COVID-19 has created a tsunami of changes throughout the world. In a new reality that restricts socialization and isolates people into risk groups, many industries must adapt their business models and marketing strategies. However, it is the tourism industry in general, and the hospitality sector, in particular, that has undergone one of the most radical changes.
Under the shadow of COVID-19 restrictions, many hospitality businesses find themselves under the threat of closure. RNZ reports that 1 out 5 hospitality businesses in New Zealand might shut down permanently. According to the BBC, the UK hospitality industry is expecting thousands of closures. Additionally, McKinsey reports a steep decline in hospitality occupancy in the US during May 2020. Still, the same McKinsey report explores optimistic recovery scenarios, which could help the hospitality sector shift back to pre-COVID-19 revenues by 2023.
Despite COVID-19 damages, many hospitality businesses are fighting back, creating new models for a safer experience by leveraging hospitality technology. For some businesses, this means contactless registration, while for others, the solution might be crowd management using radar. Read on to learn about the innovative strategies the industry is using to drive recovery.
In this article:
- The hospitality industry post-COVID-19: How to survive?
- Hospitality tech in 2020
- Online booking
- Contactless registration and keyless room entry
- Crowd management with radar
- Robotic room service
- Touchless menu systems
- Virtual remote controls
- Thermal cameras
- Enhanced cleaning
- Smart transportation
- How hospitality tech drives recovery
The Hospitality Industry After COVID-19: How to Survive?
The COVID-19 crisis has hit hospitality hard. People have had little need for hotels, bed and breakfasts, or vacation rentals when they aren’t able to travel. However, this doesn’t mean that vacations or travel are a thing of the past.
As restrictions lift and living with COVID-19 becomes normality, travelers will once again start looking for comforts away from home. As long as hospitality companies can adapt to a post-COVID world, they will be ready to welcome customers back.
Focus on changes in customer experience
Customer experiences of the COVID crisis have varied drastically, depending on their personal views, location, and age. These differences will play a large role in what customers expect from service and how that service shapes their experience. For example, customers may react to and perceive new distancing measures very differently. While some may appreciate the enhanced safety, others may feel it’s cold or impersonal.
Hospitality providers need to ensure that all potential customers have an enjoyable stay, at the same time, making sure staff and guests remain safe. To address these conflicts, providers should make it clear how their practices benefit the customer. In addition, with new restrictions in place, hotels should compensate by offering unique experiences and attractions to offer their guests alternative value. Finally, they should be ready to learn, hear, and respond to any feedback that customers give so they can adjust services accordingly.
Focus on the switch in customer perceptions
After months of news about proper handwashing, how infection is passed, and what constitutes a clean surface, many customer’s perceptions will have changed. Post-COVID, customers will have a higher expectation of how surfaces and goods should be handled to avoid passing contaminants—for example, expecting taxis to wipe down surfaces after rides or for hotels to improve room disinfection.
Brands cannot expect to revert back to previous practices if they want to regain customers and business. Instead, providers need to continue showing awareness of new expectations of cleanliness and highlight how customer safety is being ensured. Proudly displaying this information can act as a powerful reassurance for guests.
Focus on the shift in consumption patterns
With movement restrictions in place and numerous businesses closed, many customers have adapted their purchasing patterns and expectations during COVID. The adoption of online shopping has grown incredibly as a result. In response, online advertising has risen, with many brands taking to social media to engage with customers.
Post-COVID, some customers may continue to prefer this means of advertising and buying. To make sure brands are reaching these customers, they will need to cement their position online. This means providing the same quality of access and care to customers online as in person.
Unlike online buying, it's not possible for guests to enjoy hospitality facilities without attending physically. That said, there are still ways for hotels to take advantage of their online presence. For example, they could highlight having the latest streaming cameras or high bandwidth connections to draw in conference hosts who need to account for high numbers of remote attendees. More generally, hotels could enforce their online presence by sharing virtual visits (or videos), allowing their future guests to see and experience the facilities before making their reservation. Online communication is crucial in this uncertain time, and hotels should focus on sharing valuable, reliable, and interactive content with their potential guests to be in the front of their minds.
Hospitality Tech in 2020
Adoption of hospitality tech is a key crucial way providers can adapt to meet new customer needs and expectations. The following technologies can help hospitality providers deliver first-grade services without sacrificing safety or customer satisfaction.
While there’s nothing new about booking vacations online, the ability to find and book hospitality via hotel websites or booking engines is critical to recovery from COVID-19. Hospitality businesses must make online bookings their primary focus, and ensure the user experience is seamless.
One of the biggest concerns of today's coronavirus conscious traveler surrounds the uncertainty of booking in advance. With travel advice continually changing, travelers want to be reassured that if they do make a reservation and need to cancel it, they can. Hospitality businesses must, therefore, make polices easily accessible online, clearly highlighting that cancellation is possible. Any cancellations must also be easy to do, and online concerns or queries should be responded to quickly.
Contactless registration and keyless room entry
Almost every visitor in a hotel touches the registration desk. People check-in, check out, and stop for questions in between. This makes desks hotbeds for a host of germs and a major potential point of infection for visitors and staff. Likewise, keys are handled by multiple users and are unlikely to be sanitized between visits.
Contactless systems, which enable visitors to perform registration actions or enter rooms through their mobile devices, can help reduce risks. By using digital key technologies and mobile apps, providers are able to ensure that customers can access self-service options. This enables visitors and staff to limit contact and increases desk workers' availability for more complex interactions.
Crowd management with radar
Even after social distancing mandates are lifted, many visitors and staff will continue to be concerned about how crowded locations are. To reduce these concerns, vendors need to introduce methods for monitoring and maintaining occupancy limits. While limits can be assured with manual counts or inspections through cameras, radar is a more advanced solution.
Radar sensors can be used to continuously monitor how many customers are in a given location, automatically counting as people enter or leave. These sensors can also go beyond simple counts, providing information on spacing and location. This data can then be used by hospitality providers to ensure that sitting areas are appropriately spaced, to adapt staffing to prevent service lines from piling up, or to schedule access to public spaces.
Robotic room service
Room service is a known perk of staying in a hotel, but it requires more face to face interaction than some customers may want. Additionally, if providers are operating with shorter staffing than before the pandemic, errands can take vital workers from the front desk. A possible solution is room service robots, such as those currently being demoed in several hotels across California.
These robots can be loaded with requested items or meals and sent to deliver goods directly to a guest’s room. Robots include sensors to avoid collisions, communication technologies to call elevators or receive commands, and digital displays to provide information or feedback to guests and staff. After delivery, robots can be sanitized and charged for the next guest's request.
Touchless menu systems
According to an investigation by Good Morning America, restaurant menus often contain around 185k bacteria on their surfaces, more than 100x that found on restaurant toilet seats. While bacteria are not the cause of COVID, the cleanliness of surfaces is directly tied to how safe people feel when dining out.
To reduce contamination and increase diner comfort, restaurants and bars, including those in hotels, should consider adopting touchless menu systems. Depending on the size of your menu, these systems could rotate through items automatically or respond to voice or gesture commands.
Virtual remote controls
Remote controls are handled by guests and staff alike, making them prime vectors of infection. Unfortunately, these devices are also difficult to sanitize due to their crevices and buttons. As an alternative, companies like Otrum are creating virtual remote controls that guests can use.
Guests can access these controls after scanning a QR code attached to the TV in their room. From there, they can access a remote on their smartphone screen. This eliminates a point of contamination, removes the chance of lost remotes, and provides a better guest experience since they can also access channel information from the “remote.”
For the foreseeable future, checking guest temperatures on entry is best practice even if not required. However, having guests queue to have their forehead scanned is inconvenient for everyone and distracts from the getaway experience that most hospitality providers work to create.
To avoid this situation, hotels may consider upgrading to thermal cameras. These cameras can be used to check the temperatures of guests behind the scenes. If a guest shows up with a fever, staff can discreetly address the issue, avoiding embarrassment for the guest and worry in others.
Several hotel chains are using advanced technology to enhance cleanliness and disinfection at their properties, to protect the health and safety of their guests, including:
- Heat, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration, which uses UV light to kill 97% of airborne viruses and bacteria.
- Electrostatic disinfectant sprayers that provide 360-degree coverage of surfaces and contain positively-charged particles that can cling to surfaces to kill germs on an ongoing basis.
Molekule air purification system, using nanotechnology to destroy viruses and other pollutants.
LightStrike disinfection robots, leveraging broad-spectrum ultraviolet light to kill viruses and bacteria. The robots provide a second layer of sanitization after the hotels’ regular cleaning routine.
While some travelers are happy to stay in their hotel once they arrive, most want to leave during waking hours. Whether to go out to eat, see the sights, or go to events, guests often need transportation to get around. Likewise, getting to the hotel on the first night or leaving on the last day requires transport. While buses and other public transportation may have been acceptable before, post-COVID-19 people may want less crowded options. For example, private cars, small shuttles, or even bicycles.
Smart transportation technologies can help fill these demands in several ways. For instance, these services can be added into a hotel’s or online travel agency’s website to allow customers to book their end to end travel. In the recent partnership between HERE Mobility and Booking.com, HERE Mobility's transportation technology provides Booking.com users with more possibilities to order their rides to their hotel, at the same time they reserve their trip. As another step, hotels can integrate smart mobility services into kiosks in the lobby or in-room tablets, enabling guests to request their rides with minimal contact.
How Hospitality Tech Drives Recovery
It is true that some hospitality companies face closures. However, many businesses are overcoming the crisis by creating innovative solutions and experimenting with new business models. Hospitality tech, in particular, is a driving force, enabling companies to keep operating while complying with regulations. To succeed, hospitality stakeholders will need to work together to find new opportunities, and ultimately, figure out how to adapt the industry to a post-COVID world.