The COVID-19 pandemic has sent the hospitality sector, among many other industries, into a tailspin. The resulting impacts of the outbreak have put severe pressure on the sector’s normal operations. Among the areas that have been affected in the hospitality industry is consumer experience.
Customer experience is on the line as most hospitality businesses try to find a balance between a company’s efforts and customer expectations. With several health concerns to keep in mind, the hospitality industry has found itself struggling to spur consumer confidence.
The contact-less nature of coronavirus has necessitated introduction of new technology trends in hospitality. The pandemic has also, in its own way, accelerated the adoption of new technologies and applications into the hotel industry. Trends and new technological innovations features that might have originally been meant to be additional conveniences have turned to become requisites.
In the past we have seen generalized trends like connected experiences where users enjoy the convenience of checking-in/out, controlling the room’s temperature or even requesting services using mobile devices. These, however, don’t really cut it anymore because of their lack of personalized offering.
Majority of the connected experiences are still largely ‘one size fits all’ which means guests with unique preferences don’t get the same satisfactions. For instance, some guests may value a spa while others will love a swimming pool in the hotel. This has made it difficult to provide good customer experience to guests
What’s the solution for COVID-affected customer experience?
The best approach to improve the affected customer experience is by embracing technologies such as Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. These technologies have shown the potential to enhance guest experience. Here are some of these popular technology trends so far:
The hotel industry benefits a lot with a decentralised and traceable platform for data and what better solution is there besides blockchain? Blockchain has been around for a while with its most popular use case so far being in cryptocurrencies and DeFi – both good investment options.
Blockchain, however, has many other applications beyond the investment horizon including in the hotel industry.The distribution of hotel rooms on a decentralized & digital ‘database’ eliminates the need for go-betweener. Instead, guests can access rooms directly.
The technology also comes with an extra benefit of improved cybersecurity, which is crucial especially when financial information is involved. UK-based TUI is an example of a company in the industry that uses the technology. The company moved its hotel rooms to its private blockchain in 2017.
TUI’s BedSwap project allows hotels with extra inventory or room availability to update the blockchain so that authorised parties can check where and how many hotel rooms are available at any time.
Using contactless communication helps hotels stay compliant with health guidelines while fulfilling their guests’ needs. Recently, Nevotek (a tech firm that specializes in hospitality solutions) developed and released a guest-engagement technology that effortlessly syncs with a pre-existing Property Management System.
The company’s Grace Platform allows guests to communicate with hotel staff in real-time through their favourite messaging app (WhatsApp, WeChat and the likes) eliminating the need to download an extra app. Through secure communication, the hotel staff can also respond to the guests’ needs without even having to request for their room number or name. It also features an analytics function and an AI option to enable a chatbot.
NevoTouchless from the same firm makes things easier by allowing guests to access hotel services using their own mobile devices. Guests can also choose to pair their devices with their room TVs and use the devices as remote controllers. Other things guests can accomplish using their devices are accessing online versions of paper digests and ordering room service.
Robots continue finding applications in several areas each day. They may not be as advanced as those in the Ironman franchise or Star Wars but robotic machines get the work done in different sectors including hospitality. Robotic hotel staff have been crucial during this pandemic period reducing person-to-person contact.
South Korea-based telecom company KT Corporation released its second gen GiGA Genie hotel robot designed to help improve service delivery. The robot named "N Bot" is already being used at the Novotel Ambassador Dongdaemun Hotels & Residences. It goes around hotel rooms delivering amenities such as fresh towels and water bottles, and other amenities to guests living in the hotel.
We have in the past seen smart energy management systems help hoteliers manage and even optimize energy consumption. Now think of a system that would be able to identify hazards and other issues before they happen. That is precisely what predictive maintenance aims to achieve. Predictive maintenance makes use of sensor data to help hoteliers recognize hazardous trends.
It also helps hotel managers anticipate components that are almost breaking down and consequently replace them before the damage is done. This prevents further failures (additional expenses) and inconveniences to hotel guests.
IoT (Smart Sensors)
The hotel industry is also benefiting from incorporation of smart sensors into hotel applications. This technology is currently being used in different areas including in helping guests reserve parking space prior to their visits. Guests can now drive into hotels knowing they have spots reserved for them upon arrival. Not only does this improve guest experience but also saves hotels the expenses of managing parking inventories manually.
Cloud-based IoT services have also found use in facilitating back-of-house functions and simplifying complex activities. These activities include verifying compliance with new hygiene guidelines, designating duties to hotel staff and harmonizing housekeeping systems.
In addition, interconnected IoT devices are being embedded in hotels to gather relevant customer data. This data is used to provide personalized services. A Chinese company Tink Labs built a mobile-based IoT device that delivers tailored content to hotel guests. The device called Handy features a helpdesk useful in assisting with local language. It also provides information on local events.
It is true that cloud-based property management systems have been around for a while and they are not exactly a new technology. Their application has however evolved and they are now being used to realize more benefits during this period. Cloud-based mobile applications are being used to provide interaction between hotel staff and hotel guests without personal contact.
Many businesses in the hospitality industry have moved their critical applications to the cloud to improve their overall operations. With a customer database in the cloud, hotels can deliver satisfactory experience to their guests. Incorporating cloud technology places the control of daily tasks like reservation & check-ins management in one place.
The hospitality sector is one of the many industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic with customer experience being redefined. With more data privacy and health regulations being effected, the concerned businesses can only turn to technology to keep up. This is why it is important that the sector develops and implements innovative trends to meet consumer expectations and better staff satisfaction. In turn, the involved businesses can improve customer experience.