While the 2019 holiday season was set to break records with more than a hundred million expected to journey far from home, this year looks very different.
As America grapples with a third surge of the COVID-19 virus, many Americans will likely take caution in holiday travel this year. For some, this may mean staying at a hotel and visiting with relatives outside, instead of staying with family or friends, to reduce their risk of spreading the virus. Yet, after the year we’ve all had, many Americans are still looking for some kind of getaway to close out 2020—in fact, one in four have a personal vacation planned before the end of the year.
As the current pandemic severity changes by the day, travelers also are likely to change their plans at the last minute. For hotels this means an influx of timely customer service calls and a need for concrete, tech-based plans to help ease traveler concern through the holidays.
Prior to the pandemic, just 14 percent of consumers found the hospitality industry was the most innovative when it came to the use of technology in providing customer experiences. During the pandemic, this number has shrunk to 8 percent. Now is the time for hotels to change this consumer perception, so let’s take a look at three key technologies they can implement to meet the needs of the pandemic holiday traveler.
24/7 Support Online
Before the pandemic, 82 percent of consumers expected brands to be available 24/7 for customer service. This availability has now become even more important because the pandemic ecosystem is changing by the day. While most years in the past, hiring for the busy season was a crucial part of keeping up customer satisfaction during the holidays, this year, investing in technology such as digital assistants and creating a multichannel approach to customer service across social media, phone support, email and chat are crucial in keeping guests happy.
Furthermore, to retain your hotel’s reputation in this tumultuous time, the ability for consumers to obtain answers to their questions immediately is crucial because nearly one in five (19 percent) consumers who left a negative review for a brand during the pandemic said they were not able to get in touch with customer service or the wait times were too long.
Consumers are feeling the need for speed now more than ever when it comes to their customer experiences. Most don’t have time to wait around on a phone queue to get their questions answered or change a reservation, which is likely why more than a third (35 percent) of consumers would rather resolve issues or answer questions for themselves—more than half report their main reason for resolving issues themselves is speed.
Whether it’s questions prior to travel about COVID-19 cleaning protocols, check-in and check-out times, switching a reservation or on-site needs such as ordering roomservice or requesting another blanket, guests want the option for self-service experiences during this uncertain time.
Contactless Guest Experiences
While technology such as digital assistants and self-service platforms are key, tech solutions guests need when physically staying in the hotel are also critical. Consumers are looking for keyless and contactless experiences, allowing them to feel safe outside their home and mitigating the risk of contracting COVID-19 during their hotel stay.
While the guest experience typically encompasses a friendly face welcoming you to check-in, many consumers now prefer contactless check-in and check-out, and keyless entry into their rooms. In fact, nearly nine in 10 (86 percent) of travelers would choose a hotel that offered the option of a mobile application offering a fully contactless mobile check-in, concierge, check-out and facility reservation services, over one that did not. Using QR codes for menus, roomservice, in-room requests, accessing the hotel app and more is an easy way for hotels to integrate contactless guest experiences.
There’s no question this holiday season will be different, but for hotels hoping to attract travelers, understanding the technology consumers expect and need to feel comfortable is key to staying afloat.
John Thomson is head of business development, Americas, at Sitel Group.