Which Contactless Trends Are Here to Stay?
Whatever trend forecasts the hospitality industry had for 2020, few remained relevant after March. Sustainable travel, for instance, is now securely on the back burner. And for those trends that did bear out, like adoption of more digital amenities, literally no one predicted the motivation of the trend’s ascendence. Last year’s forecasts feel separated by much more than time. They’re almost from a different world.
So as hoteliers round out the year and look to 2021, they are understandably asking more of their trend forecasts. Where in January 2020 they may have asked, “Is this the year we rethink how we do business?” Now, they are asking more specific and cautious questions of the future: “Will there be (more) unforeseeable, indelible circumstances that necessitate we rethink how we do business? And are we ready?”
What we can say for sure is that there won’t be any one new normal. This year has set new trends in motion and the years to come will be anything but stationary. As the hospitality industry recovers, however that looks, hoteliers need to be investing in solutions that will enable them to continuously adapt to evolving customer needs and market trends.
With this is mind, it makes sense to interrogate this year’s contactless technology trends. What contactless technologies will be here to stay and allow your hotel to adapt to future conditions?
Though the phrase ‘contactless’ has taken on new meaning in 2020, some of these technologies have been making their way into hotels of all sizes for years. We can leverage these previously existing trends along with our ‘new normal’ to begin to look at which contactless technologies are here to stay and which may fade.
Contactless trends in the ‘new normal’
With 2020’s global health crisis, guest expectations abruptly shifted and accelerated the wider adoption of many technology solutions. With cleanliness and social distance top of mind for guests, contactless guest experiences and the technology that supports it have become essential for restoring guest confidence and paving the way for recovery.
But contactless technology wasn’t only for the benefit of the customer experience. Many contactless technologies also helped hoteliers weather operational disruptions. With staff safety as a primary concern, and the addition of safety protocols that complicate standard operating procedures, and the challenge of keeping things running with reduced staff, hoteliers turned to new technologies to help. These solutions elevated the operations side of contactless, helping hotels to maintain healthy margins and keep great employees.
These dual benefits of contactless technology under the unique circumstances of 2020 can tell us a lot about where the hospitality industry was and where it might go. This year’s race to adopt technology solutions revealed a sizable technology gap in the hotel industry. In fact, 74% of hospitality companies said the pandemic revealed more technology gaps than expected.
Unlike airlines and food service businesses, hotels have some catch up to do in terms of mobile, self-service offerings. Guests prefer the convenience of mobile experiences in the travel and hospitality industry. Now they also want – and expect – the safety of it. Hotel operations, too, have had the technology available to streamline and optimize their ways of working. But for various reasons, hotel operators have been slow to adopt them, instead relying on siloed legacy systems.
These existing trends are now amplified and hoteliers who previously adopted contactless technologies and supported mobile guest experiences have a head start in realizing their benefits. These technologies, like any component of a resilient digital strategy, have provided hoteliers increased efficiency and reduced operating costs, just when they need it most.
What technologies have staying power?
Guest preferences for mobile-first experiences aren’t going to go away. It was a trend well before 2020 and will continue to be so in 2021. The operational flexibility that digitization provides hoteliers will also be a mainstay.
However, that does not mean that guests will necessarily choose a hotel because of it’s contactless experience. Price, location, and brand will still weigh heavily in customer decisions and, at some point, displace the current hyperfocus on the safety of contactless. But just like internet access and cable TV before that, providing the option of a mobile and contactless guest experience is likely to become the norm and will continue to delight guests.
There have been a number of technologies that have seen growth in 2020. Cleaning robots, video tours, mobile food and beverage ordering, chatbots, mobile check-in, digital keys, and many others. From the new normal to the next normal to the next next normal: it’s important to invest in technology that has staying power and can adapt to the continued seismic shifts and aftershocks of this year.
Though there are some solutions that are necessary only for this moment, filling the technology gap and building your stack means meeting guest and business needs now and for the foreseeable future. But when it comes to looking ahead of us in the hotel industry, right now we can see about as far as the hand in front of our faces. And for the 71% that plan to increase digital transformation efforts moving forward, they are doing their best to reconcile those facts.
In an effort to cultivate a longer view, Skift recently put together an assessment of what contactless technologies have the potential to stick. Adapted from a framework introduced by McKinsey earlier this year that evaluated technology investments during the pandemic, they applied the same analysis specifically to hotel industry contactless solutions. The 2×2 chart maps solutions according to their rate of growth this year (classing them as either high or low growth), and by consumers’ intent to continue using the technology after the pandemic (classing them by either low intent or medium to high intent).
What Skift’s research reinforces is that there are two motivations for a contactless guest experience: convenience and safety. This combination is what defines the contactless technologies on the right side of the axis and what indicates they are here to stay. Mobile check-in, digital keys, guest messaging, staff collaboration tools, mobile payments, and mobile F&B ordering will all play a part in the future of the mobile guest experience. Robots and tracking software – maybe not.
As you review what technology to invest in as part of your digital strategy, look to the technologies that delight guests but also enable you to be operationally agile for whatever the future holds. And contactless technologies, including digital keys, check all the boxes.