The hospitality industry has been at the forefront of information technology since the 1940s when Westin installed the first electronic hotel reservation system. However. during the last three years, the COVID pandemic forced hotels to dramatically accelerate the adoption of certain technologies (such as contactless payment, check-in and room service) and change the customer experience accordingly. With the receding of the pandemic, there is a lasting impact of these changes and the future will bring changes to IT systems and mobile apps. Hospitality companies must be prepared to ensure a reliable, high quality customer experience going forward.
Managing Essential IT Systems
Hotels have to manage a large number of different IT systems that cover everything from hotel reservations (both direct and via. third party travel agents), property management, event planning, food and catering, Human Resources, contract management, inventory/logistics management as well as accounting and payroll. Further complicating the picture is that most hotel chains are a combination of independent franchises and company-owned locations. Some of the IT systems will be provided by the chain, others may be unique to the franchisee.
Whenever a hotel chain or independent operator decides to make changes to the digital experience of the customers, it relies on a large network of these back-end systems to work together reliably and seamlessly to realize that experience. So, a key ingredient for success is to make sure the business teams designing such new products and services are aligned with the CTO/CIO in ensuring that the IT infrastructure is ready to support their needs.
Rethinking The Customer Experience
One of the major trends during and after the pandemic has been the wholesale adoption of mobile devices as the primary digital platform. When a customer books a room, checks-in or wants to order food, beverages or other in-hotel experiences, it will be done using a mobile app. Furthermore, the use of QR codes has replaced many of the traditional paper-based assets in a hotel, such as room-service menus, hotel services and lists of activities and events. This allows hotels to offer more personalized services and upsell customers on different packages and options.
For example, in upscale properties, customers may be contracted ahead of time to customize their room, pre-order food and beverage service, get tickets to nearby events, book poolside cabanas, or take advantage of in-hotel services such as laundry or spas. Upon arrival they can further choose additional services and/or make last minute purchases as needed. The use of the mobile device as their keycard also allows hotels to better time housekeeping for the guest and track their movement through the property to anticipate their needs before they happen.
In the future, with artificial intelligence and machine learning, the systems could track customer movements and interactions and use predictive analysis to pre-position food, beverages, and hotel staff in anticipation of their needs.
Mobile Testing Expectations
When planning for the testing of mobile applications used in hospitality, you have to first remember that you are not just testing the application itself in isolation. You are testing the mobile application and all the back-end IT systems that it is connecting to deliver that experience. Testing to should include the mobile application, the APIs it is connecting to, and all the systems behind the scenes.
You also need to consider the different devices that customers may be using (phones, tablets, hybrid devices) and ensure that the application has been tested on either physical or simulated devices that mirror those used by the customers. Since people will be arriving from other countries, they may be relying on temporary SIM cards, lower-data roaming plans or may not have any connectivity until they first connect to the hotel WIFI. If that initial connection to WIFI experience is bad, it will immediately impact their perceptions of the hotel and its customer service.
Finally, because you are dealing with such a large amount of private data, including Personally Identifiable Information (PII), financial data (credit card transactions) and even potentially Personal Health Information (PHI) from any wellness services, you need to ensure the systems are tested from a security and privacy standpoint to better manage risk. Hotels should determine what attack surfaces exist, including the consumer mobile apps, the website and any internal back-office systems.
The best practices for testing the mobile apps and IT systems would be:
- Create a detailed system architecture diagram of all the IT systems being used by the hotel chain, the franchisees and any supporting vendors.
- Create a user journey map to understand the experience of a customer from research, to reservation, to check-in, to check-out, covering all the possible services in between.
- Map the services used by the consumer mobile apps to the different systems identified in stage 1 and align with the user experience in stage 2.
- Create or rent a mobile device testing lab to cover all the different test devices.
- Automate the testing of the back-end services using API testing tools.
- Automate the testing of the front-end web, desktop and mobile apps.
- Perform a security vulnerability scan and penetration test of the key systems.
- Complete manual, exploratory tests to find anything missed in the previous steps.
- Repeat these steps every time you have a major update of the apps or there is a major update to any of the IT systems or infrastructure.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Sandman founded Inflectra in 2006 and has been a programmer since the age of 10. Today, Adam serves as the company’s CEO. He is responsible for product strategy, technology innovation, and business development.