Who Moved My Cheese? Disruptions that will Redefine Hospitality in a Post-pandemic World
Humankind is going through a new and unprecedented experience with the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic. There is little doubt that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on accepted societal norms. It forces us to ask some important questions regarding the disruptions that will redefine hospitality in a post-pandemic world. Will the change only be limited to implementing basic health, hygiene and safety standards at hotels? Will social distancing norms be the new normal and alter the very core of hotel operations? How will service delivery processes need to be amended? Will major transformations in guest psychology nudge hotels towards a future dominated by process automation aided by tectonic technological advancements?
It is certain that going forward, rapid innovations in technology and low-touch service delivery protocols will completely transform traditional hotel operating models. In many ways, automation will also enable hotels to return to their roots as a ‘customer-first’ industry. Instead of a multitude of people performing rote behind-the-scenes tasks, well trained staff will act as ‘Care Ambassadors’ maximizing customer experiences. The future of guest service delivery will break traditional barriers. Hotels will pivot around servicing the customer’s primal need for ‘Health, Safety and Hygiene security’.
Once businesses resume, during the phase of normalization, hotels are likely to witness the emergence of a newer customer, whose daily behaviour and thinking will differ from what it was before the COVID-19 outbreak. The hospitality, travel and tourism industry will have to adapt to these sweeping changes in customer behaviour and buying patterns. In this article we present four service and four technological innovations/disruptions that are likely to redefine hospitality.
Personalized Delivery of Low-touch Services
Hotels guests of the future will insist on ‘safe’ delivery of all standard services within a hotel. The successful delivery of ‘low-touch experiences’ will be a key driver of patronage. Hotels will have to redefine service delivery protocols for the tricky-yet-necessary task of delivering service while maintaining safe distance and minimizing physical touch points. Hotels will need to continue to invest in building and delivering on these evolved needs to ensure patronage from the evolved future traveler.
Shift towards Curated Minimalism
In a post pandemic world, needs such as ‘curated’, ‘minimal’, and ‘trustworthy’ will dominate future travel itineraries and hotels will have to satisfy these highly emotional customer needs in addition to fulfilling the promise of ‘Health safety and Hygiene security’. True luxury will be in maintaining safe distance and in slowing down. Increasingly, less will mean more for the discerning traveler. The future of service is all about customizing and personalizing – gone are the days of mindless stereotyping of service delivery through untrained casual staff.
Patronage of Niche Travel Experiences
Globally, there is likely to be a major shift towards exploring new holiday ideas and the discovery of new destinations in niche markets, as travelers are expected to avoid overcrowded holiday spots. Concerns of ‘overtourism’ have been dismissed for many years in favour of economic benefits. Now, the travel and tourism industry will be under pressure to acknowledge overtourism’s negative impacts. Hotels, on the other hand, will have to re-imagine, re-invent and re-define, on an ongoing basis, to provide a unique but immensely satisfying experience while adhering to social distancing norms. They will have to relentlessly pursue and remarkably uncommon personal experiences and present them to their curious customers.
It’s All About People! Not just Processes
Successful hotels will be where highly trained staff can offer guests bespoke experiences: meals in distinctive, private settings within the hotel; inviting guests to eat in whichever location, at whatever time they feel hungry; and tailoring special experiences and adventures like never done before.
Digital Access Controls Systems (DACS) & Guest Room Automation
Going ‘keyless’ through digital access control systems will redefine Check-ins at hotels and restaurants. Through DACS guests will be able to pick the room or restaurant table of his/her choice based on availability and get straight to the room/table upon arrival with minimal or no interactions with staff or physical surface contact at high density public areas. In-room Automation will be integrated with voice technology (Eg: Amazon’s Echo & Alexa and Google Home) to reduce the need for in-person interactions. Increased usage of DACS technology will allow hotels of the future to do away with staid lobbies with static reception desks and free-up staff to engage in contact-less service delivery that will be strictly need based.
Artificial Intelligence, Neural Networks & Machine Learning
In a post COVID-19 world, the use of Artificial Intelligence, Neural Networks and Machine Learning will completely transform the ability of hotels to deliver personalised services. Service delivery of the future will be a function of targeted delivery programs based on guest data using predictive analytics. In Hotels, the usage of neural networks will assist in identifying complex patterns in consumer behaviour through statistical analysis. The role of Artificial Intelligence, Neural Networks and Machine Learning will encompass the entire guest life cycle. Further, travel management which is subject to constant changes in weather, epidemic outbreaks and geopolitical risks will be aided by increased use of AI. Hotels will be better equipped to analyse and accurately predict the probability of a certain outcome based on data analytics and present solutions to proactively mitigate travel risks and improve the overall travel management experience for their guests.
Digital Display Systems
The future of restaurant dining will be dominated by increased usage of interactive smart tables that allows guests to custom select their food and wine preferences and also change their table-top food presentations, pay their bills and much more. Digital Display technology will also take centre stage at Meeting and Conferences venues. RFID badges, registration through QR codes, augmented and virtual reality-based product displays, simultaneous multi-lingual virtual transmissions of events will be the new standard at most MICE events.
Robotics & Automated Processes
Robotics will play an increasingly important role in the hospitality industry, primarily because of its ability to carry out traditional people-intensive functions much quicker, more consistently and without the need for in-person interactions. In hotels of the future, Robotics will automate standardized food production assembly lines and significantly reduce dependency on physical contact. Robotics will also be deployed at restaurants to efficiently manage the wine cellars and enhance wine pairing functions. A Guest’s preference for food, grape type and region, vintage etc. can be analyzed to recommend the most appropriate wines. Increased use of robotics and process automation will also significantly improve stores management and supply chain functions and potentially save significant costs, eliminate human error and deliver superior efficiencies.
As hotels continue to evolve and adjust to the new normal, they require just as much emphasis on people as on systems and processes. While the adoption of low-touch service protocols and usage of future technologies will continue to grow, the very roots of hospitality are embedded in the idea of creating immediate and personal engagement that can enhance guest experiences and drive loyalty. This is unlikely to change. Personalized customer service delivery will always continue to remain at the core of the hospitality sector and guests will always find solace in the human smile and warm ‘touch’ of services. While technology can drive efficiencies and deliver reduced costs through back of the house automation, energy management and power conservation, guest services and interactions should be left to trained employees, who do it in the best way! Let us remember what Pericles, the influential Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens during its golden age, said in 5th Century BCE “It’s not our task to predict the future, but to be well-prepared for it.”