As the travel industry finds its feet in a post pandemic world, those seizing opportunities to reshape their businesses, stand the best chance of succeeding in this new landscape. Hoteliers are forced to rethink new ways to approach customers and technology has played a key role in this new future of hospitality.
While what happens next is anyone’s guess, reshaping, reinventing and reforming their offerings today will help hotel companies meet and exceed the expectations of today’s new post-pandemic-traveler.
ArabiaTravelNews.com spoke to Tariq Valani, Senior Vice President IT, India, Middle East and Africa region at Accor who says the focus on health and safety will continue to be a priority for many in the near future.
“One of the key aspects that technology plays with the industry’s recovery is enabling contactless solutions along the guest journey, starting from an online check in, moving to digital keys on mobile phones and enabling an online checkout and payment upon departure.”
One of Accor’s technology strategy pillars is to “move to the cloud”. According to Valani, this pillar is considered as a journey, as opposed to a project. “Some solutions we are deploying may be new solutions in the cloud and others are focused around migrating existing solutions to the cloud. Some examples of core hotel solutions that are being moved to the cloud are the Property Management System (PMS), Point of Sale (POS) and financial solutions. In addition to these, we are also deploying infrastructure that was traditionally on premise to the cloud”, said Valani.
At the start of the pandemic, Accor launched the ALLSAFE program, which, in line with the adoption of contactless solutions, saw the implementation of digital menus, online payments via secure link, app or QR code, chat programs for guests to contact the hotel and many more. These solutions will continue to stay post pandemic.
“In line with the adoption of contactless solutions, we are currently rolling out the Accor Digital Key. This solution allows our guests to open their room door by using a personal mobile phone. While this solution is not entirely new to the industry, the unique selling point of the Accor solution will be that a guest can use the same app to be issued a key for any participating hotel worldwide,” said Valani.
Speaking about technology trends that are crucial in the current climate, Valani said that customization or Augmented Hospitality is pivotal when it comes to guest experience.
“Augmented hospitality is all about serving a unique customer experience: hospitality not as a place or service, but infinite connected moments, whether you want to Live, Work, or Play. While there was a level of personalization possible for travelers in the past with elements such as welcome screens on TVs with the guest name or pillow menus, we have now reached a stage of hyper-personalization,” he added.
“The Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have enabled hotel companies to take the level of personalization to the next level. Examples of IoT are Voice Activated assistants that enable guests to log hotel requests, reminders, alarms etc. and some examples of AI are AI powered platforms that monitor social media channels to alert hotel teams to special events that in-house guests might be celebrating in order to allow them to make that event even more special or memorable.”
“Virtual Reality (VR) is helping close that gap between image and real and instill confidence in guests booking hotels. When done right and with real content, VR allows the guest to have an immersive experience when researching their holiday; essentially a ‘try before you buy’ approach. AI driven solutions help hotel teams to take actions by based on collected data by sorting it, arranging it and visually presenting it,” he added.
For Valani, knowing your guest is always important. “Today, there is a vast amount of data that is available from various touchpoints and this data is what allows hotels to capture preferences that extend far beyond food and beverage preferences etc. and it is up to the hotel teams to capture this data.
“When it comes to using this data to adapt to the changes, it is also important for hotels to share this data globally, which leads to the point where guest preferences are not catered to at one hotel but across the chain.”
Looking ahead, Valani believes that QR codes, whether to access digital menus or to make payments, have become a norm for several services as people want more contactless solutions.
“Another trend that has been around for a while but is seeing great adoption is content streaming. Guests now want to use their hotel TV screen to stream their own content from mobile devices such as phones and tablets.”
Accor is currently piloting the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) at some of their hotels. “We are looking at streamlining back of house processes that are time consuming, specifically when it comes to finance and procurement.”
“Today more General Managers, owners and operations teams are on board with implementing technology in the back of house areas. These technologies range from RPA as mentioned, but also extend to health and safety where AI driven CCTV is used for detecting falls, spillages etc. and IoT sensors are being deployed to help with optimizing building management services and in turn to run a more sustainable hotel,” added Valani.