The “touchless experience,” more essential than ever in this pandemic era, can be enhanced with existing or under-development technology.
Our previous article on “The touchless experience” established an inventory and understanding of all the physical touchpoints associated with a hotel guest’s stay through the arrival, the stay itself and the departure. With this insight, we can now identify and prioritize those touchpoints that can be eliminated, or at least lessened, using existing or to-be-developed technologies.
Today’s installment will illuminate various technological solutions for the first half of the guest experience: pre-arrival, arrival, check-in, to/from the room and room access. Due to the differing levels of service provided across the hotel ecosystem, we index the guest experience examples to a full-service hotel operation.
While a full-service hotel will already be using a large array of technologies to support the running and managing of the property today, it is possible that these technology solutions fall into one of several categories:
- A system is installed but is not being used to its full feature/function potential;
- A system is installed but is deemed “legacy” and lacks today’s feature/function requirements;
- A system is installed but lacks present-day integration capabilities;
- A particular system is not being used at all at the hotel; or
- A particular system, or integrated combination of systems, has not been delivered-to-market yet.
Conceptually, we agree there are no touchpoints as part of the pre-arrival phase of the guest journey by definition. However, the hotel can take steps during pre-arrival that serve to minimize contact when on-property.
Hotels can leverage existing or implement new email or text messaging capabilities to reach out to guests several days before arrival, and encourage them to provide complete address and contact information by modifying their existing reservation. Capturing complete guest-entered information prior to arrival goes a long way to expedite the check-in process and eliminate touchpoints.
Under COVID-19 restrictions, valet parking services are discouraged unless there is something truly compelling about the hotel’s parking facilities or the guest has a mobility challenge requiring parking services. But who wants to get into someone else’s car or have someone else in your car?
Physical interactions start at the point the guest deposits their luggage with the porter and receives a claim check in return. Both these interactions involve the touching of common surfaces. The luggage handles and the claim check itself.
Despite the greatly diminished cost of single-use RFID baggage tags (as introduced by the airline and cruise industry), the hotel industry has not yet embraced this potential for guest baggage management. Implementing an RFID-centric guest baggage management capability with integrations to the hotel PMS and optimally the hotel brand’s mobile app could side-step the need to issue physical two-part claim-checks. This same approach could also be applied to valet parking claim check and, while not a technology solution, disposable luggage handle wraps are already available and in use today by bell staff.
Next the guest may be required to touch the front door handle leading to the lobby.
Apart from the door being perpetually manned by a staff member, the most prevalent technology solution to this touchpoint is the installation of proximity activated doors, typically motion detectors, whether they be carousel, sliding or classic hinged doors.
Invariably, guests will be touching front-desk surfaces during check-in.
The most robust approach to bypass all check-in touchpoints is clearly the availability of a mobile app solution. While this has to-date been the domain of larger hotel chains, the imperative to invest in a full-featured mobile app has moved up the priority list of nearly all hotels.
Guests have new incentives to download hotel apps under COVID-19, overcoming the historic barriers to adoption for smaller hotel enterprises. However, where the hotel does not offer a mobile app check-in solution, other options include the lobby kiosk approach which reduces, but does not fully eliminate, the touch requirement. However, there has been a recent surge in the availability of UV-C lighting that can be incorporated into the kiosk hardware that can effectively sanitize the touch surface between each guest. Prism expects to see all kiosk vendors rushing to retrofit this UV-C feature.
Where the guest is still required to visit the front desk to check-in, we are seeing some innovative technical solutions to effect social distancing. Perhaps the most radical (short of using one of the Japanese human-form robots, that look far too real in our book), is the installation of the check-in screen facing toward the guest at the front desk, through which they conduct the check-in process via video link to the clerk who is either sitting in front of their PMS terminal in the back-office, or potentially at a contact center on the other side of the world. This check-in process is like using a self-serve kiosk, but with a real person checking you in. Large hotel brands are already prototyping this.
The physical presentation of a government-issued ID is typical and usually involves the receptionist taking the ID from the guest to inspect it closely. As there is no reason for the ID to be physically touched, the scanning can occur using a camera, just as one would capture a check for mobile bank deposits. Also, the concept of pre-registering for your stay is already institutionalized within the cruise industry.
Ultimately, the guest will need to receive some means of operating the lock of their sleeping room door. Again, the march toward the full-featured mobile app comes into play. Mobile key is the most effective way to eliminate many physical key-related touchpoints. If employing a kiosk check-in solution, the physical keycard is much less of an issue as the key will have probably only been touched by the key encoder/dispenser and by the guest themselves.
To/from the room
Getting to and from the guest room will generally involve the use of an elevator. Hailing the elevator will require the guest to touch the elevator call button. Once in the elevator, the desired floor button will be touched.
Several integrated technologies are already available and can be employed. The Access Control System (the hotels keys and door locking system) is the potential primary player as it controls access to most of the property’s doors and portals including the ability to provide access control to the elevators. Methods of electronic guestroom access can also be used to call an elevator and enable access to permitted floors. Newer elevator solutions now have an option to feature proximity-touch-activated buttons rather than physical-touch buttons. Voice-activated elevator controls are another option to reduce physical touchpoints.
Setting aside the mobile key solution for a moment, and assuming the ubiquitous use of keycards with mag-stripe, BLE or RFID proximity technologies, none of these types of card eliminate the requirement for the guest to touch the door handle.
In an attempt to solve this, several major lock manufacturers are investing in the ability to not only release the lock but also “bump” the door open slightly so the handle need not be touched.
These are some of the more obvious high-profile technology solutions relative to guest touchpoint avoidance for the first portion of the guest stay.
Mark Hoare and Mark Haley are partners at Prism Hospitality Consulting.
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