By Yazan Sabelaish
Senior Director of Information Technology
Four Seasons Hotels Dubai
The COVID-19 outbreak, first and foremost, is a human tragedy. At the time of writing this article, there are almost two million people infected with the virus globally, and the number is increasing at an alarming rate.
The entire world has come to a standstill and there are governments implementing lockdowns and curfews around the world. While the entire world population is learning to adjust, economy is plummeting and industries that were once thriving are in trouble. While uncertainty is looming around business and economics, the consequences extend beyond COVID-19.
There’s a very visible shift in workplace behaviour; companies that were prepared to enable employees to work from home are better equipped to keep going so, while others have stopped operating entirely.
Decisions such as enabling Cloud Systems, Remote Working/Teleworking and supporting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) practices, have become the new norm. Technology leaders are working collaboratively and responding promptly with operational teams to involve them in the process of understanding the behavioural change of guests.
The anticipated evolution of guests’ behaviours, whether short or long-term, mandates a change of requirements beyond this pandemic. Adopting these new technological requirements will help hotels retain guests.
Social distancing remain part of human behaviour beyond COVID-19. This behaviour resonates with the new high demand for mobile app use. Guests’ mobile app usage will more likely increase for requesting hotel services, especially in-room dining orders, concierge requests and general chat with hotel employees.
COVID-19 has forced human behaviour to trust technology to deliver; mobile apps will become the main mean of communication between guests and hotel employees
Higher awareness of virus transmittal will increase the demand for contactless transactions, especially with credit card transactions. Hotels should be ready to provide contactless POS devices and online payment options.
Without any doubt, a stable and fast internet connection is essential in hotel rooms, as hospitality technology leaders have noticed an increase in internet usage over the years, especially during the times guests spend inside the hotel.
COVID-19 is definitely changing our behaviours and guests who used to spend most of their day outside the hotel in meetings, will shift to spending more time inside the hotel rooms using virtual meetings and internet-based communication (after finishing their essential face-to-face meetings). Therefore, higher demand for a seamless and high internet bandwidth is anticipated and this requires hotels to be ready to accommodate these requirements.
Voice Command-Enabled Equipment
Voice-enabled equipment wasn’t widely adopted in hospitality yet due to many security concerns. Guests are more likely to be awaiting the use of such technologies in hotel rooms soon to reduce touching surfaces or objects, which may have been contaminated.
Voice command-enabled equipment which might be connected to hotel employees and/or internet will enable the guest to obtain information without the risk of touching surfaces or objects which may have been contaminated.
While the majority of voice command-enabled equipment is designed for home users, vendors and hospitality should work together on developing different versions of equipment to be adopted in hotels.
Virtual Guest Assistant (Augmented Reality)
Providing face-to-face interaction was the essence of success in the hospitality industry and will remain, however, some social distancing practices will stay and become the new normal for many of our guests.
Augmented Reality and Virtual guest Assistance (virtual concierge) should be adopted for guests who wish to maintain social distancing practices without affecting their experience.
It is highly anticipated that guests as well as employees will be expecting to have the option of keyless door entry (Guest Rooms, SPA Lockers and all back-of-house doors), as well as contactless exit buttons. This is driven by the fear of transmitting viruses through touching surfaces, which may have been contaminated.
While many vendors are already providing this technology, not all hotels are integrating into their systems.
Guests in restaurants who are concerned about touching paper menus will increase, an alternate solution such as digital menus readable on their own devices may be in demand and hotels will have to accommodate to different guests needs.
Restaurants that were once concerned about allergies and food temperature may now need to consider a different approach to enable digital menus, digital receipts and other contactless practices.
Thermal CCTV Cameras
Body temperature measurement through CCTV cameras will be required in public areas, including guest and employee entrances to the hotels to detect potential high body temperature.
Good technologies exist to solve problems, while great ones deliver new ways to think about ourselves and deliver efficient solutions to our business to help business continuity and growth.
Tech leaders within the hospitality industry should keep an eye on guest-driven technologies and emerging needs. The quicker we adopt to these, need the faster guests will come back to stay with us.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or position of the hotel or group.