Industry Update
Opinion Article15 October 2020

Hotels Engaging In Contactless Tech Racing Ahead Of COVID Recovery Pace

Advertorial by Roy Friedman, Founder and CEO of EasyWay

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Like a boxer sagging against the ropes late in a title fight, the hospitality industry is still trying to figure out what hit it a full seven months into the global COVID-19 crisis. How to get back in the ring is a question that still is largely going unanswered. This unprecedented crisis has seen a staggering number of people lose their jobs, their businesses, and everything they have worked for.

New research from the American Hotel and Lodging Association shows that 68% of hotels have less than one-half of their normal staff working full time. In addition, more than two-thirds of hotels said they would not be able to last six more months at their current projected revenue and occupancy levels. One-half of hospitality owners polled said they are in danger of imminent foreclosure. When the shutdowns began in earnest in March, most hospitality industry leaders were confident that a month or two of lockdown could be recouped in the summer. When the typically travel-and-trip heavy season arrived with reopenings happening slowly and at extremely limited capacities, the situation went from bad to worse.

The unprecedented impact and length of the pandemic and slow return from it have pushed hospitality business owners and leaders far outside their comfort zone into an environment where any misstep can have major repercussions. Being able to think strategically and quickly is the new normal. What is the most efficient way to operate when business is just beginning to trickle back in? What will lead the charge to a bounce back? And perhaps most importantly, how do we provide a safe environment not only for guests, but also for our staff, going forward?

Eventually the crisis will abate, but how do hospitality companies ensure that they come out stronger from it on the other side?

Take it from the top

No company has felt the effects of COVID-19 more thoroughly than Hilton, which followed up a record-setting 2019 (its 100th year of business coincidentally) by having to furlough more than 60% of its 430,000 global employees in 2020.

Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta told The Washington Post last spring that technology will lead the way to the new normal in his industry.

"The core elements of our business, in the long-term, I don't think any of that is going to change," Nassetta told the Post. "Certain mechanical elements of the experience are going to be digitized, but that was happening anyway. It'll just happen faster."

At EasyWay, we are in lockstep agreement with Mr. Nassetta, that a strong comeback for the hospitality industry is going to go hand-in-hand with the speed at which contactless tech features are rolled out. We have been privileged to experience the initial wave of this revolution first hand through our contactless guest journey technology, which allows guests to keep a running dialogue with hotel staff in their preferred messaging app and native speaking language.

When hotels became opening back up late last spring following the initial quarantine, we were proud to partner with an unprecedented number of businesses that approached us - everyone from the most massive international chains to those in the small-to-medium range to small, independent hotels for whom the summer vacation industry means everything. Despite their differences in region, size, and staff, key decision-makers at these hotels all had reached the same conclusion: They needed new technology to enable their guests and they needed to implement it quickly.

With so many people adept at communicating via text, these hotels' guests proved to them that they had made the right call almost immediately as the average amount of messages per guest, across every hotel currently using our technology, more than tripled! We had guests keeping up a running dialogue with hotel staff throughout the day to ensure they were complying with social distancing protocol on-site and making the most of their stay and all the amenities provided. In a new world environment where friendly smiles are hidden behind masks and handshakes have been replaced by elbow bumps and "air-fives", the ability to still deliver that warm feeling to a guest and let them feel that someone is truly catering to their needs, has meant the world to both sides of the hotel/guest relationship.

To capture that magic, we had to first understand what defines a great face-to-face experience in the hospitality industry. How can you take those feelings of comfort, care, and catering to the individual when you're having to do so remotely? We broke it down into the rawest of forms and came up with a base to build on: We are all looking for someone who will listen to us, understands our needs, and knows us. Doing that digitally became a journey of personalization and outstanding user experience (UX).

Thankfully, we were able to make those decisions early on in the process of creating EasyWay; you might say it's in our DNA. Our core mission, way before we get to the technology, is to enhance customer experiences. If you can do that, you can do anything. As we improved our segmentation of what certain customers want, need, and like, we were able to see the usage and the direct return on investment (ROI) for our clients begin to skyrocket.

Making contactless communication both warm and welcoming is the first huge step towards envisioning the future of guest-facing technology; which we believe is the way forward towards a very bright future. With this tech and their own natural compassion and warmth, hotel staff will be able to know their guests and approach them accordingly, catering to their particular desires and needs and customizing individual guest journeys from the moment they arrive until they head for home.

This will include what language to address guests in, what channel they prefer to receive communications on, and what the guests' needs are, so that each time one arises, it can be addressed effortlessly and automatically. Staff will have extra functionality, such as knowing if it's the first time a guest is staying at this location, if they are a VIP guest, or even specific information like guests who are honeymooners, in town for a convention, or celebrating a birthday.

Guests can check in, check out, and get their receipts at their leisure and through any method of contact they prefer. The so-called future of hospitality that many are pointing towards as the rebound the industry needs already exists in many hotels today.

To echo Mr. Nassetta's sage words above, most people tend to be of the mindset that COVID-19 is something that has changed the way the hospitality industry will work. In truth, it's merely a catalyst to fast-forward the change that has been coming for several years: digitization, automation, and personalization. And it's not limited to hospitality, those three pillars will drive most sectors as we move forward. Those businesses that can adapt swiftly to the new normal will not just survive the uncertainty of 2020, but thrive more quickly than their competition. The ones who hesitate or believe they can bounce back without this transformation, are destined to fall. The adage of "innovate or die" has never rang more true.

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