that many sectors were being forced to change. The Centers for Disease Control guidance to avoid touching certain surfaces and maintain social distance certainly changes the way we deliver the personal touch that the hotel industry is known for.
One thing we all know for sure is that guests hate waiting. Even before the pandemic, the hotel industry was starting to move toward more contactless and self-service options to abate this issue and better serve tech-savvy customers. If you’re traveling for business, being stuck behind a large group of leisure travelers can drastically alter your experience before you’ve even checked in. In Las Vegas, the MGM Grand installed large tablets and increased access to digital check-in via the mobile app to improve efficiency and check in on your own without having to wait in line at all.
Meeting guests where they are is our ultimate job throughout the hospitality industry. Therefore, the more we can listen to what they prefer, the more our profits and success will increase. McKinsey & Company released a study this year that Americans’ preference for contactless options has increased by 20%. It’s not hard to believe as we see the prevalence of online grocery shopping, food delivery, and even self-driving taxis. The hotel industry must continue to explore ways that guests can have an experience that suits them and matches their travel goals.
Increased adoption of mobile and emerging technology
For most major hotel chains, mobile apps are not new. (For resorts and hotels associated with theme parks and attractions, pre-pandemic we also saw the adoption of RFID-enabled wristbands for keyless entry and payments.) However, last year the pandemic spurred wider adoption of apps for hotels by a broader group of users. The pandemic also created completely new needs that can be serviced through an app – contact tracing and basic health screenings, supporting social distancing by booking amenity services like reserving a parking spot, ordering room service, and selecting time slots for hot tubs and pool areas.
For knowledge workers, increased flexibility around remote work also opened up a new category of work from hotels for those looking for a change of scenery. With more people working from home than ever before, providing a safe and secure network is more important than ever. Appealing to home workers by offering them a change of pace and place, you can entice a completely different guest population than we’ve seen before. What guests want can vary, but by meeting needs and appealing to travelers, I’m confident the industry will recover.
Solve for pain points and lean into your value proposition, don’t just chase tech trends
The most important thing I always remind my clients when looking at technology solutions is it’s not just about doing what’s hip and up and coming, but it’s about actually helping consumers solve problems. First, when you’re thinking about innovation start by asking yourself what needs and wants your guests have in general. Where are the areas with the greatest friction or a current success that can be doubled down on? Before you jump to how to solve this using an app – think more broadly about the best way to address the customer's needs. Second, consider other commonly used applications – whether it’s for entertainment, controlling smart home devices, messaging or e-commerce, customers’ expectations are anchored in tools. If you build a similar feature into your app, what are the common patterns you should replicate to make it easier for users to know how to find or use the feature for the first time.
A bright future
The good news is that this sector is primed to return like never before because of the sheer fact that people want out—out of their homes, out of their towns, out of their countries. When we return to safe travel, I believe that we will see a surge of domestic and international guests flocking to hotels. In a sector that could get stale over time, I’m excited about the opportunity to shake up how we do business. The big question now is how we’re going to use safe, contactless, and self-service options to enable personal touch—not eliminate it. Hotels should be prepared with digital offerings as bookings begin to increase. Lower volumes of travelers, while generally unfavorable for the industry, provide an opportunity to roll out features and get early feedback from a small group of beta users. Customers have zero tolerance for outdated or “user-unfriendly” apps and tech - brands that use this time to invest will be poised to take advantage when guests return.
Don’t forget that innovation is not just for your guests – it’s also for your employees to enable them to better serve your customers. Routine tasks related to hotel operations that can be simplified using technology frees up time for team members to be available to your guests – everything from streamlining staff scheduling to IoT-enabled predictive maintenance for amenities will help brands drive better employee and guest experiences in the future.