Blog: The Guest Journey Post COVID-19

It’s June 2020 and the world has been changed in a way no one could ever have predicted only 6 months ago (Ok, apart from Bill Gates). In a world where social distancing will be normal, and hotel guests are more cautious than ever, will the guest journey ever be the same again.

As people begin travelling again, hotels will need to adapt to offer the legendary hospitality they are known for, while offering everything a guest wants, in a hygiene-conscious world. Of course, sweeping changes will be required to every part of the guest stay, and no more so than in the journey from booking through to opening the guestroom door.

Read on for my take on the guest journey post-COVID-19.

Booking a Room Post COVID-19

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, online booking was the most common way of securing a room. This could be through a multitude of channels, including the Online Travel Agents (OTA’s) with which we are all familiar, or the hotel’s much-preferred direct booking. The medium could be a webpage or an app, but the booking was online. No surprises here, but in a post COVID19 world, online booking will continue to be the booking method of choice.

As for the battle between OTA’s and direct bookings? That will continue to rage for sure. I’m yet to see anything that will swing it in favour of one or the other, but I will give some weight to one argument, further down this post.

Booking a Room Post-COVID-19

Arrival and Check In

Mobile check-in, pre-stay details, app-based room preferences, digital key – are all things travellers have heard about often. However, as of the end of 2019 their use was still relatively low. Post COVID-19 though, in a world where reducing contact is the “new normal”, digitizing check-in and check-out will be a key part of the solution.

From the guests’ initial booking enquiry stage via the hotel website, booking engine or phone, PMS systems can help finalize guest registrations and send confirmation emails including online check-in links. This link can give access to an online booking portal where the guests can complete the registration process. Before arriving at the hotel, guests can finish the online check-in by completing or verifying the required fields including credit card details. Once the check-in is completed, guests can pick up their room keys from an express pick-up point at your reception desk, or if your hotel has mobile key, the room key can be issued straight to the guest’s mobile device. Once it is time to check-out, guests can use the same PMS portal to view their bill and pay via an integrated payment portal. Guests can also pre-pay through payment links prior to arrival. Your PMS system can make it all so smooth and safe for your COVID-conscious guests.

Now, some hotels prefer offering their guests a self-service check-in kiosk. Flat panel touch screen kiosks that can be easily sanitized prior to use, and make an ideal check-in area. This allows guests to enter and submit their details, including an ID scan if necessary. Nothing to be handed to anyone else, and obviously alcohol wipes to clean anything you will come in contact with. And furthermore, some kiosk providers have created QR code scanning for mobile devices, which further reduces contact. These kiosks however, will require a seamless integration with your PMS system.

Room Key Cards

Digital keys are an excellent, and now essential way of reducing contact. Delivering a digital key to a guest’s mobile device allows the guest room and other selected doors (for instance for controlling access to the elevator, or the gym) to be opened using that digital key.

Room Key Cards
For the first time in this article I’m going to mention something I’ve talked about a lot before. Integration. If you haven’t read my previous article on how well architected integration enables seamless hotel operations, I suggested you check it out here. In this scenario we need to ensure that the check-in kiosk, Property Management System and the mobile app all talk to each other. With this level of integration, the key can be delivered to the guest’s mobile device, after check-in at the kiosk, even where the booking is made through an indirect channel, such as an OTA.

Of course, it is possible that some guests will not want, or not have the capability to receive a mobile key. In this scenario you will have to revert to single use keys but this will entail more santitizing work.

Finding the Room

You may think that finding the room is a non-issue, perhaps that is correct in a 20-room hotel. In larger hotels, resorts, complexes & villages this presents more of a challenge. It is commonplace in upscale resorts that guests are escorted to the room, and even in smaller ones, it is normal to be at least shown to the lift or given some guidance. Well, social distancing will make this challenging for sure. I believe technology can help us here.

A simple example is digital signage with way finding. Easily updated signs showing relevant routes based on who is checking in. If all the guests arriving today are going to be put in Block E, then make sure your signage is clear for these guests. For those with smartphones, how about a digital map? Using the hotel app and the GPS in the smartphone could allow the guest to navigate to their room using the blue dot with which we are all so familiar.

Enjoying the Room

Following relaxing of lockdown measures post COVID-19, it is very likely the first wave of guests that hotels see will be domestic, predominantly leisure travellers rather than international business. It’s also clear that business travel will be reduced for some time, due to limiting of flights, and what seems to be a new world of video conferencing becoming the norm. As a hospitality partner, I don’t believe that video conferencing will replace the human touch, but that’s for a different article!

Enjoying the Room
With a reduction of business travel and more local travellers, it’s certain that hotels will see an increase in families and leisure guests, especially those who are ready to get away and ‘have a break’. The big difference between business and leisure guests though, is the loading of the room. While most business travellers are solo, that same room with leisure visitors could house a family of 4. While this isn’t necessarily a problem for the hotel, it does mean 4 times as many devices, and 4 times the load on your WiFi network. Which brings me to my next point.

Guests are definitely going to be spending more time in the room. Unnecessary exposure to public spaces will be limited for sure. The result? Increased demand for Room service, TV content, Mini-bars and of course WiFi. Add to this the hotel’s need to deliver messaging to the guest digitally (for instance, “we are ready for you in the breakfast room”) . Technology can help you deliver these COVID-related critical messages to the TV in the guest rooms – even when the TV is switched off you can automatically turn it on.

Conclusion

COVID-19 is redefining the entire guest journey. The implications of this are that hotels need to change communication, reception, guest service, etc. The good news is that contemporary technology has a variety of solutions that can help you overcome the challenges and easily deal with these implications.

Do reach out to your hotel technology suppliers for advice on ways in which you can use technology to overcome the impact of COVID-19. This technology can include what you already have in your hotels. As always, Hoist Group is here to share our experience and ideas. Feel free to contact me at marketing@hoistgroup.com.

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Simon I’Anson is Chief Strategy Officer with Hoist Group, whose main focus is finding Hoist Group’s myriad of advanced technology solutions their rightful home in some of the world’s greatest hotels.  With over 15 years of experience in the hospitality technology space, he is sharing his valuable insights through these posts. Outside of work he is a big fan of many sports, including Rugby and Tennis, enjoys spending time with his family, and likes the type of music that should be turned up to ‘11’. You can find more about him here – LinkedIn