HB Exclusive: Is the Contactless Guest Experience Here to Stay?

By Harman Singh Narula 

The pandemic has had a significant impact on hotel operations. In response to COVID-19, hotels worldwide have quickly moved to try and offer guests a contactless, digital experience. While the contactless experience caters to guests’ demands (recent surveys conducted by Skift and Oracle show 70% of consumers are more willing to stay at hotels which have implemented self-service technology), many people in the industry are discussing whether or not the contactless experience is here to stay once COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

While I’m biased, I thought I’d share my thoughts on why or why not the contactless experience may be here to stay. Let’s first take a look at what the contactless guest experience actually looks like today.

What does a Contactless Guest Experience Look Like Today?
According to the World Health Organization, hotel guests must stay at least one meter (more than three feet) from staff and other guests. This has made the contactless guest experience vitally important for hotels to implement in all parts of the guest journey.

Check In: Through branded mobile apps or third-party solutions, a growing number of hotels are providing guests with the ability to check in on their mobile device before they arrive at the hotel. The apps can text or email a check-in link to the guest, who is then able to submit their credit card information, upload their ID and sign the hotel’s registration card from their mobile phone. This also drives significant efficiencies for hotel staff by reducing time spent on check-in processes.

Room Access: A number of hotels are allowing guests to access their rooms through app-based room keys. Using their smartphone, guests can access their room once they’ve provided their information securely through a contactless check-in solution. Unfortunately, the vast majority of hotels don’t have door locks equipped with the requisite mobile key technology today.

• In Stay: Hotels worldwide are using COVID-19 as an opportunity to find new ways to engage with guests during their stay, and to find new revenue streams during a time of decreased bookings. E-commerce solutions allow hotels to increase in-stay order volume by more than 40% while providing guests a contactless experience. Some hotels are also offering automated guest assistance through text or mobile apps to get guests’ questions answered and needs met without physically interacting with hotel staff.

Check Out: Contactless check-out solutions allow guests to check out directly from their mobile phone. This increases the efficiency of the check-out process by allowing the hotel to access and clean the room as soon as the guest checks out. An automated check-out process also allows hotels to sell a late check-out option that can be enabled within a mobile experience.

There is no question that the guest experience at most hotels looks different than it did before COVID-19. But are these changes here to stay?

Why contactless may not be here to stay
The changes will require hotels to make an investment: As with most things, it often comes down to cost. With hotels dealing with reduced occupancy, adding costs can be a burden, even if it is for technology guests expect. With that said, many hotels are seeing the costs vastly outweighed by the increased ancillary revenue and labor savings they are being able to drive through the contactless experience.

Hoteliers may feel some of the “human touch” will be lost: Face-to-face interaction with guests has been a core tenet of the hospitality industry from its inception. Initially, the widespread adoption of a contactless guest experience may be difficult for some hoteliers to come to terms with. However, most hotel staff view technology as an additive to in-person interactions, allowing hotels to provide superior hospitality to guests.

Some guests may be slower to adjust to a fully contactless experience: While 70% of hotel guests may want a contactless experience today, there may be some guests that simply are not adopters.

Why the contactless experience is probably here to stay
A contactless experience offers a way for hotels to make significantly more money: Contactless check-in can be a major source of additional revenue for hotels through targeted offers for upgrades and amenities that are surfaced directly on guests’ mobile devices. According to a study by Mashable.com, ancillary revenue can make up a significant portion of a hotel’s top line and is often some of the highest margin revenue a hotel can drive. If hotels implement these solutions correctly, the potential revenue from these changes vastly outweighs the cost.

A contactless process means less administrative work for hotel staff: Hotels want their staff focused on providing a good experience for guests, and not on administrative work. There is a strong profit motive to move toward this mobile strategy. A contactless check-in experience is a large part of this time savings, as solutions have been shown to reduce front desk staff hours by more than 25%, which means more time focused on the guest experience.

A contactless experience allows hotels to capture more guest data than ever before: Hotels are getting more and more sophisticated at using guest data for marketing and revenue management purposes. The more information hotels are able to gather from these solutions, the more effective they will become at learning what upsell opportunities are the most effective and when to offer them.

Guests will adjust to and expect the convenience provided by a fully digital experience: As mobile-enabled experiences become more common in other businesses, guests will expect the same for their hotel stays. Having a contactless guest experience will be a competitive advantage, and hotels that choose to hold out will begin to lose bookings.

The bottom line
Given the potential for significant new revenue streams, as well as the expectation from guests that they will be able to facilitate their stay through a mobile experience, hotels will continue to move to a contactless experience even as the threat from the pandemic subsides. While the digital guest journey has been discussed in hospitality for a while, the current market environment has been an accelerant to truly driving a paradigm shift in the hotel guest experience.

Harman Singh Narula is one of the founders of Canary Technologies, a venture backed hotel technology company.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.

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