The rapid pace of post-pandemic change is raising new questions. Low-cost technology and a never-before-seen speed of uptake is leaving hospitality professionals wondering where to begin. Consistently the best way to offer COVID-related solutions at scale, smart technology has completely reshaped the hospitality industry, and every hotelier and travel professional is wondering which tech-based solutions are here to stay, and how will the post-pandemic industry take shape.
Even as the rollout of vaccines progress, and we regain some stability as we move on to recovery, questions remain unanswered. If the world’s best attractions can come to life through a VR headset, will we still want to travel? If biotech payments and facial recognition become a permanent part of the guest experience, how will that data stay protected? There’s no end to what we don’t yet know, but with a couple months of post-pandemic operation, some important trends are taking shape.
The Race to More Immersive Marketing
When the hospitality industry faced an impossible economic situation under the limitations of COVID-19, many owners turned to virtual reality (VR) as a temporary offering. Niche hotels, wine-country properties, and national park accommodations curated VR experiences to maintain their connections with guests and offer them a safe change of scenery from home. And while there’s no reason to believe that VR will substitute for the real travel experience in any permanent capacity, there is reason believe that it will remain a powerful marketing tool.
In the early months of recovery, VR has helped travelers and guests become more comfortable with the prospect of exploring a much-needed vacation. Virtual reality and artificial reality (AR) tools are being leveraged on booking sites and marketing platforms to give consumers a real-life tour of the grounds, rooms, and surrounding communities before they make their booking. Travel professionals have used VR presentations to communicate the new in-flight safety protocols, and to help guests gain peace of mind around hotel room sanitation measures. VR allows hoteliers to help their guests see before they buy; an immersive tour, a 360° room display, and an almost real rendering of nearby attractions has been a winning strategy when it comes to recovering guest engagement.
The New Service: No Service
The pre-pandemic idea of luxury—knowledgeable concierges, instant room service, a front-desk representative available at all hours of the day—is being replaced by the efficiency and safety of self-service. Having pivoted to self-initiated bookings, ID verifications, and check-ins, consumers have grown used to the ease of self-led navigation. Now, hoteliers are focusing on improving their self-service offerings. Guests can use an integrated smartphone app to reserve a space at the restaurant, place their order ahead of time, and self-initiate their payment. Hotel gift shops can follow Amazon’s lesson and use in-store cameras to vet a guest’s items and calculate the amount owed, sending a payment request straight to their smartphone. Charging a morning coffee to the room used to be the epitome of convenience. Now, any check-out interaction feels interruptive, and the smart tech that takes the in-person payment out of the equation is seeing a quick reward.
BioTech—Efficiency or Apocalypse?
Not every guest is thrilled about the integration of biometric technology; facial recognition, contact-less payments, voice-initiated authorizations. Short airport lines, face-enabled payments, and hotel doors that can unlock at the sound of a voice is both alluring and alarming. With more data certainly comes more responsibility, and guests want to understand where their information will be stored and how it will be kept safe. While much of this responsibility falls on the tech vendors, an important area of focus for hoteliers is to ensure they’ve made adequate investments into cybersecurity and data protection. More connection means more liability, and the post-COVID guest experience is more connected than it’s ever been.
IoT—The Future is Personal
IoT-based technology is one of the leading forces reshaping the hospitality industry. With the widespread adoption of integrated apps that can handle anything from bookings to check-ins to virtual room keys, more and more of the guest experience (and the data it generates) is taking place in the digital realm. The Internet of Things can make guest accommodations seamless by using those platforms to offer them more control; adjusting room temperatures, dimming their lights, calling the front desk, ordering room service, or toggling through TV channels from the comfort of their smartphone. The integrated apps can log some of those choices on the guest’s personal profile, helping hoteliers not only get a sense for the services that are working across a wide range of guests, but also for each guest’s personal preferences. Hoteliers can use this to do anything from tracking the success of different price listings, stocking the kitchen with seasonally popular dishes, and tailoring guest offerings and rewards toward their specific preferences. Again, more data will come with more responsibility. But with the proper security measures in place, the IoT could pave the way to new heights in the hospitality industry.
Post-COVID adaptations in the hospitality sector are both exciting and daunting. Progress won’t be linear, and there will be many trials and errors as professionals and owners search for the tech-first solutions that work best for their guests. With proper investments into data protection, hospitality professionals can experiment with VR and AR-powered marketing, contact-free service, and more personalized guest offerings. Post-COVID guest services don’t need to be perfect, but hoteliers do need to keep pace with the progress that’s shaping their industry—to find their place within it, and to continue to take a guest-first approach to creating meaningful, memorable accommodations.
About the Author
Zain Jaffer is a tech entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of Zain Ventures, an investment firm with over $100 million in assets under management. Zain Ventures invests in a variety of initiatives including commercial real estate, technology start-ups and private equity.