Adapting Contactless Check-In Solutions for Safe Reopening of Hotels Post-COVID
Last Updated: February 3, 2021
Since the start of the pandemic in mid-February, the hospitality industry has already lost more than $36 billion in room revenue in the US.
According to Chip Rogers, President, and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, “The economic meltdown is severe in the US hotel industry.”
The hospitality industry is rooted in a high-touch, guest-centric experience provided by an attentive staff. While this kind of service might never be replaced, the subsequent need for low-touch, contactless solutions like check-in, contactless valet services and contact tracing in a self-service experience is undeniable.
Contactless solutions for hotels will be the new baseline. “Contactless solutions will be table stakes and no longer considered a ‘nice to have,’” says Toby Malbec, Managing Director of ConStrata Technology Consulting.
Most hotels are opting for contactless check in and check-out system with “digital keys” or mobile keys. Digital keys eliminate the need for magnetic key cards, which must be sanitized after every use, and queuing at the front desk.
Debora Bridges from Boulders Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, a Hilton Brand hotel, says that under the Hilton CleanStay program, the hotel will double-down on its digital key technology for guests to have a contactless arrival experience.
Guests can check-in, choose their room, access their room with a digital room key, and check-out using their mobile devices through the Hilton Honors mobile app at participating hotels. Hilton will continue to expand its Digital Key capabilities to common doors and access points throughout the hotels.
Technology providers such as Zaplox and Intelity provide a centralized mobile key for digital checking in and checking out with seamless, customized features such as enterprise-level security, support service, and even payment.
Amani Roberts, co-director of Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Entertainment and Hospitality Management, believes a hotel’s food and beverage outlets will be affected more than any area.
Hotels are resorting to digital menus, or QR Code menus for contactless in-room and outdoor dining to avoid interacting with the staff. QR Code menus are placed on a table, which is then attached to a PDF to access the menu.
Room service menus are being expanded, with delivery moving to “knock and drop” at guest doors and ordering is done via the customers’ smartphones, such as that offered at over 3,200 Marriott hotels.
Consumers ordering on-premises will evaluate how efficient a hotel restaurant’s operations are, right from digital ordering and payment to smooth delivery without a possible exposure to the staff.
#3 Contactless solutions to receive valuable customer feedback
Customer feedback is valuable to hotels, just like any other customer-centric business to expand and modify their offerings.
Customer feedback is typically taken using a physical paper form. But however, research clearly states that the virus can be spread via contaminated surfaces. QR Codes and NFC tags are contactless technologies that can be used with ease to collect valuable feedback from guests.
A QR Code powered feedback form can be later used to modify services, enhance levels of cleanliness and hygiene protocols, or even learn about the guests’ preferences.
#4 Wayfinding, alerting guests of communal spaces with geofencing
Many sports and recreational areas are operating at limited capacities with enhanced cleaning, or are closed.
With most hotels limiting their total capacity to just about 20%-30% to avoid an influx of guests and coming in contact with one another, it is vital to alert guests if a certain area is densely populated.
Place a geofence around common spaces, so when a guest tries to enter an area that has a maximum occupancy, they get notified. Make use of QR Codes at the entrance of communal spaces so guests can reserve a spot for themselves.
Rob Karp, CEO of luxury travel agency MilesAhead said, “Similar to guests making a spa appointment, hotels may now require advance-timed reservations for using the tennis courts, pools, and other amenities.”
Maine’s Kennebunkport Resort Collection allows its guests to use their gym with prior reservations only. The gym is cleaned before and after a guest uses, and is also introducing in-room fitness options.
#5 Reimagining the guest experience with contactless hospitality
90% of millennials value brand authenticity over “perfect and packaged” messaging of the hotel. Being tech-savvy travelers, they expect a mobile-first guest experience, personalized messaging, deals, and offers, and more.
However, the COVID-19 crisis has brought upon a mobile-first guest experience to other age groups as well as it is deemed to be the safest.
Right from when a guest arrives at the hotel to the moment they check out hotels must identify the key touchpoints and sanitize them thoroughly, and avoid coming in contact with the guests.
Hotels are making use of elevators with voice and/or gesture controls, face-recognition technology to confirm the identity of a guest, and contactless security processes.
Some hotels are also equipping their premises with self-service kiosks that are customized to for effective managing of check-in/check-out, mobile keys, payments, and custom offers.
For guests who fall in the age group of 40 plus and guests with different abilities, place a guide on the walls with simple signs that teaches them how to use the technology seamlessly.
Hotels that leverage contactless solutions will not only reduce cost, utilize their current staff resources to streamline processes, but also program each kiosk to easily create personalized offers that are customized to each guest-segment.
In addition to these features, hotels are also making use of chatbots to let guests interact with the corresponding hotel executive for reporting any grievances.
Dirk Izzo, President and General Manager of NCR Hospitality says, “From menus to payments, you have to evaluate everything a guest touches.”
The hospitality sector is rooted in a high-touch tradition focusing mainly on their guests to make them feel at home. Keeping the current pandemic in mind, hotels are now opting for no-touch, self-service based customer service.
The utilization of contactless technology should not negate the human, high-touch experience – instead, it must elevate it by amping staff to focus on those interactions and touchpoints that matter the most.
Rudy Tauscher, General Manager of Four Seasons, New York says, “We now have almost no touchpoints in the entire hotel, which is completely against a hotel’s nature of being hands-on and kind. We used to be known for the human touch – but now we are all about no-touch at all.”
Hotel staff is no more escorting their guests to show them around, bellhops are suspended, and shifted their operations to a centralized virtual platform.
But if assistance is required, QR Codes or NFC tags at visible heights every few feet can help guests get in touch with a hotel executive immediately.
Valet is the most essential part of any hotel to ease the guests’ stay.
Most hotels have redesigned their entire operations by streamlining them to provide contactless valet solutions to ensure a safe environment for their guests. As soon as a guest arrives, the vehicles must be disinfected without the staff being present, using robotic tools.
#8 Contact tracing for hotel employees and guests
Hotels are likely to perform screening with temperature checks on its staff and guests to filter them based on their exposure to the virus and travel history.
Place QR Code contactless forms at the entrance so guests and staff can scan it, fill the form, and gauge their health status based on the inputs. Hotel administrators can track their guests and staff with a centralized dashboard to keep track of healthy versus non-healthy staff and guests.
The hotel administration can advise guests to self-quarantine at their hotel or recommend them to the closest test center or quarantine center.
In addition, having QR Codes or NFC tags can help guests understand when the place was last cleaned and be transparent with their safety and hygiene practices. Link the QR Code to a video that shows guests how the hotel is sanitized.
From high-touch to no-touch
The pandemic will come to a halt someday but, relationships will last, and so, hoteliers will have to do everything they can to instill trust in their guests. Cleanliness, contactless service, and safety messaging will help as opposed to one-size-fits-all expectations.
Major brands such as Hilton and Marriott are turning to no-touch operations with electrostatic sprayers, sealed hotel rooms, mobile check-in, and contactless ordering.
While these rules might not be stringent forever, hotels should anticipate that contact will be limited for some time. With as much as 94% business travelers and 80% leisure travelers looking forward to using contactless and digital solutions in a hotel, it becomes important for the hospitality industry to make the switch as quickly as possible.
When building a reopening strategy, it is important to opt for contactless solutions for hotels to make guests feel clean, safe, and comfortable.
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