HM Exclusive: NYU, Stayntouch survey examines future of contactless tech

The New York University Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality and technology company StaynTouch have released a hotel industry sentiment survey about technology use in hotel operations. 

“The objective here was to work with graduate students to help understand how hoteliers actually feel about the role of technology in today's hospitality landscape,” said Dr. Vanja Bogicevic, clinical assistant professor at NYU’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, citing recent shifts in staffing shortages and the guest experience as challenges that technology can help ameliorate. “It was important to understand how technology is helping hotels, shift, make changes and combat some of those challenges.”

Key Findings

According to the survey of 525 hoteliers, hospitality tech used by hotels increased 31 percent between the start of the pandemic and the end of 2021. The number is projected to increase by an additional 19 percent in 2022.

A full 81.7 percent of respondents reported implementing at least one type of technology during the pandemic or said they planned to implement a technology during 2022. Specifically, "contactless" technology, such as self-service check-in, in-room technology, mobile keys and digital payments increased significantly during the pandemic and are projected to increase further during 2022. 

A full 60 percent of respondents reported that using the front desk to check in was still the most prevalent way that guests checked in, said Frewoini Golla, director of marketing at Stayntouch. Seventy-five percent of hoteliers felt that contactless and self-service technology was essential to not just support smaller teams and leaner operations, “but they felt like it was going to be a longstanding trend in the industry, not one that was going to go by the wayside,” she said. Nearly 92 percent of respondents indicated that their guests have increased acceptance of technology and expect contactless options. 

Hoteliers also said that technology helps them enhance guest experiences, and hotels should provide contactless experiences as an option for guests, so guests can choose what is appropriate for them.

Respondents reported increased use of technology involving automation and optimization of processes, such as automation tools, guest messaging, and chatbots also during the pandemic, likely due to smaller staffs. These technologies are also poised to increase during 2022, likely due to the labor shortage.

“[Hoteliers] understand that operationally, there's a big plus in introducing self-service technology, but they still see it as one that is a little bit clinical,” Bogicevic said. “They want to find a happy medium between how they can personalize and keep that human touch with a customer, but do so in a way that allows them to completely streamline the administrative part of the check-in process.” 

Empowering Hoteliers

With these new capabilities, said Michael Heflin, chief revenue officer at Stayntouch, hoteliers will have an improved ability to define what they want the hospitality experience to be, and will be more empowered to make that come to life. 

Stayntouch is “hyper-focused” on technology that can simplify operational and administrative tasks and reduce the amount of time that people need to spend on those tasks. This would not necessarily mean a hotel would employ more people, Heflin said, but would let the staff spend more time on what he called “human tasks,” or ”things that need to be delivered with empathy or insight or forethought.” 

Heflin also noted a sense of distrust in technology among hoteliers, which he credits to past efforts that did not work as hoped. “Hesitation always lies in past experiences,” he said, noting the challenges facing independent hoteliers who have to make tech decisions without branded support. As operations move from on-premises technology to the cloud, he said ​hoteliers will need “something that is simple and works, because they do not have the staff or the budget to deal with issues.” A benefit of moving to the cloud, however, is that hoteliers can be “very, very uninvolved” in the process of rolling out new cloud-based technologies, he added. “We did more than 90 percent of our implementations in 2021 fully remote, so no one had to be on site.” 

Bogicevic and Heflin both agreed that technology adoption can improve staff flexibility at hotels, making it easier for team members to more rapidly adjust to different needs—a vital ability during a labor crisis. “If we can create where individuals aren't married to certain functions within a hotel, it can help provide coverage and assistance across a huge broad range of different needs and requirements,” Heflin said. “That leads them to be responsive to guests wherever those guests happen to want to be met.” 

The partnership between Stayntouch and NYU’s Tisch Center provides another venue to seek feedback and inform technology companies about what the upcoming trends are and how to better design services to accommodate new needs, Bogicevic said. Many of the students who worked on the survey have worked or will be working in the hospitality industry, and will be able to drive innovations based on both the findings in the report and on their own experiences.