Re-imaging Hospitality: Digital Acceleration to a more Agile Offering
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One of my Twitter followers who is stressing about her kids going back to school this Fall was wondering if hotels could start offering elearning assistance as part of the re-purposing of their facilities.

Is this part of a digital hotel of the future? This digital hotel is a facility that is welcoming, hospitable, warm and can be used as a multi-functional space. Traditional revenue generation is measured in revenue from room nights, but given that instability in current demand, the facility can be re-purposed to highlight its network-enabled footprint. This is where global design strategies that leverage technology come into play, with a focus on integrative design for use. Digital classrooms, art exhibitions, alternatives to working from home – many things are possible.

With travel restrictions and hygiene and health concerns, hotels and tourism locations globally are having to pivot to a different way of doing business this year. Agility is critical, and how we measure agility and employ agility differentiate us.

I will explore the alternative view on recovery looking at the impact of COVID-19 on organisations in the hospitality industry and how they are pivoting digital priorities to adapt to the New Normal.  

This post will focus on two aspects of the use of digital technology – more innovative ways to view industry recovery, and re-imaging the use of the physical asset from its traditional uses to more creative, digitally enabled functions.

Moving Towards A Different View of Recovery

Since Online Travel Agents (OTA) entered the scene, the hotel industry became obsessed with simple adjustments of rates. Revenue managers focus on analysing, forecasting, and optimising hotel inventory through availability restrictions and dynamic rates. This has become key in measuring a hotel’s demand.

RevPAR, or revenue per available room, is one of the traditional and still the most instilled metrics in the industry. But given demand issues with the pandemic, is revenue forecasting per room the best way to examine hotel recovery? A traditional view on revenue fails when hotel closures and uncertainty on opening impact the ability to forecast and to determine capacity. As seen in Figure 1, both winning customers and increasing agility are paramount to recovery.

Business Priorities in Hospitality

When a destination becomes inaccessible to the traditional clientele, your actual location becomes relevant to a different set of customers. This is for different reasons – so hotels must find different ways to leverage the resources and assets of the business.

One way of looking at this is by re-imaging the use of the physical assets and a suggested approach is looking towards profit planning and management with ProfPASF or Profit per Available Square Feet. We look at hotel construction costs this way, so it stands to reason that utilisation of the asset might also be examined from a cost benefit perspective.

Impact on Digital Transformation

Where does technology play a role in re-imaging Hospitality? As an enabler, a facilitator, a business model supporter? How does the process of Hospitality need to change, and how can technology help? As seen in Figure 2, hotels have had to accelerate and modify their plans.

Impact of COVID-19 on hospitality

The structural assets of the business must either be repurposed or repackaged to take travel restrictions and hygiene and safety concerns into account. 

There are several good examples of hotels who have had the ability financially to rethink and restructure the footprint to address issues that have come from the pandemic. The ones that already planned renovations prior to the crisis have added hygiene aspects such as improved ventilation and less porous floors and fabrics in the selection of materials used. And adding better spatial design to public spaces has allowed them to reinforce the concept of luxury. Documented renovation can be seen in innovative design work by Onyx Hospitality Group, Blink Design Group, independent brand View Hotels and Banyan Tree Holdings.

But this does not mean the hotel or destination must make the investment alone, or even all on-site. Using systems integrators and cloud resources to create digital enabled platforms for guest management, hygiene process management and physical mapping of the capacity of the facility using sensors and mobile are all methods for enabling the digital acceleration of tech investment in the property.

And personalisation of the experience is key, which leads to a discussion of personal data usage and management.

Social Distancing and the Hotel of the New Normal

Retailers, hoteliers and convention centres have the same thing in common, they are all physical locations trying to become safe yet contactless, socially distant yet memorable at the same time.  As we have mentioned in previous reports, the comfort, safety and hygiene of the customer is paramount for their return to Hospitality. Using customer location data on a reliable online platform to track their movement, enable their facilities and services and limit the density of customers per square metre for health, safety and comfort are all aspects of tech-enabled social distancing.

Imagine that you are considering a day stay, for home working alternative or for having a local event. This needs to be within the sanctioned numbers of your locale.  Guests want to know the population density of the location to determine their comfort level. Having a mobile app where potential visitors can see the state of the visitor density of the hotel would provide reassurance as to a safe visit.

Rich Contactless Content

With the encouragement of expanding the scope of technology and social distancing given priority, automated or contactless transaction technologies have seen an increase in implementation in the last six months. Having sensors and IoT technology implemented to see the footprint of the facility in use provides real-time insight for both the customer and the hotel, as to usage.

In order to be able to highlight the functions of both the room and the facility, augmented reality (AR) can demonstrate the use of interactive elements within hotel rooms without human contact.

AR applications within the hotel sector include offering in-house interactive elements (such as location maps and relevant points of interest). These provide digital history of the property and supply guests with relevant information when they are located within certain areas of the hotel (such as a menu if they happen to enter a restaurant).

Use of Space: Location & Hygiene for a Better Experience and as a Precaution

Hotel environments have evolved to add a healthcare layer, including well-being programs, and individual room controls. This includes materiality/ sanitised covering that protects against the spread of infection with clearly defined and explained roll-out cleaning protocols. 

Accor has launched the Cleanliness & Prevention ALLSAFE label, and other brands like Hilton, Hyatt and IHG have tried to brand hygiene into the experience. But the challenge for many is how to restructure and re-image space utilisation to make it both pleasurable and secure.  

Data for Purpose

With contact tracing in the news, many of us are already aware of the digital footprints we leave everywhere we go. And people have a wide variety of personal responses to this.

So how does a hotel use the information a guest either willingly offers or the hotel learns via services provided? If the hotel knows preferences prior to arrival, should they customise the room accordingly? Lighting, scent, preferred pillow choice, allergies – all are useful information. But what if preferences change or implementations are seen to be presumptuous?

Hilton is continually updating its guest technology offerings, from increasing in-app functionality to making further improvements to the entertainment system. One of their ideas is allowing guests to load personal or family pictures. These display on the TV, giving their hotel room more of a familiar sense of home.

And to be both keyless and cashless means the hotel needs to be mobile data enabled. All of this data, including mobile data, should flow like fine wine. But to do that requires knowledge, and learning – gained from experience and AI.  How can I check your preferences are still the same?  How should I use information I collected on you from a previous stay? Is that data kept on your mobile device, or on my hotel server? Is this in the cloud or on-premise in some manner?

Using Data and Intelligence for Personalised Experiences

The final point shown in Figure 3 from the Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study on technology direction from the pandemic, combined with Figure 4 from the Ecosystm AI Study showing the use of AI, highlights the need for technologies that support customer experiences and automate processes. Whether it is customer authentication at check-in, virtual customer assistance or rate pricing for appropriate engagement, technology can enable guest appreciation.

Measures after Crisis in Hospitality
Top AI solutions in Hospitality

Summary – Three Post-Pandemic Takeaways

1. Demand for rooms will have to be viewed differently during this period, and cancellation policies already reflect this. To view recovery, use metrics that look at how the whole asset is being used on a physical basis.

2.  Re-imagination of the physical asset will involve some agility and re-purposing within the business. Technology can help enable this, with some wise additions to add value. Voice, IoT and contactless mobile apps all are good candidates for enablement.

3.  Data helps with understanding of guest preferences and can be used for staff learning and knowledge. But it must be held and used correctly.  Listen carefully to what the guest is telling you and respond accordingly.

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Dr. Alea Fairchild is a technology commentator and infrastructure specialist, Alea covers the convergence of technology in the cloud, mobile and social spaces. She has a passion for the design and optimisation of physical spaces, exploring how technology can enhance user experiences. Alea helps global enterprises profit from digital process redesign. Outside of her work with Ecosystm, Alea is a Research Fellow at The Constantia Institute, which is a Brussels-based technology policy think-tank, focusing on innovation and technological advances and their impact on industry and society. She also teaches graduate courses in technology marketing at KU Leuven in Belgium. Alea received her Doctorate in Applied Economics from Univ. Hasselt in Belgium based on her research in the area of banking and technology. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Marketing from Cornell University.


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