The pandemic led to an increase in contactless technology and experiences in the hospitality industry, and even as we return to a new normal, many of these innovations are likely to stick. A hotelier’s job is to make guests comfortable, and if guests have become accustomed to new ways of doing things, then hotels will need to accommodate.
However, instead of removing the personal touch, contactless technology can actually provide a more pleasant — and personalized — experience for guests. Throughout 2020, hospitality and travel companies found ways to provide memorable experiences while improving health and safety standards. It’s also nothing new — as people do more on their phones, online retail companies have been developing strategies and systems for years that hotels can now take advantage of. Virtual tours, video, streaming, and other tech tools are quickly becoming necessities for hoteliers.
Guest expectations have changed
Guests are eager to have more control when it comes to their own experiences, and they want hotels to provide a simple (yet functional) digital experience that reaches across all departments. They want choices when it comes to communicating with the hotel, being able to pick up whichever device is nearest to make requests, update reservations, and manage their stay. Guests also want convenience. This includes not having to wait for a waiter to make a payment at the end of a meal, skipping the front desk entirely, or not having to pick up the phone to order their car from the valet. It’s control and convenience — plain and simple.
The importance of data for a contactless experience
We expect data management to become more important in day-to-day hospitality operations, especially in on-property activities, guest preferences, hotel restaurants, and facilities used for events and conferences. If we have data online that’s entered by guests and easily accessible by staff, we don’t need to have people bother with keypads or give that information to a worker on-site in close contact. And as elements of the hotel experience that were once done in-person switch to digital, the potential synergy means new levels of personalization and efficiency.
CRM can also lend a big helping hand in reducing physical contact. Guests and staff can log preferences in advance of a trip and during it, so room preferences, allergies, and amenity requests are handled automatically without requiring in-person interaction. A CRM system helps hotels serve clients more remotely, with less contact throughout the guest journey.
3D video should be used on your hotel’s website to showcase every angle of your property. Beyond photos, guests want to see video of what the rooms and the property look like, including restaurants, markets, bars, lounges, and outdoor areas. Is there lots of space? Video tours help guests feel safe about social distancing precautions put in place, as well as the cleanliness and hygienically minded changes you’ve made to the rooms.
Website chat functionality
A chat function (with video if possible) is another great feature to put on your hotel’s website. If a potential guest has any concerns, they can talk through them with a member of your staff and get immediate answers without needing to make a phone call. This positive experience builds confidence in the brand and encourages users to book.
Pre-arrival surveys, whether prompted online after booking or sent via email or text, are an efficient way to reduce contact and provide personalized experiences to your guests. Using a CRM, you can further personalize your messaging with dynamic content based on location and information pertaining to the booking and/or facilities available. Video chat, pop-up chat, and text messaging are also great tools that can allow guests to ask questions prior to arrival, reducing their need to stop by the front desk or make a call on the in-room phone (if that still exists).
You can also use pre-arrival emails to communicate the latest health and safety protocols to your guests, reducing guest confusion and decreasing informational calls to your front desk. This frees up staff to focus on guest concerns, while also emphasizing your hotel’s commitment to guest safety.
Contactless front desk and digital keys
The front desk has always been a pain point for guests. With the worst of the pandemic behind us, guests are now accustomed to checking in and out without speaking to someone. This guest expectation is also helpful with managing your labor costs in an uncertain environment.
Contactless check-in and checkout can work in a variety of ways. Most major hotel brands have invested heavily in digital keys, so the guest can skip the front desk and use their phone as a room key. However, that investment isn’t feasible for every hotel. Contactless front desk can also be done via SMS: The guest texts the front desk, who communicates with the guest about their assigned room, as well as any other details. Texting may not be as feasible for check-in, but it works really well at check-out, as the guest can simply text the front desk to notify them of their departure.
Guests aren’t exactly clamoring for robots, but automated assistants, such as a virtual concierge, can provide a plethora of services that put guests in control of when and where they interact with staff.
A virtual concierge can put destination information right at guests’ fingertips and answer all kinds of frequently asked questions about your property and its services. By linking the virtual concierge to other on-property services, such as making reservations or requesting more towels, it becomes a valuable asset to the guest experience. Add in AI-driven personalization, and you have a tool that can enhance the guest experience in many ways.
Touchless ordering and payments
The QR code became the silent hero of pandemic operations. While menus will likely make their return eventually, continue offering a touchless menu that integrates ordering and payments. As a side benefit, easier ordering can lead to larger check averages.
Touchless ordering can also be achieved through a mobile app. It’s not an investment every hotel is ready to make, but for those that do have an app, it can be a major value-add. Even for those without an app, text messages and chatbots can play a similar role. This is especially true for room service, where guests can easily order food from any of your F&B outlets and get it delivered right to their rooms.
Digital notices can be used to provide real-time updates and information, such as sharing the pool hours, elevator capacity, new F&B protocols, or instructions for entering and exiting the property. Hotels can do this by adding online notices to the digital concierge or by sending text messages or emails that guests can read from the comfort of their room.
Mobile control of the room
Can you sense a trend? It’s all about empowering guests to use their personal phones to reduce contact while at your hotel. Beyond using digital keys to enter their rooms, guests can use their personal phones to control the in-room TV, lighting, temperature, and more without touching any surfaces.
Digitizing groups and events
To reduce contact for groups and events, hotels will need to shift to digital management of many elements and increase their tech stacks. Events, for example, can offer digital registration that’s completely contactless. For group sales, you can conduct video chats between your sales team and prospective clients, as well as offer virtual tours that can replace site visits and inspections. Hotels will also need to show their live stream capabilities, Wi-Fi strength, and video-conferencing capabilities in their proposals, as well as their modifications for social distancing in meeting spaces, as this will become increasingly important.
Virtual fitness — classes and personal trainers
When hotel gyms were forced to close, many began to offer digital experiences that some guests actually prefer. Why not offer streaming fitness classes where an instructor live streams from a gym and guests can watch in their room on Smart TVs? Or how, about live personal video training sessions between coaches and guests they can do in their room? Showing that your hotel can accommodate the preferences of these modern travelers is super important.
Digital experiences with bartenders/chefs
Just like fitness, culinary experiences received a digital makeover during the pandemic. Cocktail kits/wine flights can be delivered straight to guests’ rooms, with video walk-throughs on how to mix up your old fashioned or explaining the flavor profiles. Similarly, your chef can give guests an overview of the food sent to their room, including where it comes from and how it was prepared. It adds that personal touch to the experience, where guests are connecting with the F&B experts you have on staff, all from the comfort of their room.
Hotels should also really look at the automation deployment of their online surveys and requests for guests to post on review sites. As the checkout experience becomes increasingly contactless, this will be your chance to hear directly from your guests on what they loved, liked, and felt could have been better. It’s ensuring you have a feedback mechanism built in that shows you’re listening. You’ll likely get some really valuable feedback, especially on the newly modified guest experience you’ve deployed. And hopefully, you’ll get some rave reviews out of it as well on TripAdvisor and Google!
Staff collaboration tools
Guests expect hotels to handle their requests quickly, regardless of the contact method. You may have less staff in your post-pandemic operation than you did before, or find difficulty maintaining staffing levels to service standards. Either way, staff collaboration tools can keep everyone connected and on top of tasks, messages, and issues in real time.
Touchless tech also enables your back-of-house staff to work smarter, not harder. Maintenance in particular has a lot on its plate. If your property hasn’t been able to keep up with preventative maintenance during the prolonged closure, it’s time to revisit those property PMs.
While guests don’t expect your property to have preventative maintenance software, they do expect guest rooms to function as intended. Every time something breaks, it brings the potential discomfort of having a stranger in your room during. By adopting preventative maintenance software, you can automatically stay on top of each room’s PM checklist to avoid disturbing guests as much as possible.
What is the bottom line?
Whether this new normal is here to stay is up in the air, but regardless, we can use this cultural moment to embrace how we can better utilize technology to provide excellent hospitality to guests in 2021 and beyond. Touchless tech is here to stay, and we’ve already seen how it doesn’t need to be a barrier to good service — in fact, it can enrich a guest’s experience. It gives them more control over their stay, while also being more convenient for everyone. And it doesn’t hurt that it reduces transmission of germs — something that will never go out of style!