There are few industries where the shattering economic collapse wrought by Covid-19 has been so acutely felt as the hospitality sector. Airplanes have been grounded, most restaurants and all pubs are closed, and the only hotel guests are essential frontline workers.
As desperate as hospitality businesses are to reopen, owners and operators know that even after lockdown ends, social distancing will continue. Bouncing back depends on being able to convince customers that they will be safe.
For the hotel sector, this means taking various measures. Adhering to strict standards when cleaning and disinfecting rooms and public areas is a given, as is providing hand sanitisers and basic PPE for guests and staff. Most hotels will also be planning for reduced seating in restaurants and bars.
Ironically, given that this is the hospitality business, the most efficient way for hotels to meet regulations will be to limit contact between people – and here technology holds the key.
Prior to Covid-19, online check-in and checkout were special features, convenient luxuries which allowed guests to use a mobile phone or computer to avoid queues in the lobby. Now, they are essential ‘social distancing software’ that hotel operators are racing to integrate into their systems so they can get back in business quicker.
Yet this is really only just scratching the surface of the impact technology can have on the hotel sector. Covid-19 represents the first time in history that the global travel industry has been affected on the same level and at the same time. When this crisis subsides, the hospitality sector will be starting at point zero, and hoteliers will have an opportunity to really change the way they do business. Everything is for grabs, from the way guests book a room to the way they access facilities.
Individual hotels and hotel groups can provide added value through a connected guest experience which offers integrated services such as mobile/online check-in and check-out, registration apps, keyless room entry, customer loyalty programmes, and pre-arrival emails which facilitate upselling opportunities such as advance booking of car parking, restaurants, spa treatments and other facilities.
There is no reason why a guest should not, while on their way from the airport, be able to use their phone to complete registration, check-in, receive a digital pass which provides keyless access to their room, and book a facial.
The technology exists, and the data demonstrates that such features build brand awareness and increase revenue. That's not least because such connected guest experiences can only be provided when booking directly with a hotel, not when doing so through an online travel agency (OTA), such as booking.com.
OTAs charge between 15-25% commission on every booking, and account for approximately 40%-50% of reservations. Yet according to Google, 52% of travellers visit a hotel’s website after seeing it on an OTA.
More than ever, hotels will need the additional revenue that direct bookings provide. Technology holds the key to this and to their recovery.