With the widespread COVID-19, the tourism industry, in particular, has faced a crisis of an unprecedented nature. Hotels and public transports have fallen into an abyss as people have been largely hesitant to visit a tourist destination, either domestically or abroad. As a result, hotels in India and all over the world will remember 2020 as one of the least revenue-generating years ever. Moreover, frankly speaking, it could take at least another 6-10 months for the hotels to regain their stability.
Amid this chaos, hotels have begun to accept technology as their savior. However, is this just because of the pandemic?
There is no denying that the pandemic is going to transform the working of hotels, but it is also an undisputed fact that the hotel experience was already headed towards being dependent on technology. The pandemic has just pushed things along faster. In addition – I never thought I would say this – the need for technology to replace human contact has become imminent now. Furthermore, holistic technology strategies adopted by big hotel chains are setting a benchmark for other independent hotels to follow.
However, are these strategies equally useful for other lodging provisions like Homestays and BnBs? Let us find out.
How are big hotel chains faring?
The big hotel chains that can afford certain technological strategies and measures are setting up the industry standard for small independent hotels. Hotel chains like Hyatt have adopted innovative guest experiences like virtual meditation and rooftop yoga, in an attempt to rope in people who will start traveling now. However, the primary marketing point of big hotel chains is their zero-contact experience. They are providing a social-distanced, touch-less experience for cautious (and possibly skeptical) travelers, while hoping that word of mouth will help carry the word to their fellow travelers and inspire confidence.
Some big hotel chains have also collaborated with technology providers to make innovative solution more accessible for travelers. The Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) has launched contactless, technology-driven solutions for every guest touchpoint using QR codes and digital interventions, straight from check-ins to dine-ins. They have also installed thermal sensors and face recognition tech for their employees. They have to ensure that these efforts are visible to other travelers; hotels have talked about them in the communication being sent out on various digital platforms.
Sandals Resorts in Jamaica has taken a rather interesting approach to the crisis. It believes that after the primary requirements of health and safety are met, privacy is one luxury that people would definitely appreciate during this time. Thus, it has taken efforts to make honeymoon suites as private and intimate as possible. It has also taken a similar approach for many VIP lounges.
While these measures are laudable, they are but the beginning of what hotels are doing to revive the business and instill confidence among travelers. Moreover, for this, big hotel chains are taking their digital presence to a completely new level. Let us look at that.
Technology and Benchmarking
Breaking it down in the simplest of terms, big hotel chains are stressing on their digital availability, sometimes as much as their services. During the period while travel was paused, big hotels increased their effort to connect to most of their previous clients. Using technology not just for service providing but to increase the brand value, these hotels know that any gesture that connects hotels with previous clients will be appreciated during this time.
To that end, hotels have been integrating with the services of local hospitals. They have also kept their website fresh and updated as required and using their blogs, emailers, press releases and social media posts to let their clients know that their hotels are safe, secure and open.
Apart from this, hotels are targeting the right set of audience, staying up to date with the market insights and taking expert advice. With the help of technology, hotels are getting insight into the market status and choosing the right demographics for promotion. This is keeping them up to date and prepared so that when travel starts picking up, they are at the forefront of attracting as many guests as possible.
Pushing for More Business Lines
Along with the above precautions and measures, hotel chains are also using technology to embark on newer revenue streams. Smart marketers and a vast sea of technological resources have allowed hotel chains to provide people with food from in-house restaurants. IHCL, for example, has partnered up with Tata Digital for the Qmin app, which allows the customers to personalize and track their deliveries real-time. This F&B offering is generating great revenue opportunities, as well as will provide a great recall value for when the customers will be ready to go back to hotels for check-ins.
Is the benchmark same for all?
The market standards that big hotel chains are setting might be true for standalone hotels, but the same cannot be said for the smaller Homestays and B&Bs. Big brands and luxury hotel chains make up for 1.4 lakhs rooms, which accounts for ust 5% of the total rooms available in India. The remaining 95% are B&Bs, Guest Houses and very small hotels. And they need their own set of benchmarks.
Huge service providers like Airbnb have redesigned their products, focusing mainly on reviews of experiences and testimonies. However, even with enhanced cleaning protocols and a 24-hour vacancy between bookings, the homestay provider knows that now everyone is willing to travel. It has thus also been focusing on generating content for people to entertain themselves with. In addition, from a revenue-generating prospect, it is not completely idle either.
As hotel chains continue to set the trend with their technological advancements, it is sure that the technology is going to reach every one of the other, or us, at one time. Although it may not replace human contact as drastically as now, there will be a heavy dependence on hotel experience on technology. Eventually, smaller hotels are going to adapt to the technological standards set by big hotel chains. However, how it fares for Bed & Breakfasts, is yet to be seen. Will BnBs be willing to shed their emotion-first approach towards the customer and accept a technological solution? We will have to wait and see.
Ram Gupta is a hotel management graduate. He is a certified Hotel Administrator from U.S. and MIH from U.K. He has over 40 years of sound experience in the Hospitality industry in India, Dubai, U.K, Europe and Japan and is well versed with all areas of business including acquisitions, mergers, joint ventures, diversification, strategic planning, development and operations. He has been associated with over two dozen luxury and boutique hotel projects and has launched two hotel chains in India. He is currently an independent hotel consultant and could be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.bcgglobal.com
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