In a global atmosphere dominated by health concerns, the hotel industry finds itself scrambling to inspire consumer confidence while also working hard to safeguard both guests and employees against COVID-19.
Could a combination of leading-edge technologies offer solutions to both challenges simultaneously, and help revive the hospitality sector?
COVID-19 has unquestionably accelerated the infusion of new technologies and applications into hotel operations. Tech features that might have originally been intended for introduction as novelties or extra conveniences are suddenly becoming necessities in an era where some people are wary of even stepping outside their doors.
Across every industry, the world is witnessing efforts to bolster consumer confidence and keep the economy rolling. Protocols like mask-wearing, hand-sanitizing and social distancing are being accepted as new norms, and tactics for keeping people apart while continuing to conduct business (i.e., “touch-free” or “contactless” solutions) are the order of the day.
From replacing tangible restaurant menus and paper in-room compendiums with scannable QR codes to contactless hotel check-in capabilities, mobile room keys, touchless payments, and in-app ordering and appointments-booking, almost every aspect of the hospitality experience can now be accessed through guests’ own mobile devices, provided that hotels have adopted the right software.
Customer-facing tech tools are being deployed to provide remote access to front-desk, concierge and customer-service functions through chatbots or live-chats with on-property staff, putting immediate assistance straight into guests’ hands without the need to come face-to-face with hotel employees.
Cloud-based IoT (Internet of Things) software also can be just as essential to running back-of-house functions and streamline operational complexities like coordinating housekeeping systems, assigning staff duties and confirming compliance with newly-enhanced cleanliness standards.
Besides employing mobile and self-service technologies to help personalize guest stays and provide cost-effective management of operations, amid COVID-19, incorporating this kind of cutting-edge tech has quickly become paramount for hotels just to stay in business.
In Sitel Group’s recent report, ‘Customer Experience Trends in a Post-COVID-19 World’, CMO Martin Wilkinson-Brown wrote, “As we move into the ‘new normal’ and hotels reopen for business, the expectation for customer experience is higher than ever.” He foresees that moving forward, guests will expect enhanced tools like live-agent or AI-powered support channels, and personalized communications, not to mention heightened hygiene standards. “Hotels that cater to these consumers’ needs will win brand loyalty as we embrace the new normal and for the long term,” he predicted.
We examined the various types of technology that appear poised to influence the hotel sector’s future and laid out some prime examples below.
The ‘FaceMe’ product from Cyberlink—one of the world’s most accurate facial-recognition engines—has added new features that are designed specifically to help businesses in reopening amid COVID-19 conditions. These include mask-detection, which can still identify individuals while they’re wearing masks, and help alert management when someone enters the premises without a mask or is wearing it improperly; and thermal-camera integration, as distanced temperature-taking protocols are fast becoming a commonly accepted practice in the post-pandemic era.
Nevotek, a global provider of cloud-based hospitality tech solutions, recently released two new guest-engagement technologies that integrate easily with a hotel’s existing Property Management System.
‘Grace’ is a new platform that enables guests to message hotel staff in real-time via their app of choice (e.g. WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat), cutting out the need to download an extra app. This secure communications option allows hotel staff to respond instantaneously to guests’ needs without even having to ask for their name and room number. For example, texting “extra pillow” is all that’s needed for the request to be fulfilled. There’s also an A.I. option to enable a chatbot, an analytics function is embedded in the software and the product supports many major languages.
The company is also launching ‘NevoTouchless’, another groundbreaking product that allows guests to access hotel services via their own mobile devices. Guests can pair their devices with their in-room TVs to use as remote controllers, to access online versions of in-room paper compendiums, order room service and more, simply by scanning a personalizing QR code on their TV.
Radar Labs, which specializes in building geofences and geo-based apps, believes technologies that leverage location data are becoming a must-have for travel brands to drive acquisition, share up-to-the-minute information and rebuild consumer confidence in tourism’s safety generally.
Especially as people are increasingly opting for road-trips in the name of social distancing, hotels can benefit from installing geofences that send push notifications to visitors who might arrive within a certain radius. These might even include special offers or promotions, and help to steer potential clientele away from local competitors.
Location data can also work to activate touchless check-in upon guests’ arrival on property or prompt them for payment when they present for checkout. On-site capacity limits and real-time conditions can also be communicated to visitors when they’re nearing the venue to help avoid high customer densities.
Likewise, rail and bus operators can alert passengers as to when their coaches arrive at a certain distance from the platform, to avoid overcrowding on platforms. Geo-prompted push notifications can also come in very handy for keeping guests apprised of safety protocols and other vital information about their visit.
By now, we’ve all heard about the benefits of HEPA filters—capable of filtering out 99.9 percent of airborne viruses and bacteria—and electrostatic disinfectant sprayers to tackle surfaces, but, there are also new, alternative products coming to market that quickly kill airborne pathogens, such as Molekule’s Air Pro RX Air Purifier, which just received its FDA Medical Device Clearance for use in hospital settings and satisfies FDA performance criteria for destroying the COVID-19 virus in other environments, too.
There are also devices coming out like the Safeology Tower, employing evidence-based, high-powered UVC technology that can be used to safely, quickly and effectively eliminate up to 99.9 percent of surface and airborne pathogens in indoor settings, effective in larger spaces throughout hotels, cruise ships, entertainment venues, spas, restaurants, shops, etc. without using chemicals or leaving behind residue.
They may not quite compare to The Jetsons’ “Rosie”, but today’s robotic hotel staff members can at least aid important efforts aimed at reducing person-to-person contact amid the pandemic. KT Corporation has just released its second-generation GiGA Genie hotel robot, named “N Bot”, which goes about delivering water bottles, fresh towels and other amenities to guests at Seoul’s Novotel Ambassador Dongdaemun Hotels & Residences.
Developed in collaboration with Hyundai Robotics, the artificial intelligence-equipped service robots boast advanced information and communications technology, including space-mapping, autonomous driving ability and voice recognition (yes, it can also speak English).