Industry Update
Opinion Article20 October 2021

In the Battle for Recovery, Choice is KING!

Cloud-based mobile technology can “square the COVID circle" by offering guests a choice in their service experience

By Michael Heflin, Chief Revenue Officer, StayNTouch

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Although we appear to be moving past the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality market seems to be recovering by fits and starts. By July 2021 for example, Daily TSA Passenger Throughput 一 a common proxy to measure travel volume 一 reached approximately 80% of pre-pandemic levels.

While customers are eager to get back to traveling, they are still significantly concerned about their health and safety, and what travel in this “new normal” will look and feel like. Of course, different market segments continue to express different risk tolerances, different goals for travel, and different perceptions of the ideal guest journey. On top of all of this is the reality that the hospitality industry is still working to recover the resources and staff lost during the pandemic. Although we have made significant progress, the ALHA predicts that the hospitality industry will close out 2021 with nearly 500,000 fewer hotel workers than in 2019.

To succeed in this market, hoteliers must realize that ‘Choice is KING.’ They need to invest in technology that enables flexibility, allows them to deliver exceptional service with fewer resources, and gives guests a choice in their service experience. Increasing segments of the hotel industry are discovering that this flexibility and efficiency can only be achieved through the rapid adoption of cloud-based and mobile technology that unburdens staff and offers guests a choice in service. A guest-centric, cloud-based PMS, for example, offers guests a choice between a contactless or high-touch check-in, a communal or socially distanced lobby, and between in-person or remote co-working, all while empowering a limited staff to do more with fewer resources.

You Can Do Both: How to Deliver Both a Contactless and High-Touch Welcome Experience

Hoteliers need a technology stack capable of responding to a dynamic marketplace and delivering the flexibility the market now demands. This starts with a guest-centric, cloud PMS that provides guests with a choice in their welcome experience: From a fully contactless mobile check-in, to a high-touch experience guided by personalized staff interactions.

In pre-pandemic days contactless check-in was mostly seen as a luxury delivered by boutique or tech-forward hotels. Today, contactless check-in is a necessity for a portion of every hotelier's customer base. Before the pandemic, certain segments of the hospitality market would reliably choose a high-touch welcome experience: For example, Families with small children might need the assistance of a hotelier to plan child-friendly activities or order amenities like additional cots, and couples traveling together may want to share a welcome beverage while they learn about local experience options from the concierge. While these segments may still trend towards a more personalized welcome experience, many are now opting for a contactless check-in to minimize perceived disruption and avoid potentially crowded areas.

And with good reason: numerous industry associations, including the U.S. Travel Association, and the ALHA’s Safe Stay Program recommend using contactless technology to reduce unnecessary contact with other guests and staff. Travelers are echoing these sentiments: According to a survey by Metova, nearly 90% of respondents would prefer to stay at a hotel that offered a completely mobile and contactless guest journey.

Mobile, contactless check-in is not only safer, it’s also more convenient and personalized. A mobile welcome experience allows guests to skip the line to the front desk and complete their check-in process in under a minute. It also allows guests to personalize their stay through targeted offers for room upgrades and amenities, sent directly to their smartphone. In fact, according to a Metova survey, 68% said that mobile check-in and on-site amenity alerts were the most valuable feature of a future hotel stay, while 61% preferred keyless entry apps, and 55% favored mobile concierge services.

Of course, many travelers still prefer a high-touch welcome experience, and hotels would be wise to invest in technology that facilitates guest interactions that are safe, accessible and engaging. A mobile PMS, for example, lets hoteliers manage their property from a tablet, allowing them to break free from the front desk and meet guests wherever they are. This freedom can lead to more organic and engaging interactions: Instead of a scripted “check-in monologue,” hoteliers can greet travellers with tea or drinks, inquire about why they are traveling and inform them about their hotel's features and amenities. These interactions can happen anywhere there’s internet access, from the lobby, to a hotel lounge, to the middle of the great outdoors.

Reimagine Your Lobby for Both Safety and Community

Of course, some segments are more willing to engage in a high-touch guest journey than others. According to YouGov, 48% of Baby Boomers are personally worried about contracting COVID, compared to 44% of Millennials and 34% of Gen Z. Similarly, 27.5% of Millennials believe the U.S. is close to normal in terms of resuming leisure activities like dining out, compared with only 17.1% percent of Baby Boomers. Gen Z is also the least demanding when dealing with COVID safety regulations.

When they travel, younger generations typically opt for unique experiences over traditional hotel amenities. Gen Z in particular seeks experiences that are interactive, social, and culturally authentic. They are also twice as likely as older generations to seek alternative accommodations (hostels, AirBnB), rather than stay in a traditional hotel.

Hotels can start to bridge this generational divide by leveraging mobile and kiosk-based check-in to reimagine their lobby as a space that is both more guest-centric and socially distanced. Strategically placed check-in kiosks can promote social distancing by eliminating bottlenecks at the front desk, while freeing up space for dining, socializing, and co-working. Guest-facing kiosks enable hotels to transform their lobby from a glorified waiting room into a multi-purpose space that can cater to numerous market segments at once. And because a cloud-based mobile PMS is hardware agnostic, they can operate on anything from a standard PC, to a tablet, to a smartphone. This means your lobby can be transformed in a highly cost-effective way, with minimal investments in capital and staff training to gain this new flexibility.

In-Person Business Travel and Conferences Are Returning...

While in-person business travel and conferences are slowly returning, the trend towards remote work shows no signs of dissipating 一 and savvy hotels should cater to both. According to Destination Analysts, 45.7% of surveyed respondents said that they would feel comfortable taking an out of state business trip in the next 6-months, while 40.4% said they would feel comfortable attending a conference or group meeting in the same time frame.

One way that hotels are attracting group business is by implementing comprehensive “Meeting Bubble” initiatives. These combine enhanced cleaning and social distancing protocols and amenity perks, with flexible “micro-buyouts,” which allow groups to book entire or half floors, instead of a full buyout. Hoteliers pursuing this route would be wise to leverage a PMS that allows for more flexible asset management, especially related to group buys. Because hygiene and maintaining proper pandemic protocols are crucial for maintaining the perception of safety, hoteliers should also utilize a PMS and housekeeping management platform that delivers mobile communication, customizable task lists, and automated team management so that they can get the most out of potentially limited staff.

...But Remote Workers Are Here to Stay

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with advances in video conferencing technology created a massive shift towards remote working. According to the Global Business Travel Association, 90% of respondents are currently employed by companies that allow teleworking, while Destination Analysts point out that 60.9% of workers prefer virtual to in-person meetings.

This emerging segment of remote workers can create an enormous opportunity for tech-savvy hoteliers. While working from home can be convenient, it can also be noisy, distracting and monotonous. By investing in a cloud PMS with flexible hourly and day-rate asset management, hotels can book rooms or meeting spaces for remote work or co-working at hourly rates, providing guests who want a change of pace with a quiet and productive working environment.

Cloud-Based & Mobile Tech Can Square the COVID Circle

Cloud-based mobile technology can “square the COVID circle” by offering guests a choice in their service experience and level of physical interaction. In this way, hotels can provide both safety and personalization, while accounting for a huge variety of risk tolerances, wants, and needs across the hospitality and travel markets.

Michael Heflin

    More from Michael Heflin

    About Stayntouch

    Stayntouch provides a full cloud and mobile hotel property management system (PMS) and over 1100+ integrations, enabling hotels to raise service levels, drive revenues, reduce costs, and ultimately captivate their guests. Backed by a team of professionals with deep roots in the hospitality industry, Stayntouch is a trusted partner to many forward-thinking hotels and resorts, including the TWA Hotel, First Hotels, Conscious Hotels, Margaritaville, Valencia Hotel Group, and Modus Hotels. Stayntouch is also a preferred PMS partner to some of the leading independent hotel collections around the world including; Design Hotels, an Independent Marriott Brand, and Curator Hotel & Resort Collection.

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