The contactless guest journey is here to stay, or is it?
— 16 experts shared their view
Created as a consequence of COVID-19, CONTACTLESS TECH is at the heart of the paradigm shift that most industries, especially those in Travel and Hospitality have had to lean on to ensure their survival and avert the spread of the virus. The Guest journey comprising numerous round and square pegs has had to be re-imagined and at the same time dynamically re-engineered to cope with the fluidity and complexity of requirements and compliance needs of the new now. Technology has inevitably had to undergo change constantly, and at lightning speed, and customer investments are sometimes forcibly made to enable this industry to ride the trend, and comply with safety and customer requirements as well as deal with staff scarcity and rising costs.
All of these have shrunk and recalibrated the guest experience to fit the palm-of-the-hand, with nearly all the once human-centric touchpoints, becoming touchless. Some may say this development has turned this once service-oriented business, into what many might consider soulless…
During this pandemic, face-to-face human contact has been one of the casualties of our existence. As we emerge and learn to co-exist with COVID, how will that impact the contactless journey going forward? Will we experience another change where contactless tech becomes hybrid - with a dash or more of humanity thrown into the mix?
Adjunct Professor NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Hospitality & Online Travel Tech Consultant
The contactless guest journey is here to stay. The hospitality industry will not be going back to the old times of 100% human-assisted guest journey.
To begin with, the current labor shortage is not going away anytime soon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unfilled positions in the U.S. reached 10.07 million in July 2021, 1.73 million of which were in hospitality. Similar is the situation in Europe and APAC. But labor shortages are not a hospitality-native problem. Professional services, retail, transportation, manufacturing, construction and other industries are equally affected, so hospitality simply cannot outbid for talent these industries. So whether we like it or not, we have to learn how to service guests with fewer staff members.
The second major consideration is labor cost, which is not to be taken lightly. Total labor costs per available room in North America came in at 40% and in Europe 84% higher than at the same time a year ago HotStats).
What are the solutions?
Changing the hotel business model, outsourcing or hiring more gig workers to do the job, streamlining operations are some of the immediate temporary measures. But the only long-term solution is investing in technology that can solve the current labor shortages and rising labor costs through automation, mobility, robotization and next gen technology applications, including contactless guest experience. The goal is to do more with fewer employees by using technology and reduce your staffing needs over the next few years by at least half compared to 2019 levels.
In the same time, great hospitality does not necessarily mean 100% people-provided services. Let's stop crying about losing the human touch, the human component in customer service. One-third of total accommodation stays today are at short-term rentals where services are being delivered in a completely contactless guest experience fashion. These same short-term rental customers also stay at hotels. When you book your Airbnb and are provided with a mobile code to open the front door of your rental, and you enter your clean, well-appointed rental house or apartment, do you feel under-serviced because of the lack of human-provided services? No!
Why then some in our industry are convinced that our guests are longing to be serviced by underpaid, undertrained, overworked front desk clerks as opposed to seamless mobile check-in application that provides not only a mobile key, but also allows them to choose their room from a digital floor plan and select the type of housekeeping-on-demand service they prefer for their stay? Or that guests prefer to call the front desk and speak to a human in order to request an extra pillow as opposed to message the hotel using their own smartphone?
Contactless guest experience and investments in contactless technology are also necessitated by the exceedingly tech-savvy guests and their exceedingly high technology expectations, which are mostly around self-service, so let's give the DIY-obsessed consumers what they want!