Hospitality industry leaders will reimagine the guest experience using innovative technologies to provide patrons with advanced amenities, comprehensive cleanliness, and much-needed peace of mind.
As the world followed stay-at-home orders to lessen the deadly impact of COVID-19, hospitality industry leaders braced for the ensuing damage to revenues and occupancy rates. Now, with governments around the world sharing cautious reopening plans, hotels and other venues must consider how to create an experience that not only provides the necessary sanitary and safety measures, but also attracts guests with the promise of tech-enabled amenities, quality services, and unique conveniences.
The impact of the worldwide pandemic on the hospitality industry was dramatic and immediate, but there are already bright spots of recovery.
“What you see on the news doesn’t really show the toll [COVID-19] has taken on hotels and hospitality,” said Michael Blake, CEO of Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG), a global trade association, on a recent Comcast Business webinar. “I never thought I would see single-digit occupancy rates, but it is improving— there are some green shoots happening out there.”
Hotel industry mainstays such as Marriott International publicly shared details around plans to postpone renovations, suspend marketing efforts, and reduce salaries for executives to mitigate the impact of the crisis. As communities begin to slowly reopen, hospitality leaders are devising ways to ensure safety and security while also providing a superior experience for guests leery of crowded, public places.
Tech Powering the Guest Experience
Hotels have perfected the art of providing guests with the comforts of home coupled with added convenience. Travelers and guests traditionally look to hotels and other hospitality venues to provide the tools and technologies needed to do their work while on the road but to also relax when work is done.
Hospitality leaders must now amplify the efforts behind the scenes with technology that helps them prove they have followed necessary sanitary and safety measures as well as give guests the experience they expect. According to Comcast Business, across its networks, peak-hours Internet traffic increased by 60% in some cities, while streaming video usage grew by 38%, and overall WiFi usage on Xfinity mobile jumped by 24%. Perhaps most compelling, though, is the 212% increase in videoconferencing, which demonstrates how the world continues to work, whether in the traditional office or, more likely, sequestered to a home office. And if they are traveling, people are spending more time inside their hotel room than ever before.
“We have seen people taking on new work habits, using the Internet and networks in greater ways than ever before. Video conferencing has become a big part of everyday work life,” says Matthew FitzGerald, Senior Director of Technology for Deep Blue Communications, a Comcast Business company. “There is also a difference in how people are spending their time on the road. It used to be that travelers would be in their room 30% of the time; now 70% of the time there is spent in guest rooms.”
In response, hotels must ensure their networks can handle the increased bandwidth demands of in-room streaming and video conferencing as guests spend more time working from their rooms. Guests will increasingly expect WiFi to perform perfectly and seamlessly support all their work and entertainment activities. And hotel owners will want to invest in technology to create smart hotels that can capture guest behavior and preferences and serve amenities and experiences to the right guest at the right time.
To reduce contact, hotels will also implement additional touchless services, enabling guests to use their smartphone, or even their voice, to check into a hotel, unlock their room, change channels on the TV, pay their bill, and even direct an elevator to their floor.
“There will be a need for greater bandwidth, but also investments in the smart hotel that uses Internet of Things technology to provide location-based services to really understand how guests use their time at the venue,” FitzGerald says. The frictionless guest experience will also come front and center as cleanliness is top of mind for travelers. Hotels already embraced the use of mobile phones for checking in, checking out, room entry and more, and industry watchers expect the demand for touchless capabilities to only increase.
“The industry has been using contactless check in and keyless entry, but now these nice-to-have features could become a requirement and mandatory operating procedure,” FitzGerald adds.
Technology Behind the Scenes
To enable a superior guest experience, hotels will be beefing up the backend to support increased bandwidth demands, but hotel networks also need to support more IoT-connected ‘smart’ devices enabling touchless guests experiences and monitoring a new slate of cleanliness protocols.
“The whole need for a touchless experience used to be about road warriors who traveled often. Now it will be common stance to access a lot more elements on the hotel property via your smartphone,” says HTNG’s Blake. “Hotels that have already invested in these technologies will be in a good position when things return and should continue to expand on those investments.”
We’ll see these investments play out in a few key areas:
Frictionless everything. This has already begun across the hospitality industry. Instead of handing over a credit card, guests will be able to provide a bar code on their mobile phone, for example, to check in. And then rather than using a key card, guests can use their mobile phone to enter their room. Expect this to increase as sanitary and cleanliness mandates require hotels to provide a frictionless experience.
Voice control. Beyond the use of mobile phones to take action, voice-activated technology will let guests make requests such as adjust room temperature or select the correct floor in an elevator with a simple, stated command. This level of control will ease the minds of guests wary of touching shared spaces and help hotels deliver an elevated guest experience.
IoT sensors. AI will help hotels with customer-facing apps, but also with backend needs to monitor cleanliness and occupancy requirements. For instance, ultraviolet sanitizing devices can be monitored to prove hotels have met sanitary mandates. Autonomous robots may also roam the hotel and clean vacant rooms. And in terms of capacity, hotels can ensure ballrooms do not exceed the number of guests allowed in a social-distancing scenario.
The Hotel Experience on the Horizon
Hotels will embrace technology and adjust safety practices to deliver the level of comfort, convenience, and reassurance guests now need. And as the industry continues to recover, more technology is expected on hospitality networks.
“This industry has done a fantastic job with network standards and embracing WiFi. We will be bringing more IoT devices to the network and as we move forward, standards will advance to ensure the long-term management, control, and security the devices will entail and apply best practices to IoT,” Deep Blue’s FitzGerald says.
To move forward in a new environment, leaders will deliver an elevated experience that not only provides the technologies and services needed to do work on the road, but provides guests an environment in which to relax and enjoy life without worry when away from home.