“Social Distancing” is a term that will likely remain in our travel vocabulary for some time. In the near future, when hotels are once again open for business, travelers will likely be accustomed to following certain universal protocols in order to ensure their health and safety, which will often include a very “hands off” approach. Hotels, however, are known for their “hands on” approach. Pivoting to a literal “touch-free” point of view could be quite daunting for hotels to consider. One way to enable a more contactless experience is to empower guest phones to do the majority of the work.
To learn more about how the future hotel stay might look within this “new normal,” HT spoke with Brett Benza, CEO, Eazy O.
What are a few main areas that will drastically change within the hotel experience due to the recent coronavirus pandemic?
I think the hospitality world -- as we know it -- is going to change drastically, and we don't have all the answers yet. This pandemic is accelerating some decisions rapidly. What might have taken five years – before COVID-19 – will now only take one. Guests will not want any unnecessary contact with front desk personnel or with staff in casual dining situations. In-room dining will pick up for all periods with pre-order becoming a necessity. Restaurants, including hotel restaurants, will use digital menus and mobile app ordering to limit contact.
How might technology come to the rescue for the above mentioned changes?
Check-in desks will be replaced by mobile check-in or kiosks with guides that will help the guest through the arrival journey. For dining, technology will do most of the heavy lifting. It will provide the menu, take the order and take the payment. Your smartphone will be the personal command center for arranging all parts of the hotel stay.
Why do you think mobile phone-specific technologies will be especially useful?Hotels will use these technologies to reach guests with push notifications and offer more services through mobile. Most of these technologies already exist. Hotels have been slow adopters and under digitized for a long time, but now technology will become an amenity guests demand and will pay for. In restaurants, guests wont want to touch menus or tablets, they will prefer using their own device.
Will we ever return to having the same type of in-person interactions with hotel staff that we're used to from before COVID-19? Why or why not?
I don't think we will. This coronavirus will accelerate many of the technology decisions that were already making their way into hotels. Staffing will be altered, costs will be cut. Guests are willing to alter behaviors in order to get better and a more responsive service experience. The market has already trained them to order food from their mobile devices, and that training will be extended to hotel services such as the concierge or any front desk request that could require standing in a line. With technology, solutions are quickly available to guests, which in turn provides them with immediate gratification. The best operators will marry the old time hospitality feeling with the newer technologies to provide a better overall guest experience.
How do you envision a contactless day at a hotel will look like in the future?
As John Smith rides to his hotel, he takes out his cellphone and checks-in. He immediately receives electronic keys and a text message from an AI welcoming bot. The bot, noting that it is dinnertime, asks John if he would like to order room service. John does so and is notified that his meal and drinks will be waiting in his room for him when he arrives. The bot then follows up asking if he would like: extra towels for the room, to reserve a chair at the pool, or to make a spa appointment. John reserves his chair and a massage all before he arrives at the hotel and without speaking to a single person.