Opinion by Jagdish Ghanshani, managing partner, Travel and Hospitality at Publicis Sapient

Whilst for the majority, travel is now permitted, it isn’t without its limitations. Taking valuable lessons learned from the pandemic, the industry needs to be putting in place a number of measures now to ensure they best meet evolving customer needs for the future. Fear of catching the virus and social distancing measures remain the main barriers to a return to normalcy.

Mobility experiences 

From digital check-in to using your mobile phone as a room key, most travellers expect a seamless (and now contactless) digital experience that can be activated by their personal mobile devices. Experiences such as digital check-ins and mobile boarding passes have overridden previous physical interactions. These technologies are already commonly used experiences in the airline sector; many major airports have the infrastructure that allows for the flight boarding process to be contactless for the most part.

Hotels are also now accelerating their efforts in updating their websites and corresponding apps to enable these basic self-service experiences, handing over more control of the traveller journey to the travellers themselves. Particularly in the US, the number of hotels equipped with digital room keys has increased substantially over the past couple of years.

Bots and robots 

Until now, hotels have been experimenting with digital concierges in select properties but Covid-19 has forced hotels to take the concept seriously and enable it at scale for their guests. Guests can either use their mobile apps or voice-activated tools such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home to make common service requests such as needing more towels, room service or making spa bookings.

In larger resorts, guests could also reserve loungers or umbrellas at the pool or beach. This makes the entire service experience for the guest contactless.

Smart kiosks 

As quickly as we moved to touchscreen, we shift again to touch-less experiences. But this doesn’t have to mean wasted investment.

Existing touchscreen kiosks where possible can be retrofitted to be contactless in a manner that is realistically scalable, cost-effective, and requires minimal fabrication and technical effort.

The use of infra-red sensors, cameras and overlay frames enable such retrofitting.

Expect to see an increase in screening including biometrics throughout airports in an effort to reduce the risk of air travel for passengers and employees; common health screening procedures such as temperature checks for passengers and guests will be critical.

This can be best enabled through specialised self-service, touch-less kiosks.

Contactless payments 

By now, it’s no secret that Covid has all but eliminated the use of cash. As early adopters of e-commerce, airlines are used to processing online payments before issuing tickets. Over the years, their systems have matured to process complex cancellations and refunds. However, hotels have their processes designed to swipe physical cards at the reception. This is rapidly changing as they invest in integrating their reservation and property management systems with different payment providers to process online payments.

Screens are equipped with infrared proximity sensors making the check-in and bag drop process touch-less. In addition, the same technology enables no-touch elevator buttons. Features include guest reservations made through the website or app; check-in facilitated with facial recognition; robot deployment to guide guests to their rooms; and lights, temperature control and water are all controlled automatically. This level of automation is allowing each hotel to operate with just two employees to manage exceptions and overrides.

As we learn to live with Covid-19, consumers will become conditioned to contactless experiences, not only expecting them but actively choosing them over more traditional physical interactions. The industry as a whole needs to be investing in contactless technologies to regain passenger confidence, lessen government-enforced restrictions and get people travelling again.