For roughly the past decade, experts in the technology industry have been using the term “exponential technology.” The phenomenon refers to both the rapid improvements in cost and performance—the power of a computer chip, for example, doubles nearly every 18 months—and the exponential rate of adoption among users. To exemplify the latter, consider the integration of phones into our day to day lives. When the landline was invented, it took 75 years to gain 50 million users. In contrast, mobile phones reached the 50-million-user mark in just 12 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated an already accelerated rate of tech-adoption in the hotel industry. Smart capacities and services that were previously considered add-ons to the guest experience will quickly become requirements in the post-pandemic hospitality space. The health and safety risks of the virus combined with travel restrictions and the economic downturn have forced every hotelier into immediate action. Those that make the right investments and leverage digital technologies to improve and elevate their guest offerings will be in the best position to survive through the pandemic and thrive in its wake.
Digital Labor As First Line Defense
Smart technology has the capacity to enable and empower an overcoming of the barriers that hoteliers are currently facing as they try to navigate the influx of COVID-related complications. A major short term focus has been flood in booking that’s resulted from guest cancelations or deferred stays. Investing in integrated online booking platforms that help to supplement staff efforts and create a seamless, personalized experience is the best way to ensure the guest has a positive brand experience—one they stand a chance of remembering when travel restrictions lift.
The same integrated booking and check-in technology can be applied across all aspects of a guest’s stay. Hoteliers are using app platforms to track spaces used by guests and ensure a thorough sanitation before their next use. Further, app platforms can promote a two-way conversation—management can see where guests have been and guests can receive notifications when their room has been cleaned, with specific details regarding sanitation practices available at their fingertips.
Integrated app platforms can help guests order room service or a morning coffee, reserve a spot out on the pool deck or communicate virtually with a staff member for instant assistance. And just as they can streamline guest operations, smart technology can elevate the capacity of a staff. Cloud-based software can help behind-the-counter functions, allowing staff and management to streamline operations, coordinate housekeeping, and communicate effectively behind the scenes. Investments in these kinds of digital services will help hoteliers deliver a differentiated guest experience.
Rethinking Loyalty & Reward
As the travel habits of the masses are being reconsidered, customer loyalty programs are due for an upgrade. This is another area where hospitality professionals are investing in technology, and smart solutions are set to become a part of the new normal.
Reward programs are meant to incentivize returning business without alienating first-time customers, or overemphasizing the different levels of guest perks. In the past, mobile check-ins were generally reserved for loyalty reward members. Now, that technology can help achieve the aims of the reward program with more tailored offerings, and more appropriate subtly.
A personalized guest app can offer different levels of accommodation. Rewards members could see choice reservation spaces for the poolside, access different internet speeds, and receive early notifications of limited spa offerings. Their choices and preferences could be logged as data and shared with the staff to help personalize their next stay. As they accumulate ‘rewards’, they could see alternate room pricing through the app, and they could log their preferences for all upcoming stays. The data gathered can also help hoteliers understand which of their offerings are seeing the most success, helping them adapt to meet the needs of similar high-tier guests.
A New Sense of Security
Wearable technology has gained in popularity as a way to monitor guest activity, manage contact tracing, and help control the spread of the virus. The resulting data also offers valuable feedback for consumer analysis. But with this powerful access comes great responsibility, and cyber security is a lesser-known but worthy place of investment.
The more that guests are able to be tracked and recognized, the more they deserve to know their data is safe. Most hotel owners have invested in physical safety—enhanced sanitation practices, hands-free technology, and design layouts that promote social distancing. But cyber security is an equally urgent priority. Security practices that safeguard customer data need to comply with local, federal, and industry-specific regulations. Guests deserve a thorough understanding of how their data is being used. App platforms should have a section detailing which guest operations remain completely private, the rules and regulations regarding the use or sale of customer data, and the consequences that apply if any rules are breached.
Without minimizing the depth of devastation, the COVID-19 crisis is sure to leave innovation in its wake. Accelerated adoption of technology will transform the hotel sector at a rate even more extreme than once predicted. Smart tech will offer benefits to customers and staff alike, elevating the guest experience and making new levels of personalized hospitality possible. With creativity, capital, and safety above all else, hoteliers can emerge from this crisis with a new, improved, and irresistible standard of care.
Zain Jaffer is the founder and CEO of investment firm Zain Ventures.