Trends & Insights

Contactless tech finds new footing in the pandemic

As hospitality providers prepare for a new guest experience post-COVID, the ideas behind touchless tech are seeing a surge in popularity.

Contactless tech solutions aren’t exactly new. Digital check-in services and in-room voice devices have long been found in large chain hotels and vacation rentals. But the pandemic has the potential to accelerate the uptake of touchless technologies and incorporate them into the broader guest experience. 

Touchless tech’s post-pandemic promise

Using technology to promote safety has become an important factor for travellers in the wake of Coronavirus (COVID-19), with 64% of them surveyed by Booking.com agreeing that technology will be important in controlling health risks in the future. Almost as many (63%) believe accommodations will need to use the latest technologies to make travellers feel safe. One way to do that is via self contactless check-in, with nearly a quarter (21%) of respondents indicating they’d like to see more self-service check-in machines. 

To meet the rise in demand for contactless check-in, Booking.com is working with a number of partners including Futurestay, a cloud-based vacation rental management solution, to provide online check-in options for vacation rental properties booked through the platform. Google also recently expedited the rollout of its hotel-focused initiative that uses Google Assistant and Nest Hub smart devices. 

Accommodating requests for touchless experiences

Companies that offer contactless solutions to hoteliers report a marked increase in interest in their products since the beginning of the pandemic. “Right away, we started getting questions about it,” says Kara Heermans, VP of User Experience at Sonifi, one of Google’s two partners in its recent rollout. “The idea of mobile control is something we've had around for over ten years. But now guests are seeing it as a necessity.” 

One focus of attention for guests is what many touch first upon entering a hotel room: the remote control. “We’ve had a ton of conversations with customers, from large brands to smaller independents, about how they can help guests get into their room without having to touch anything,” adds Heermans. 

To encourage guests to avoid the remote completely and instead pair the Sonifi app to their system, the company implemented a change that enabled the TV to be automatically turned on at the time of check-in. “When guests enter the room, they see instructions on the main menu for pairing their phone to the TV without having to touch the remote.“ 

After implementing this process, their app received significantly more downloads than in the previous year, plus heightened usage of the system itself. “Across our base, we've seen guests use the app to change channels almost 1,8 million times. Last year, it was about 0,8 million.” 

This is notable not only for its increase in usage but for its technique. Hoteliers invest large sums to provide comprehensive smart technologies in their rooms, but it can still be difficult to get guests to download an app. Post-pandemic, guest onboarding could be made easier by treating the process as one of safety rather than convenience.

Measuring client and guest demand

All of this focus on getting guests safely into their rooms is good news for property automation providers like Operto, who provide keyless entry solutions for vacation rentals, hotels and hostels. “We’ve seen about double the amount of traffic to our website than before the pandemic began,” says Axel Persson, Director of Sales and Marketing. “We’ve even had to hire for our sales team, so it's definitely been a noticeable change.” 

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traveling alone with mask on
While end-to-end touchless travel isn't possible, some accommodation providers are investing in a fully contactless experience once guests arrive.

 

To better gauge the scope of this interest, the company surveyed 1,000 consumers in June and found that 81% of them liked the idea of self-check-in, with strong showings from guests of both vacation rentals and hotels. “We initially thought, maybe it is younger people who are driving this interest in self-check-in,” says Persson. “But it was pretty even across the board.” In fact, they found slightly higher demand for self-check-in to be among those aged 30 to 44, all of which suggest the trend of self-check-in has broad appeal. 

He sees the pandemic as a real inflection point for touchless tech. “This is a trend we’ve seen happening over time, but it has accelerated with the pandemic. The conversations have changed in terms of urgency.” He believes guests are comfortable with self-check-in and are coming to expect it. “This is where the industry is going. COVID has just accelerated it.“

Pursuing the end-to-end touchless experience

On the ground, the changes hoteliers have been making to respond to the pandemic could benefit their guest experience in the long run. 

CitizenM, who has long focused on providing smart room technology combined with responsive service, released a pilot version of its hotel companion app at the end of 2019. When the pandemic hit, it quickly moved to adapt features they had been working on to meet new guest needs. “We fast-tracked the roadmap that we already had,” says Casper Overbeek, Director of CX & Digital. 

As a result, the app now provides guests with an end-to-end contactless journey with a way to check-in/out, the ability to self-initialise a keycard using the phone app, room environment and entertainment controls, the ability to request additional hotel services, and payment for all in-hotel purchases directly from the app. 

“It's not that we needed to change a lot of things. It’s just that these changes fit the strategy and the way we would like to engage with customers anyway,” he says. “In that sense, COVID took away some silos and provided a new urgency that, in the end, actually helped us get our message out.”

‘Hands off’ advice for partners

Sonifi’s Heerman advises partners interested in pursuing a touchless guest experience to focus on the guest experience before investing in technology. “We recommend going back to the basics and mapping out your guest journey.” She suggests identifying physical touchpoints and determining which ones are causing the most challenges, either from a guest or safety perspective. Then, it's about prioritising those and mapping each one to an appropriate digital solution. “It’s a good exercise to go through. It can help you lean into the idea of shifting the whole guest experience to digital in a way that provides better service throughout the entire journey.”  

 

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Online check-in technology
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Takeaway
  • 64% of guests feel technology will be important in controlling health risks in the future. 63% think accommodations will need to use the latest technologies to make stays safer
  • Pandemic-related hygiene concerns prompted hospitality technology provider Sonifi to create a remote-control-to-app pairing experience that resulted in increased downloads - and 1M more TV channels changed
  • Property automation provider Operto found 81% of consumers like the idea of self check-in, with strong showings from guests of both vacation rentals and hotels
  • CitizenM fast-tracked its hotel companion app roadmap to offer an end-to-end contactless guest experience that even includes payment for all in-hotel services