Hotel Technology Choices for Our New Reality

In the wake of Covid-19, the hospitality industry has adjusted its operations to ensure clients can continue to enjoy its services, albeit at a safe distance. Many hoteliers have turned to digital tools to reduce in-person contact and ensure their guests’ safety.
8 min read
18/12/20
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By Andrew Sanders
Vice President, Travel, Transportation & Hospitality
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Hotel Technology Choices for Our New Reality

Adjusting to the New Normal: A Focus on the Hotel and Hospitality Industry

Every year, the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC) facilitates discussions around emerging technology in the hospitality industry. This year’s HITEC is unique as it primarily focuses on technologies that can be adopted during this Covid-19 pandemic. The hospitality industry had already digitized its reservations services before the Covid-19 pandemic. However, lockdown limitations put the hospitality industry’s technological readiness to the test. 

The introduction of social distancing and reduced in-person contact necessitated an overhaul of the hospitality industry’s existing technology. In response, the industry embraced safer, contactless operations to protect both their clients and staff.

Clients began to expect a contactless experience, from booking through check-out.  The earliest adopters of these new systems gained trust and business from clients.

The pandemic also introduced unprecedented market flexibility in the hospitality industry. Statistics from Finance Online show that 80% of guests checking in to hotels search for a property’s contactless services before they book. In particular, clients look for contactless payments, room entry, and room service.

Technological Approaches to Safety

Contactless Technology

Minimizing contact between people and surfaces is an efficient approach to protecting clients and staff from Covid-19. Training employees to practice social distancing and touch-avoidance procedures can help reduce the transmission of the virus. But it is also essential for hotels to implement contactless experiences. 

Most hotels have now moved bookings entirely online to prevent unnecessary in-person contact. Hotels have also developed mobile apps and cloud-based websites to facilitate and sustain the increased numbers of online bookings.

Some hoteliers are also installing communication tools on their apps and websites in order to avoid in-person interactions with guests. Guests can use these digital services to schedule arrival and departure times, as well as request room service.

Contactless technology does not just streamline services—it also allows hotels to collect data on client preferences, which can be used to improve these services. Using artificial intelligence, hoteliers can predict future trends and optimize their property’s operations.

Skift and Oracle conducted a survey in September of 2020 on hotels’ willingness to install smart contactless technology such as Volara’s voice activated hotel assistant. The results showed that 43% of the hotels had installed contactless payment methods, 28% had installed messaging services to attend to clients’ requests, 27% had self-check-in procedures, and 17% had smartphone-enabled doors.

Proper Sanitation

While cleanliness has always been of paramount importance for hotels, during the pandemic it is taken on a new level of urgency. Touching infected surfaces is a common way of transmitting the coronavirus, so it is crucial that hotels employ frequent cleaning and disinfection procedures.

At a recent HITEC webinar, Mark Haley, partner at Prism Hospitality Consulting Group, told attendees that technology was essential in scheduling cleaning services. “From a technology perspective you can use your service optimization system to schedule, remind people to execute their cleaning task and a document completion,” he said.

Hotels are embracing different approaches to ensure their environment is clean and frequently sanitized. Some properties have installed automated sanitizer dispensers to avoid cross-contamination. Others use robots to spray parts of the hotel facility regularly. These robots are programmed to disinfect surfaces during periods of minimal traffic.

Other hotels have purchased electrostatic foggers, which dispense an electrically charged liquid solution that sticks on the surfaces and kills viruses and bacteria. These automated cleaning services only became widespread recently when they were deemed essential in the fight against Covid-19, according to Haley.

Integrating Contactless Payments

During the pandemic, the use of cash has been discouraged because of the number of times it changes hands. Hotels have embraced contactless payment modes by allowing clients to pay with their phones and other mobile devices. Most hotels are already used to receiving payments via credit card and common mobile wallets like Google Pay and Apple Pay. 

Now, however, hotels are embracing other, more efficient contactless payment options—many of which are not linked to a credit card.  Some popular payment methods include Alipay, PayPal, and WeChat Pay, which facilitate timely online and offline e-transactions. You can find more information on the latest trends in cashless and contactless payment methods on DataArt’s blog.

With multiple payment sources, many hotels have installed AI-powered accounting software that consolidates income across payment methods and offers insights on how payments are divided. These multiple payment methods also ensure that every client’s preferred payment method is taken care of.

Guest Engagement Tools

Staff and client communication in the hotel and hospitality industry is vital. The transmission of information should be prompt in order to prevent inconveniences and confusion. While this is traditionally done in-person, during the pandemic hotels have developed digital communication channels that can be accessed via an app or on their website. Many hotels are also using short text messages to communicate with clients and allow customers to interact with the property.  

Digital communication also helps hotels manage traffic and enforce social distancing. In addition to facilitating front-desk operations, hoteliers can use these communication platforms to liaise with clients and room service. The clients can use the short messages, chat boxes or voice prompts to request room service to minimize contact. These messages get delivered in real-time, giving the client a personal touch to the communication.

“This is a great way to communicate with the guests either pre-arrival, while they are with you, or even post-stay. And by communicating in near-real-time fashion, the guests feel like they are speaking to an individual,” says Steve D’Erasmo, director of software engineering at Hilton Hotel Corporation, during Cyber HITEC. Additionally, messaging tools can be integrated with workflow and staff collaboration tools to realize their combined true potential of creating a seamless and efficient work environment with excellent service delivery.

Self Check-in

Self check-in is an excellent strategy for reducing front-office traffic. Thanks to new technologies, hotels have developed applications that let guests select, reserve, review, and pay for a room before they arrive at the hotel. Clients can also check-in virtually and proceed to their rooms without interacting with the front desk.

Self-check-in is also facilitated via the hotel’s website. While this technology has existed for several years, the desire to reduce traffic and contact with front desk workers had led to a surge in popularity.

Keyless Entry

Keyless access uses contactless technology to let guests open rooms using a mobile device. There are many applications in the industry using different techniques to achieve this function, including Openkey, Marriott Bonvoy, and Flexipass. More are also under development, aiming to improve on the shortcomings of the existing ones. Salto, PointCental, Zaplox, and Onity, some of the leading technology firms are reported to be modifying their existing applications into more secure and versatile keyless applications customized to the hospitality industry’s needs.   

These applications use proximity sensors, which integrate the phone’s unique ID into the hotel’s security system. Once authenticated, the application grants the guest access to their room without any key or card. Among the ones in existence use Bluetooth connectivity between the phone and the hotel’s access control system. Other applications use radio-frequency identification to locate and identify the client’s phone to unlock the door.

An October survey from hospitality mobile key company Zaplox revealed that there has been an upsurge in the sales of its keyless entry systems. However, hoteliers that chose not to adopt keyless systems cited compatibility issues, security concerns and the cost of adoption as the main factors behind their decision.

This system can also be integrated with other amenities in the hotel, such as elevators. “There is a possibility to take your room system, your elevator system, and tie them together through middleware or other means to come up with a concept known as destination dispatch. Your guests can come to the elevator bank; they can utilize their RFID key or mobile key in many cases. It is going to authenticate and know that this key is valid. It is going to know the floor or the floors that this guest is entitled to go,”, Steve D’Erasmo continued.

Bottom Line

The hotel and hospitality industry has made significant adjustments to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, it embraced contactless technology to foster smart, safe operations that ensures the safety of clients and employees alike.

Most of these new technologies are aimed at reducing contact between employees and clients. If your company is curious about existing contactless technology or wants to know what advancements are on the horizon, DataArt can help. We offer advisory and consultancy services tailored to the hospitality industry and would be happy to work with your company to develop its contactless offerings.

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