Hospitality industry and the pandemic

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Hotels are now using technology to boost traveller confidence during COVID times

PTI

As the hospitality industry fights for survival after suffering huge losses due to COVID-19 last year, hotels are incorporating a combination of cutting-edge technologies to improve customer confidence, and mitigate losses incurred during the pandemic.

A study published in November by researchers at Stanford University and Northwestern University, US, stated that reopening of restaurants, gyms and hotels carries the highest risk of further spreading COVID-19.

While people who wish to visit hotels and restaurants are concerned about catching the virus, the hospitality industry is infusing new technologies into its operations to safeguard both guests and employees.

Technology features originally intended as novelties are becoming necessities during times when some people are wary of even stepping outside their homes.

According to the authors of a research article published in the journal Information Technology & Tourism, the pandemic will eventually come to an end, but the hospitality industry will never return to the “old normal”.

“Traditionally, many luxury hotels emphasise person-to-person contact at every point in the guest journey. However, after COVID-19, all of these methods and procedures may have to change,” the authors noted.

Hotel guests, they said, expect much higher standards of hygiene, and show a significantly greater appreciation for contactless services.

“During such a period of uncertainty, hoteliers have a rare opportunity to invest in technology and process improvements to gain competitive advantage in the long run,” said
the authors.

Due to the pandemic, India’s hospitality and tourism sector suffered three quarters of economic wipe out estimated to be up to 15 lakh crore.

According to director, Leisure Hotels Group, Vibhas Prasad, COVID-19 has affected most sectors across the globe, and the hospitality industry is among the hardest hit.

However, Prasad notes that the players are optimistic to regain the lost vibrancy in the latter half of 2021 and are banking on efforts to improve customer confidence and ‘revenge travel’ as the pandemic is controlled.

“Leisure business is now returning to normalcy and is further expected to increase post-vaccination,” says Prasad.

He says in addition to putting in place exhaustive sanitisation and hygiene protocols for the guests to feel safe and comfortable, the hotels associated with his group have tweaked the regular processes and activities to ensure that least human contact is required.

Prasad said while digital check-in and check-out is already a new normal, the company has also introduced technologies such as e-newspapers or magazines for the visitors.

“Contactless payments and contact light dining offer additional convenience and confidence to our guests so that they can travel hassle-free,”
he adds.

According to the ‘Rethink Travel Global Survey’ conducted by Spanish IT provider, Amadeus, technology plays a crucial role in supporting
recovery.

In the study, 84 per cent of travellers surveyed said that technology would increase their confidence to travel by addressing concerns around mixing with crowds, social distancing and physical touchpoints.

Technology will play a key role in the long road to recovery from the COVID crisis for India’s hospitality industry, says a report by RMS Cloud, an Australia-based
software company.

COO HIDEWAY BEDzz, Shiv Kumar Mehan, a facility for spiritual travellers and backpackers in Rishikesh, notes that COVID-19 has certainly accelerated the infusion of emerging technology and software into
hotel operations.

“These self-service systems help to personalise guest stays in the middle of a pandemic, and integrating state-of-the-art technology has been paramount for hotels only to keep in operation,” says Mehan.

He notes that by adopting such technologies, hotels are making a conscious effort in providing a worry-free environment to all the guests.

“From replacing tangible restaurant menus and paper in-room compendiums with scannable QR codes to contactless hotel check-in capabilities, almost every aspect of the hospitality experience can now be accessed through the push of a button on your mobile devices,” says Mehan.

Prasad adds that other technological interventions for contactless, as well as seamless experience, include touchless payments, in-app ordering of food and services, and appointment-bookings.

According to the hospitality experts, tech tools are being deployed to provide remote access to front-desk, concierge and customer-service functions through chatbots or live-chats with on-property staff.

Cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) software can coordinate housekeeping systems, assigning staff duties and confirming compliance with newly-enhanced cleanliness standards, they say.

IoT allows devices on closed private internet connections to communicate with other such gadgets.

The experts say virtual TV control systems are replacing traditional hotel TV remotes which are known to be an infection contamination risk.

Smartphone apps are also available that provide hotels with a free inventory management system to set up overnight guests with reserved seats placed at least six feet apart at pools and beaches.

Then, there are air purifiers intended for medical purposes to kill bacteria and viruses in the air.

All these technological advancements, experts say, can put immediate assistance straight into guests’ hands without the need to come face-to-face with hotel employees.