As the pandemic changes and will continue to change how guests plan their trips and what they need during their hotel stays, hoteliers need to be aware of as well as meet those expectations.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As the hotel industry looks to recover from the pandemic, the technology hoteliers use and how they use it could help them along the way.
During the “Technology & what it means for hotels” session of the CHRIS+HOLA Connect online conference, hotel and travel tech experts spoke about the evolving tech needs of guests and what the hotel industry can do to adapt.
Even before the pandemic, the ongoing shift of moving almost everything to the digital space has changed the traveler’s path to booking, said Rob Torres, travel industry director at Google. There really is no one path to purchase anymore.
Travelers visit multiple sites across many online sessions before they make a purchase, and every journey is unique, he said. The average user could visit 45 sites before making a decision, and that was pre-pandemic.
“Because of this, brands need to adapt to some of these changes,” he said. “More than ever, you’ve got this omni-channel shopper that’s jumping across mobile and desktop.”
These travelers are looking for fast experiences, and Google is helping create these fast, intuitive, seamless experiences, he said. That’s important because while what they are looking for might change over time, their needs for ease of use and ability to find what they’re looking for are not going to change.
Brands need to be aware of the technology available for their partners and for travelers, Torres said. They also need insight into the changing behaviors of travelers in how they’re choosing a destination and hotel brand. There’s greater interest now, at least in the short term, for health and safety protocols and cleanliness where it used to be deals and discounts.
“It's critical right now that they're looking at those because that's how we're seeing travelers choose a destination,” he said. “As they get past that destination choice, they’re choosing the property that they're going to stay at, and it's based on these things. These are insights that you can actually be aware of in the technology. And you should be aware of.”
Investing in tech
Along with all the investments owners are making in improving and promoting their hotels’ health and safety protocols through the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Stay Safe initiative, owners are also looking at adopting different forms of contactless tech, said Michael Blake, CEO at Hospitality Technology Next Generation. The industry had explored mobile-entry door locks before, but now it’s becoming critical to the contactless journey.
“Folks are feeling more comfortable with embracing technology to help them through that journey,” he said.
While occupancy and incoming revenue are challenges, now isn’t a bad time to make some renovations, Blake said. One of the most important thing owners can do is improve bandwidth. While 5G is coming down the path, it’s not coming as fast as everyone would like.
People are cooped up watching Netflix at home, so that’s something they’d like to do when they travel, he said. It’s a hybrid world now, and business travelers are going to the meetings downstairs in the hotel while also having video-conferencing meetings up in their room.
“In the past when I went to a conference, all I did was go to the conference,” Blake said. “Now it’s going to be my room is going to be the center of my universe.”
When owners introduce any new technology or system, many believe the initial build cost will be cheaper if they do it themselves compared to bringing a third party, Blake said. Rather than the initial build cost, the price tag owners should consider is the ongoing maintenance because they still require attention after installation.
If owners buy systems from a vendor, the vendor has already sorted out several issues ahead of time, such as being compatible with weekly security patches, he said.
“But if it’s on your dime, you’re going to have to continue to make sure that works, and that’s only one of the myriads of systems that change on a consistent basis,” Blake said. “You’re going to have to make sure that system is constantly updated.”
There have been instances in which one small change in a revenue-management system or even a minibar system wreaks havoc and IT teams are trying to figure out what happened, he said. The outside vendor can work through testing and be accountable for any problems, and they generally have more resources than a typical IT shop would to handle problems.
Owners shouldn’t just take that which is given to them, Blake said. They should ask about the cost and why it is the best price for what they are getting. Many owners are fortunate enough to compare costs of different pieces of technology through the different brands.
“They should be able to see what makes sense and what doesn’t,” he said. “I think you'll see more and more that this homegrown building stuff, even within a brand, just is not sustainable and very expensive in the long run.”
Meeting guests’ needs
Knowing the guest and what they like goes beyond just making sure the amenity in the room is correct, Blake said. It’s about knowing when they are going to stay and what prices they are willing to pay. It’s knowing if they are coming with their family. It’s knowing the design elements to tailor into a package that will hit their email inboxes and make them want to take advantage of a deal.
“Not a lot of people are doing this at scale very well,” he said. “Being able to know somebody to a point where they can tailor the offering and be able to deliver during their arrival and their stay.”
Achieving this means that when the guests departs, the hotel has absolutely met their expectations and then some, he said. When the guests write their reviews and share them on social channels, they can talk about how it was such a great stay.
Returning to the topic of Wi-Fi, Torres said that because of the pandemic and subsequent movement of people to working from home, there’s going to be further blurring of leisure and working while on a trip. While he hopes things return to when people want to take a break and disconnect while on a trip, everyone now is working from one spot and getting used to this technology for online video meetings.
“We're going to just expect that we continue that, even on our breaks,” he said. “I know a lot of people that are sitting there going, we don't want to hear that, we don't want people thinking like that, but I don't know if we're going to be able to change those behaviors.”
As this continues, travelers are going to expect that connectivity be taken care of for them, Torres said. Hoteliers must think about this more than they have in the past.