If this pandemic has taught the hospitality industry anything, it’s the value of its staff. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, hotel occupancy across the US is around 50%, while urban areas are in the 20-40% range. With occupancy at all-time lows for hotels, restaurants and venues, owners and operators are having to make the difficult decision to lay off or furlough their most precious asset – their employees.
Nationally, approximately 4 out of every 10 hospitality jobs lost are due to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Major companies like Marriot, Hilton and MGM Resorts have laid off thousands, and many experts predict a return to pre-pandemic figures could be as far out as 2023. As a service industry, people are critical, and offer a human connection and personal touch that nothing can replace. But when many businesses must fight to survive and are forced to lay off employees – they are then faced with a growing ‘Staffing Gap’ between employee resources and increasing customer demands.
Rising Customer Demands, Decreasing Staff Levels
In the pandemic environment, business as usual is anything but. Hospitality operators are in a state of constant evolution, trying to keep up with changing health and safety guidelines, creating and implementing new protocols, and learning, adapting and tweaking products and services based on changing customer needs and feedback. The need to keep up with these increased demands, in conjunction with reduced staff is putting immense stress on many businesses, making a focus on efficiency of the utmost importance.
Many operators are turning to technology to deliver much-needed efficiency. Contactless technologies are now a must-have for many hospitality businesses. Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable using it, often expecting that a contactless experience is offered at establishments.
Since the start of the pandemic, hotels are now offering completely contactless check-ins, venues are enabling contactless mobile ordering direct to a spectator’s seat, and restaurants are enabling patrons to view a menu, order, pay and leave feedback, all via QR-code enabled technology. While consumer concerns may be driving this tech adoption, businesses will benefit from more efficient and streamlined operations. What’s more, much of this technology is low cost to implement, but will deliver a better guest experience in the here and now and will increase ROI in the long run.
Technology in a Post-Pandemic World
But what does this mean for the future of hospitality? Many believe it will herald the end of the human touch and personal experience. That hospitality will in effect be taken over by robots and tech will reign supreme. Perhaps surprisingly as a tech company CEO, I don’t subscribe to that view. If I’ve learned anything from my years working in this industry, it’s that nothing can replace the human connection.
While technology is now front and center, there will come a time that occupancies are back to ‘normal’ and the hotel and restaurant experience resembles something more familiar. Technology can certainly help fill the ‘Staffing Gap’ now, but I believe the most successful businesses will be those that use it to support them through a slow and steady re-staffing as business improves.
Guests will always have a variety of needs and wants, and technology can help meet those needs by offering customers choice, while putting safety and hygiene at the forefront. A recent report by McKinsey predicted that businesses that find ways to use such technologies to ‘rebuild human experiences that existed before COVID-19’, will ultimately differentiate themselves and gain customer loyalty.
I know many like myself look forward to going back to a nice restaurant, dining indoors, and asking the server for their best recommendations. However, there will be other customers, perhaps young families, that want a fast and efficient experience. As a father of four, I know too well how difficult (okay impossible) it is to ask a two-year-old to sit quietly for 15 minutes while waiting for the check to arrive… Offering customers more choice can only bolster business. What’s more, by implementing technology now, owners and operators can lay the groundwork for gathering important insights and data that enable them to improve and grow their business in future.
Yes, the latest contactless tech will enable you to take an order and make a sale, but businesses must think bigger – imagine the possibilities for integrating with customer loyalty programs, personalizing service offerings and creating ‘surprise and delight’ tactics based on what you know about your customer.
2020 has been a lesson in so many regards, but for the hospitality industry, it will be one in how to do more with less. While it may feel far off, business will return, and hiring will ramp up. Those companies that used technology to improve efficiencies, better understand their customer through data and ultimately offer them more choice will be the ones reaping the rewards well beyond the pandemic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabriel Weisz is passionate about developing innovative tech solutions for the hospitality industry. He founded Kallpod in 2014 and in less than five years, expanded the brand’s footprint to 1,000+ venues across North America, providing a streamlined experience for both venues and their customers. Inspired by the evolving power of digital, Gabriel and his team launched Kontactless in August 2019. A 100% mobile solution, Kontactless makes ordering and payment simpler than ever, without the need for extra hardware or separate apps to download.