The hospitality industry is no stranger to keeping up with changing tastes and trends. Over the last decade, it has undergone massive transformation as new entrants ate into incumbents’ market share while redefining people’s booking habits.
However, the need to keep up with evolving customer expectations has remained constant. Now, as hospitality adapts to life post-Covid-19, businesses will need to balance economic recovery with new health and safety measures while customising offers that strengthen customer relationships.
How hospitality worked pre-Covid-19
In recent years, the industry had heavily invested in technological innovation and adapted its service offerings. There is no doubt that the use of technology and artificial intelligence have begun to reshape hospitality as we know it. With the use of data and new hardware, hotels are now able to provide guests with a range of modern guest experiences. Among them, we find self-service solutions for check-in and smart rooms that offer more personalisation in terms of services, entertainment, and temperature and lighting controls.
However, as explained in the Mazars study Artificial Intelligence A Game Changer in the Hospitality Industry , there are still difference between what customers expect from personalised technology.
On one hand, if we look at geographical differences, we noticed that Chinese customers are more enthusiastic about the use of AI than their European counterparts. As an example, they favour automated check-in and check-out processes, and innovations such as robot translators.
On the other hand, and paying attention to different types of travellers, while business travellers mostly want efficiency, alternative criteria are becoming more and more important to others. If we focus on millennials, we see that the global experience and atmosphere are now major factors in their decision processes. But their expectations are even more complex: driven by environmental awareness, they are not only looking for a unique experience but the same they want to see the values and commitments they uphold in their personal lives (for instance, a low carbon footprint and no-waste approach.)
It seems that technological innovation can only go so far. Hospitality businesses will have to blend technology with human interactions if they want to please customers who are looking for ease-of-use coupled with personalised experiences.
How Covid-19 changed the industry and how tech is helping
Hospitality is facing new challenges because of the recent Covid-19 pandemic. This unique event has forced us to reflect on our habits in a globalised world. Health and safety measures will go under the microscope like never before as we reconsider what traveling safely really looks like. While hygiene and health have always been important aspects of hospitality and catering, they could now be the decisive reason for winning – and losing – customers.
Therefore, we can expect new technologies facilitating health and safety to be created and applied. Self-sanitising door handles and facial recognition that aids contactless check-ins could become a ‘must have’ in the near future.
Indeed, while some tools were previously dismissed as fun gadgets, they may become indispensable for business continuity. For instance, we found in the above-mentioned study that virtual reality is already very popular among travellers. In the present context, the use of virtual reality could increase, especially with the aim of helping potential hotel guests in the booking phase by offering them a virtual tour of the location and verifying that social distancing rules can be applied. Similarly, robots and smart assistants could be used to handle customer requests, therefore limiting contamination risks.
Clearly, if the situation requires a long-term reduction in human contact, the industry will have to rely on further technological innovations to maintain operations and enhance customers’ experiences, even when personal interactions between staff and customers are limited.
What the future of hospitality could look like
The ongoing pandemic will force hospitality to reinvent itself again. This time, we expect that the change will be structural, as people opt for different kinds of hospitality experiences.
For instance, domestic tourism could experience a serious revival, creating opportunities for long-overlooked regions to welcome a record number of visitors. Meanwhile, popular tourist arrangements based on shared living and sleeping spaces such as holiday clubs, hostels, and cruise ships, could see their popularity fade as long as exceptional hygiene expectations remain the standard.
While a real paradigm shift is imaginable, we can be confident that the hospitality business has the ability to reinvent itself. Indeed, in the hospitality industry’s recent history, we witnessed how the sector evolved through massive investments in data and technology. The upcoming challenges are numerous, but the industry – renowned for its resilience and dynamism – is ready to face its future.
The author recently published an article, “Towards an innovative paradigm shift in hospitality”, in Juristourisme, issue 231, June 2020. Go here to read the article.