From social distancing to contactless check-in and dining - Interactive technology will be key in dealing with pandemic issues
Post-Covid recovery, hotels will most likely include integrating new-age technologies related to booking engines, mobile apps, digital concierge services, automated check-in and check-out and keyless entry systems.
The hospitality industry has been witness to constant innovation and disruption, from economic slowdowns to one of the worst—COVID-19, which has shut down the world. As the world tries to figure out ways in which it can deal with the pandemic and open up for business, the needs and wants of a traveller will evolve and change.
Post-Covid recovery, hotels will most likely include new-age technologies related to booking engines, mobile apps, digital concierge services, automated check-in and check-out and keyless entry systems.
A report by Software Advice’s Guest Preferences for technology use in hotels states that 60% respondents were more likely to choose a hotel that allows guests to check-in and open doors with a smartphone than a hotel that doesn’t. Nothing can be truer in the After Covid (or AC as it is being referred to increasingly) world. Not just automated technology, even the demand for interactive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), chatbots and Internet of Things (IoT) will not just be options, but necessities. Coronavirus has upended the hospitality industry and savvy hoteliers across the world will use this downtime to identify technologies that can help them thrive in the post-COVID environment.
According to Harish Chandra, Chief Technology Officer, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts, “Post the meltdown of COVID crisis, we will see slow growth for the initial few months. Travellers will be worried about their health and safety issues. There is a requirement for upgradation, technology adaptation and training for the staff. We are in the process of creating clear SOPs for various areas, keeping manual and automized sanitation in mind.”
Harish Chandra, Chief Technology Officer, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts
Chandra suggests measures of crowd control at the lobby and during check-in such as cloud-based Property Management System. “We need to develop intelligent smart technology-based solutions to win guest confidence by creating a room management/ allocation application, a solution that allows the guest to choose sanitised and safe guest rooms. Usage of skin-temperature screening cameras, geospatial sensing tech (smart floors) chemical and UV light cleaning systems and graphenstone ecological paints and coatings, contact tracking apps will enable consumer confidence,” he adds.
Automatic and constant cleaning of guest rooms and public areas by robots will help. Lift handrails should be sanitized regularly with the help of technology. Technology should help manage the flow of people and support social distancing. Chandra also points to emerging technology in the F&B segment, like a digital tablet menu, a QR-code supported ordering solution that restaurants worldwide are experimenting with. The guest will be able to scan a QR code on his/her mobile, check the menu and place the order via the mobile without downloading any app.
The evolving world of technology
The world of technology is ever-evolving in the hospitality industry. A look at what it means for the industry.
Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, a business hotel in Noida, recently launched a Virtual Reality Experience Center, in collaboration with Noida-based VR-Tech startup, The Knotty Tales. The VR Experience Center at Crowne Plaza Greater Noida is located strategically at the hotel lobby.
“The VR experience centre,” says the hotel’s Director of Sales & Marketing, Barun Gupta, “allows users to indulge in an immersive 8K three-dimensional, computer-generated virtual environment that can be explored and interacted with as per the client’s requirements.” The technology was adopted to enhance sales and distribution outreach. “With VR,” says Gupta, “we can now take the hotel to our clients and business partners through portable Oculus glasses.This expands our outreach to new customer base while allowing the clients to experience the hotel, from any location, in all its real-life like splendour.”
Many hotels are adopting VR for various reasons. For instance, the 8K VR services enable guests to experience a 360-tour of the hotel spaces from one point within the lobby. At Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, it plays a key role in showcasing the hotel’s expansive 51,000sq.ft. banqueting space. It also allows guests to experience and visualize multiple décor setups. For the hotel, The Knotty Tales has created WAVE, an instant messaging platform including WhatsApp and Facebook messenger.
VR also offers guided solutions that help guests review the services at a property. The experience centre at Crowne Plaza Greater Noida is an attraction for guests who are looking for a wedding or large conferencing venues. “They are now able to virtually explore various spaces within the hotel and that too in multiple set-up options available per venue. This has in a way helped us in swift decision making and positive closures,” adds Gupta.
The VR technology has also helped the hotel to tap new client base, potential guests who can experience the hotel from their homes and offices. Clearly, VR technology is a key tool for hotels to gain new business. “VR technology has empowered the team to showcase the entire property in an interactive format to clients.
Given its mobility, VR tours can be shared with guests in any corner of the world, facilitating quick decision making and positive business closures,” states Gupta. In the post-Covid world, VR technology and other new-age technology are increasingly in demand as business continuity takes priority. Companies are speeding up rollouts, and expanding their product lines. Companies like the Hyderabad based Imaginate and Gurgaon based Queppelin are now seeing unprecedented demand for VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) technology from companies in India and abroad.
Smartphone app-based technology
Smartphone app-based technology is helping hotels to automate and optimise experience. With a simple mobile app, guests are able to checkin and out, unlock their room, order room service and even can make amenity bookings, thereby leading to seamless experience and reducing their dependability on hotel staff.
In fact, PMS can be used with mobile concierge apps to help engage with guests without personal contact, across most operations — from check-in to in-room dining. Robotics and AI are predicted to boom in the hospitality industry, with growth rates of nearly 25% a year. Hotels that leverage these technologies will benefit.
Four Points by Sheraton Mahabalipuram Resort and Convention Center has recently introduced its new smartphone app that streamlines hotel and guest operations. The app has been designed for all kinds of requisition and approvals, guests’ complaints, experiences, profile updates and even their sign-ins. Hotel
Manager Girish Krishnan says, “The new technological upgradation has made the operations smoother, personalized and hustle-free.”
The app based check-in service, perfect for post-COVID opening, has made the exercise simpler. For instance, says Krishnan, “Our guests can check into their room without doing the CI formality at the desk. They can give their name and acquire their room keys directly.” The hotel is also looking at getting their room keys on their phone itself. “The Marriott Bonvoy app is available exclusively for the Marriot Bonvoy members. The app has features such as easy check-in and check-out, room keys, concierge request etc,” he adds.
The app-based technology has improved our guest’s loyalty and also our repeat percentage has gone up from 10 per cent to 12 per cent”. The app helps the hotel track a guest’s stay history and offers an insight into their likes/dislikes and preferences. “Our guest engagement and experience program” states Krishnan, “helps in recording all the information on our guest’s profile. All Marriott properties have access to this data and this will help our associates to personalize their stay.”
In order to reduce the vulnerability quotient, the privacy protocols are followed. “The data is kept safe and associates are able to access the information only when the unique identification code is revealed,” he adds. The service-based app contributes to about 5-7 per cent of the revenue says Krishnan.
Accor has launched a proprietary technology, the Accor Digital Card (ACDC), which focuses on collecting data via Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to curate experiences based on guest preferences.
“ACDC also helps teams to gather information about their food habits or choice of in-room amenities, birthday/anniversary dates, and many such details,” says Nilesh Patel, Director of IT - India & South Asia, Information Technology, Accor. Through ACDC, all Accor properties will be able to create delightful customer experiences by tailoring guest preferences prior to their arrival.
“For one of our guests, who had completed 100 nights with Accor worldwide, the hotel decorated his room with logos of all the brands where he had stayed, with the title ‘100th Glory For The 100th Stay’. The guest was overwhelmed and instantly called to thank us for this surprise,” says Patel.
On the birthday of a regular guest, a sugar-free cake was sent to his room along with a mascot. ACDC had helped the hotel know that he preferred sugar-free food. Hotels are adapting latest trends and technologies to attract the digital age traveller, especially millennials, who according to all reports, will begin travelling first once the lockdown opens. “ACDC has played a major role in customer acquisition for all our brands. More concretely it has brought all customer data at one place. Now it’s easy for us to know what the likes and dislikes of the guests are,” avers Patel.
Clearly, technology will be front runner in the changes that the hospitality industry will go through over the next year or two in a world that has drastically been transformed by the coronavirus epidemic.