A tale of digital transformation
by PAUL PAYETTE
Digital transformation has been touted as the holy grail of modernization in other industries during the past decade. For hotels, though, it’s been a slow process as the guest journey is covered with personal touchpoints from hotel staff. But if 2020 taught us anything, the unexpected can and will happen, and transformation can be measured in days and weeks instead of years. Let’s take a look at the five new realities hotels are embracing due to the transformational impacts of 2020 to offer returning guests that “future” experience now.
Let’s embrace the new realities. An estimated 56% of Americans say they are likely to travel for leisure or vacation in 2021. Hotels need to continue evolving their processes and technology implementations to keep guests and staff safe and boost efficiencies to keep up with new requirements of travelers, from leisure travelers on summer vacation to business travelers on work trips. Digital transformation doesn’t have to be a big overhaul, but meeting guest expectations now can save money and optimize staff’s time.
I look forward to connecting with my hospitality friends and network in person at this year’s AAHOACON21 in August. It’s been a long 15-plus months, but we are hopeful for a solid and safe recovery.
Knowledge is power
1. A LOYAL GUEST IS AN EMPOWERED GUEST
As guests look forward, hotel rewards programs and apps are helping reshape modern conveniences through contactless measures. In a survey by Criton, 80% of guests said they would download a hotel app to allow them to check in, check out, and get information about the property to let them control when and how they engage with the hotel and staff. While social distancing and safety are beneficial, sometimes guests just prefer to book their own amenities, digitally request services, and bypass common touchpoints. This is regularly seen in the first part of the guest journey at airports with e-tickets and kiosks.
Brands need to quickly adopt this opportunity to retain and increase membership and loyalty. In fact, attracting new customers is five times more costly than retaining an existing customer, and loyal customers spend 67% more than new ones. Greater usage and increased memberships equal more direct bookings and higher propensity for future stays.
2. IOT IS THE KEY TO UNLOCKING EFFICIENCY and EXPERIENCE
Technology is changing the game when it comes to a great guest experience coupled with real operational efficiencies. There’s been a big shift to integrate door locks and room keys, TV, thermostat controls, lighting, room service, and guest requests via voice through virtual assistants or mobile devices. In addition to adding that “wow factor” for guests and more conveniences, this also increases efficiency in vacant rooms by closing curtains, shutting off lights, and setting room temps at optimal levels to maximize cost savings. Technology also can effectively fulfill requests and remove drop-bys and calls to the front desk, speeding up processes and offloading already-stretched staff.
3. HOTELIERS HELP COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING
The Global Slavery Index estimates 45.8 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, and the hospitality industry is particularly vulnerable to this crime. However, with an increase in guests using mobile technologies to interact with the hotel, hotels have an opportunity to remove the anonymity that helps this operation thrive. Mobile entry requires guests to have smartphones and unique phone numbers linked to their keys, and the hotel can be alerted upon each entry and exit. With improved visibility into room access, both hotel staff and the latest tech can be on the lookout for unusual behavior.
Artificial intelligence is also playing a vital role when it comes to security. With the use of an E911 compliant virtual assistant in the room, guests can ask for help. The voice-assisted device automatically calls the police and identifies the room number from which the call originated. When emergency calls are placed, technology also can notify the front desk that there is a problem that needs attention.
4. OVERCOMMUNICATE EVERYWHERE WITH A FOCUS ON DIGITAL
A limited amount of touch points with staff doesn’t mean limited communications, and overcommunicating is the new norm. Hotels need to ensure they include their latest updates on their website, on third-party booking engines, and via hotel reward programs. Confirmation and welcome emails should also include up-to-date hotel and local information and offer tips for new processes like how to schedule an hour at the pool or workout room.
Upon arrival, digital signage plays a key role in communicating cleaning standards, changes in common protocols, and social-distancing guidelines. Even with less contact, there are ways to push information to guests, such as QR codes for restaurant menus, push notifications with special offers, or virtual assistants that give local recommendations.
5. CLEAN, GREEN, HYGIENE MACHINES
In a recent survey by Booking.com, 70% of travelers reported they would only book a particular accommodation if it’s clear what health and hygiene policies it has in place. Chemical-spraying or ultraviolet-disinfecting robots have proven effective for sanitizing lobbies, hallways, meeting spaces, and other social areas. Smaller UV-sanitation devices for remotes or room keys and robotic vacuums are a more affordable option that can still help staff keep up with additional duties. Although hotels will see an increase in costs in the short term, the benefits of this technology will go a long way to ensuring safety of guests and staff.
Paul Payette is Vice President, Strategic Relations for Nomadix and is a hospitality veteran with more than 20 years of experience growing global business and leading sales, strategic partnerships, marketing, and strategic planning. He also is a U.S. Air Force veteran and was decorated for heroism.