Despite an unpredictable year, 2021 is shaping up to be one of promise for hotels across the country. With the vaccine’s rollout well ahead of schedule, progress in the fight against Covid has sparked optimism in the overall economy and hospitality industry — with recent surges in consumer spending acting as evidence.
In fact, the number of hotel bookings made so far this year have already surpassed expectations. While STR and Tourism Economics forecasted that occupancy would rise significantly from 41% in 2020 to 52% in 2021, newer estimates say this figure now looks more like 57% for some hotels. Meanwhile, Medallia Zingle’s own ‘Return to Travel: Setting the Stage for the New Guest Experience’ report found that 40% of Americans have stayed at a hotel since November — a considerable recovery from early last year.
But hotels still have a way to go before they completely overcome the fallout of the pandemic. Many are still operating with reduced staff after a challenging year saw RevPAR drop by half ($41.31 in 2020 vs. $86.64 in 2019). Additionally, they’ve had to deal with fluctuating government guidelines and consumer expectations, both of which have essentially required their staff to adapt on the fly and do more with less resources.
As a result, many brands have turned to contactless technology for stability, continuity, and efficiency at a time when external factors have threatened the opposite. In doing so, they’ve also made investments in new tools with the hopes that they’ll position them to succeed well beyond the current crisis. And consumers have taken note.
In this five-part blog series inspired by the recent Skift Trend Report, 5 Contactless Hotel Technology Trends for 2021, we are exploring the overwhelming benefits that contactless technology provides hotels and other hospitality brands, and how they can leverage them as an extension and enhancement to human-focused hospitality in 2021 and beyond. In part four, we explore how hotels can safely welcome guests back through their doors with contactless operations.
Meeting Consumer Standards for Contactless Everything
While innovations like contactless payments, digital messaging, self-service check-in, and smartphone-activated room keys have been around for years, it’s fair to say that Covid-19 has catapulted them from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have. After all, the pandemic’s impact on consumer expectations and behaviors has been well-reported, especially when it comes to their new standards for contactless service. 67% of Americans, for example, say that they expect hotels to adopt contactless touch-free check-in processes going forward, and 77% admit that even after they’re vaccinated, the amount of in-person interaction required will factor into their decision of whether or not to travel.
More hotels seem to be taking this sentiment and applying it right into their guest experience playbook. Marriott, for instance, recently announced that it had launched a pilot program for contactless arrival kiosks at several select-service hotels, as well as a proof-of-concept for contactless grab-and-go marketplaces at two Fairfield by Marriott properties. Meanwhile, research from Skift and Oracle Hospitality unveiled that nearly half (44%) of hotels say that they will now consider digital messaging in the future compared to 28% who say they’ve already made this change. Additionally 42% are considering an offer of self-service check-in with 27% stating that they’ve already adopted it.
This data illustrates just how much Covid-19 has motivated executives to embrace contactless, and as a result, they’re discovering just how big of an impact it has on the guest experience and their ability to scale operations in previously unanticipated ways. It’s perhaps one shining light amidst a challenging period for hotels across the States, with this industry that’s renowned for its high-touch, human service finding new ways to listen to their customers and deliver consistent and remarkable guest experiences from a distance.
And one major reason why they’ve been able to achieve these results is contactless operations’ impact on employee workloads and enabling small teams to scale service — something that will prove especially valuable as businesses welcome guests back through their doors this summer and beyond.
Empowering Hotel Staff to Keep Up With Demand
With the return-to-travel closer now than it has been in the last 18 months, hotel employees and staff are preparing for a consistent influx of guests for the first time since Covid lockdowns began.
In fact, with 72% of consumers saying that they plan to travel at the same rate as they did pre-pandemic, the recent uptick in hotel bookings and re-bookings seems to be just the start of hospitality’s recovery. And while this certainly represents a positive change from where the industry stood this time last year, many teams are now noticing the strain at a staffing level. Indeed, as this surge in business outpaces staffing, GMs have the task of getting creative and doing more with less.
Managing high call volumes, for example, is one area where employees have been able to take advantage of a streamlined solution that provided immediate relief for staff and hotel resources. One compelling example of this is illustrated by Kampgrounds of America (KOA), a nation-wide campground company that remained open throughout 2020 while Covid forced other businesses to shut down — and was able to do so by implementing contactless operations. One KOA team was operating at two-thirds of its typical staffing, and yet with contactless technology was able to reduce the strain that the front desk experienced by diverting customers to text and enabling staff to automate and scale communications in a much more manageable way.
This illustrates that as GMs and teams of hotel staff continue to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of hospitality, contactless operations will continue to empower their employees to keep up with demand while delivering a first-rate guest experience.
A New Era for Hospitality
As the hospitality industry seeks to establish a post-pandemic normal, it’s clear that their ability to deliver unrivaled service while also ensuring the safety and comfortability of their guests and staff will be paramount. In fact, it’s safe to say that as vaccinations speed up and the economy continues to reopen, every industry is still coming to terms with Covid’s long-lasting impact.
And while doing so, many are looking towards hospitality for continued lessons in how to adapt to an entirely new landscape in a way that ends up scaling the customer experience rather than sacrificing it. Contactless operations will certainly continue to play a major role in this, helping hoteliers to push the boundaries of guest service in ways they never thought possible.
Check back soon for our fifth and final installment in which we explore Trend #5 — how contactless operations will deliver a human-focused future for hospitality.