The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the entire globe, overwhelming public health agencies, devastating economies, and wreaking havoc on the hospitality and travel industries. While the damage is real, there is also a light at the end of the tunnel: The travel industry has always been resistant to external shocks, and our internal fundamentals remain strong: By 2030, 5.3 billion people across the globe will join the ranks of the middle class, amassing an astounding $64 trillion in spending power. Many of these people一especially experience-hungry millennials一will be itching to get out and explore the world.
However, while this pandemic will eventually subside, the hospitality industry will never go back to the “old normal.” When the travel industry recovered after 9/11, customers became acutely sensitive to the risks of international terrorism, so governments and industry responded with enhanced security precautions at airports. A similar shift is happening today, as travelers expect much higher standards of hygiene and show a significantly greater appreciation for social distancing. Fortunately, there are a variety of self-service technologies that hotels can use to enhance hygiene, promote social distancing, and provide travelers with a convenient and hyper-personalized guest experience. For hotels, it can be a clear win-win.
Take the example of contactless payments: The WHO is now encouraging the use of contactless payments to help combat COVID-19, while their use among customers is skyrocketing. In fact, the risk of contracting coronavirus from unsanitized paper notes is so significant that the U.S. Federal Reserve is quarantining physical currency from Asia for 7-10 days before releasing it into the public, while Chinese banks are quarantining physical cash for two weeks. And credit cards might actually be worse! Consequently, many forward-thinking hotels are hastening their switch to various contactless payment methods, such as mobile digital wallets or “tap and go” payment platforms.
Of course, coronavirus is not limited to spreading at just the point of payment, and hoteliers will have to rethink the entire guest journey in order to thrive in the new normal. Traditional hotels emphasize person-to-person contact at every point in the guest journey, and many luxury hotels even pride themselves on their “high-touch” model of guest service. All of this will have to change.
The traditional check-in process, for example, seems dangerously out of place in a post-COVID world. Forcing guests to cram into long lines at the front desk, engage in extended (and largely unnecessary) conversation, and then physically exchange germ-laden identification, puts both your staff and guests at risk. Utilizing mobile and self-service technology, however, lets your guests avoid personal contact entirely by checking-in from their mobile phone, or through a guest-facing smart-kiosk. By checking-in through their mobile phone, guests can enjoy other personalized and hygienic mobile amenities, such as keyless room entry, mobile check-out, and mobile room upgrades.
Check-in kiosks can also be strategically placed to break up long lines and promote social distancing, while AI-enabled facial recognition and ID scanning can reduce (and perhaps soon eliminate) the need to physically touch the screen entirely. And new technology is incorporating infrared temperature readers into customer-facing kiosks, allowing business owners to proactively screen for coronavirus without putting staff members or medical personnel at risk.
Self-service technology should also be incorporated into back-of-the-house operations. This is not only to satisfy market demand--many countries are now mandating enhanced hygiene standards for their hotel rooms. Singapore, for example, implemented a heightened, “SG Clean” standard for its hotel rooms, mandating more thorough housekeeping practices, temperature and health screening for employees, and policies for safely dealing with outside suppliers.
We will have to completely disrupt the old “clipboard and walkie-talkie” method of housekeeping management to thrive in this new “hyper-hygienic” environment. A mobile PMS can let you run your housekeeping team efficiently from a tablet, while providing your staff with instant updates on room readiness and guest requests. A cloud-based PMS can also be integrated with enhanced housekeeping management checklists, to ensure that you’re in compliance with the latest COVID-19 guidelines. Guest-facing mobile messaging can make this process even more effective by eliminating person-to-person interactions when processing guest requests, while mobile online reputation management will allow your staff to instantly respond to health or hygiene-based online-reviews.
COVID-19 has turned the hospitality industry on its head一and that will mean a “new normal” awaits once the pandemic subsides and the recovery takes hold. Incorporating hi-tech, self-service technology一from payments, to check-in, to operations一can help protect your guests from disease, while also increasing the convenience and personalization of their stay. And hotels which invest in self-service technology now, will be in a far better position to thrive in a world that is more conscious of health, hygiene, and social distancing.