Impersonally personal: Guest connection through technology

At the Westin Houston Medical Center Hotel, LightStrike’s Germ-Zapping Robots can be used to sanitize guestrooms and common areas. Photo credit: Marriott International (Westin Houston Medical Center Hotel)

After an estimated $28 billion dollar sector bleed through COVID-19, hoteliers and hospitality professionals are facing record challenges. The first is the challenge of adaptation. Increased health and safety demands have created new barriers to normal operation. Most barriers require more staff or more capital, and with the concurrent decreased revenues and restrictions on personnel, owners are left at an impasse.

Next comes the challenge of maintaining client connections. Public concern has skyrocketed, motivation to safeguard finances is at an all time high, and maintaining physical distance compromises customer care to no end. After decades of perfecting the art of personalized guest interactions, the path forward is daunting and unclear.

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While this pandemic may feel like the ghost of 1918, our 21st century solutions are speaking the new language of smart technology. Integrated software and tailored guest technologies are the best answers we have to the matter of adaptation. Smart tech makes it possible to execute new health and safety protocol without needing more staff or impossible capital. The sector is already changing to adopt new long term tech strategies, and vendors are racing to be the smart solution of choice.

But technology isn’t as intuitive an answer to the second challenge of connection. In fact, it often feels like a step in the wrong direction. When self-directed apps stand in for in-person interactions, hoteliers lose the chance to offer a distinguished customer service experience and the personalized offerings of hospitality are stifled. 

Fortunately, technology is a tool—one cog in the machine, and not the machine itself. The art of good service will always be relevant, and used creatively and correctly, technology can be a continuation of that pursuit. Now is the time for hoteliers to invest in smart solutions, adopt technology as an inevitable part of the industry, and get creative with the ways they can extend their customer experience.

Smarter Cleaning Solutions

One of the more intuitive applications, technology offers huge potential to solve the greater need for thorough cleaning and dependable sanitation without obliterating profit margins or compromising the safety of the janitorial team. From product design to virtual checklists, many tech vendors have stepped up to offer their services in this arena.

Pure Room is one such vendor. Pure employs a seven-step process to equip any space with purified, allergy-free air and ensure complete elimination of invisible toxins. Gaining popularity in the industry, Pure has become a kind of benchmark for safety easily communicated and understood by guests. LightStrike’s Germ-Zapping Robots are another great example of tech-improved safety. Used first by the Westin Houston Medical Center Hotel, the robots can be used to sanitize guestrooms and common areas, reducing the threat of the virus.

These solutions also contain a hidden opportunity to personalize guest accommodations. Each customer is returning with different concerns and considerations, for their own health and for the specific risks their family members face. Some guests might want to fully understand the cleaning process, and request extra services that give them more peace of mind, while others might trust the industry benchmark. Smart tech solutions can be integrated into personalized guest technology, whether at the time of check in or during their stay, allowing guests to learn as much or as little about the precautions their host is taking. With the option to request more attention in certain areas, cleaning can, for the first time, be a customizable experience.

The Creative Concierge

Most bookings are made online and the check-in process is moving in the same direction, with many hotels investing in facial-recognition technology. After recent accelerations in the industry, guest-recognition systems can accelerate check-in with speed, accuracy and security. Some platforms can integrate with any access-control system, allowing it to be part of a more personalized guest experience.

Concierge apps are becoming standard, and most hotels are extending in-app offerings to include unlocking the doors, contacting room service, and ordering from the hotel restaurant. The Solay Mobile App is allowing guests to book pool chairs or beachside reservations ahead of time and from a distance. The same philosophy can be applied to gym use, pool time, and restaurant management. 

Acting as a database, apps can offer new insights to hotel leadership looking at guest preferences and trends. They can also be an avenue for feedback, allowing guests the option to participate in a simple survey from the convenience of their phone. Apps need to be understood as another guest touch point; they should represent the hotel’s brand and carry the same standards for excellence. 

Social Media and Social Good

Social media is the best avenue to keep potential guests informed and motivated. There are times when sales are meant to take a back seat. Through the pandemic, many hotel owners have stepped up to be of service where they’re needed, and they’ve used various forms of social media to spread the word about their offerings. 

Early in the shelter in place protocol, FabHotels offered discounted rates on rooms with high-speed internet access and work desks for employees that needed a space to continue their work. In addition, more than 80 FabHotels properties are hosting medical staff, offering sanitized stays for frontline workers who live far from their work or who can’t risk returning to their families.

RoomKeyPMS created Emergency Hotel Rooms, a web platform designed to make available discounted hotel rooms to communities impacted by COVID-19. Whether people need a space to distance, self-quarantine, or mourn the loss of a loved one, discounted and safe accommodation is available.

Industry leaders are capitalizing on smart solutions, using new technology to rise to new demands and foster deeper client connections. Far from impersonal, tech offers new ways to offer a tailored guest experience. As a permanent part of the new industry normal, smart tech should be embraced and pursued as another opportunity to excel in guest accommodations. 

Zain Jaffer is the founder and CEO of investment firm Zain Ventures.