The coronavirus pandemic has forced hotels to change their operations. When the pandemic began, many hoteliers worried that switching to using technology systems that require less face-to-face contact could result in guests missing out on what makes hospitality special—the personal touch. But as we move into the second year of the pandemic, hotels are finding that contactless technology is not reducing the guest experience. In fact, technology is allowing more touchpoints with guests while streamlining task management for employees.
Even before the pandemic, new technology trends like keyless entry and self-check-in were already becoming popular in the hospitality industry. The pandemic has accelerated the popularity of contactless technology, and many hotels are discovering that implementing digitalization is changing hospitality for the better.
“There has always been a fear that automation would replace the human touch, so this was seen as a threat to staff,” said Aileen Jimenez, associate product manager for Alice, which provides a global operations platform specifically for the hospitality industry. “But what we are finding is that hotels are seeing a lot of positives coming from new technology.”
One positive is guest messaging. Before the guest even arrives at the hotel, they can receive a text message welcoming them and asking if there is anything the hotel staff can do to make the guest’s stay better. Then throughout the stay, guest messaging allows staff to check-in with the guest to ask about their needs. Guests can text back a wide range of requests, from requesting more towels to asking staff to help schedule a tennis match. Once the guest responds to an automated text message, it can be a staff member, not a computer automation, responding. This is helping hotels not only continue to meet guest needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, but hoteliers are understanding their guests needs better than ever because they are able to collect data that, over time, shows trends with their guests.
Hotels using Alice’s platform are seeing a shift with how guests are connecting with staff. “They are still able to provide the human touch—just in a different way,” Jimenez said. “Now, because of COVID, guests are appreciating more privacy. They really like the convenience of self-check-in and keyless entry, and there is increased engagement with texting.”
Hospitality software platforms are also helping with back of house, decreasing the number of times employees must meet in person with their managers or other employees, creating a streamlined operations process that delivers efficiency and allows for social distancing as work tasks are assigned and completed through a digital platform instead of using paper checklists. For example, by using devices, housekeepers can easily update a room’s status to be ready for inspection, and every team member can instantly see the status in real time, while other staff members can easily let housekeeping know which rooms are vacant and ready to be cleaned.
With the pandemic pushing more hotels to embrace the contactless experience, combined with the popularity of how efficient these new systems are for both guests and employees, the digitizing of hotels is a trend that is here to stay well after the pandemic ends. But many hoteliers are concerned that their staff will have fewer opportunities to spot or prevent situations involving human trafficking. With the accelerated shift toward contactless technologies, the opportunities to prevent human trafficking are also shifting.
Hotel managers can use new technology tools to add reminders for staff to remember to watch for human trafficking or add a list of human trafficking indicators that staff can access through their devices. In addition, managers can easily assign times for employees to receive online human trafficking awareness training, especially if the link to the training is inserted directly into each employee’s tasks.
Security departments are vital for preventing human trafficking, especially when guests are having less face-to-face contact with other employees—security departments are the eyes in the sky. Don Cohen, director of security at a large hotel, recommends security departments continuously train for ways to help watch for and prevent human trafficking. “Having a well-trained team that knows how to work together and making sure everyone knows the standard operating procedures is really important,” Cohen said. “We have built human trafficking training right into our safety training, and we have human trafficking prevention signage and literature in back-of-house areas so staff know what to do if they see something suspicious.”
According to Cohen, security departments can leverage the use of new technology to help them identify human trafficking. A benefit of using a hospitality software platform is that security departments can monitor guestroom door activity. Platforms can report how often a door opens, and they even show if it was opened by keyless entry from the outside or if the door is opened from the inside. When security staff see that a door is opened an uncommon number of times—that can be a warning sign for security.
Technology can also help security departments control who has access to elevators. This is important for regulating the number of people who are not guests at the hotel from accessing rooms by requiring visitors to have either a guest or a hotel employee allow them access to the elevators from the lobby.
Guest messaging can also be a powerful tool for helping human trafficking victims. If a victim is in control of a smartphone and is able to communicate with hotel staff, he or she can text staff to ask for help without drawing attention from his or her abusers. On the flip side, if a staff member is concerned about a particular guest, he or she can text to make sure everything is OK and invite the guest to reach out if in need of help or assistance. This type of human trafficking intervention can be safer for both the victim and the staff member as long as it is framed as a customer service check that is done for all guests.
These new technology systems are the wave of the future for the hospitality industry. At first glance it may seem that less human contact in hotels might make guests feel isolated or make spotting human trafficking more difficult, but if hotels are intentional about how they go digital, there are ways hoteliers can use technology to increase touchpoints with guests, foster better employee communication and keep hotels safe from both COVID-19 and traffickers.
Katie Amodei is the communications manager for Seattle-based nonprofit Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking.