Industry Update
Opinion Article27 August 2020

Contactless Self-Services Are Here to Stay After COVID-19

By Linchi Kwok, Associate Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management

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The new COVID-19 cases finally showed signs of declines across the U.S., but definitely, we should still take cautionary measures to avoid another wave of infections. Now, some people have already claimed that this pandemic would forever change the travel industry.

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Because the coronavirus is primarily transmitted through direct or indirect close contact with infected people via mouth or nose secretions, social distancing and frequent sanitation are highly recommended. It is not surprising to see consumers demand services with minimum human contact, which in turn promotes contactless self-services.

Restaurants

Mobile ordering, for example, has been introduced to the market way before COVID-19 hit, but all of a sudden, it became the safest method of payment during the pandemic as it requires little or no human contact. A recent analysis of 100,000 reviews in Apple's App Store revealed that there was a 36% year-to-year increase in the number of reviewers saying that it was their first time using restaurants' mobile apps.

Another report that compared the 2020 quarter-one (Q1) and quarter-two data (Q2) also showed some significant differences among consumers' dining experiences. For instance:

  • 74% diners in Q1 vs. 41% in Q2 ordered food inside a restaurant with an employee.
  • 12% in Q1 vs. 21% in Q2 used drive-through services.
  • 3% in Q1 vs. 13% in Q2 ordered takeout by phone.
  • 3% in Q1 vs. 11% in Q2 ordered online with a desktop or mobile device for carryout.
  • 2% in Q1 vs. 6% in Q2 ordered delivery online.
  • 1% in Q1 vs. 3% in Q2 ordered delivery by phone.
  • Consumers using a kiosk or tablet for orders inside a restaurant remained the same, at 4%.

As more consumers want mobile ordering, drive-thru, curbside pickup, as well as delivery services, restaurants are investing more in drive-thru lanes. In the case of Taco Bell, a new store design called "Go Mobile" was unveiled on Thursday, aiming to promote contactless curbside pickup and drive-thru services. The new Taco Bell has

  • Two drive-thru lanes, one of which is for pickup orders made through its mobile app.
  • Designated parking spots for contactless curbside pickup.
  • Indoor shelves for picking up digital orders.
  • Revamped kitchens with technology that speeds up the process.

Loyal customers can earn extra points if they choose the suggested method for pickup at the location. The size of the dining rooms, however, is not a big focus of the new plan.

Hotels

People are not traveling for business yet. Many hotels still rely on leisure travelers and even local residents to fill their empty rooms. Although some new hotels can deliver all customer services with machines, most hotels still count on their will-trained staff to serve their guests. Hotels are encouraging travelers to use touchless self-services to avoid human contact, such as

  • Contactless check-in and check-out process.
  • Enhanced cleaning standards and procedures, with or without the aids of technology.
  • Contactless experiences with a hotel's mobile app, through which travelers can access in-room TV, room service, concierge, and guest service.
  • Digital menus in food outlets, some including retrieving a digital menu on a traveler's mobile device.
  • Offering pre-plated breakfast to minimize human contact.
  • Eliminating mid-day service to avoid human contact.

Airlines

Airlines have been using self-service kiosks for years, but it is until recently that big carriers, including United, American, Delta, and Southwest, put touchless kiosks into use at airports, an effort to eliminate human contact.

Facial recognition is another technology that helps airlines eliminate human contact. Delta Airlines, for example, opened the nation's first biometric terminal at Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport (ATL) in 2018. Travelers can pass almost every checkpoint at ATL by looking at a screen.

Let's hope the pandemic will come to an end in no time, and things will get back to normal soon. By then, people might have become accustomed to contactless self-services around them.

What do you think? Are contactless self-services here to stay even after the pandemic? Will you encourage businesses to invest in the technology that supports such services?

Linchi Kwok

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