After a painful couple of years, the hotel industry is bouncing back. Our recent study found that 46% of hotels surveyed expect to increase the number of premises they operate in the next year. That's a strong vote of confidence.
However, guests have higher expectations than ever for what their stay should look like. The same study revealed that 63% of consumers will not return to a business that delivers a bad experience, across any channel. From contactless payments to mobile reservations and lobby kiosks, guests want the same blend of convenience and technology normalised by retail, entertainment, and other industries during the pandemic.
But can high-tech and high-touch work together to deliver a truly five-star experience in a luxury setting? This was the topic of our recent discussion between Marco Trecroce, SVP & CIO, Four Seasons, and Mark Rademaker, Global Head of Hospitality, Adyen.
The verdict was yes, when done right, luxury hotels can deliver on evolving guest expectations while maintaining their unique high-touch approach. Here are four key takeaways from the conversation:
1. Digital acceleration is key
COVID-19 caused an unprecedented 78% decline in international tourism spend in the UK. Even the surge in the Great Stacation, didn't help, with spending by domestic visitors also down by 60%.
Now of course, there's a lot of promise in pent-up demand, which poses a great opportunity. But it's not without its challenges. Staff shortages are a particularly well documented issue for UK-based hotels at the moment. Which is where automation comes in, since it can help bridge the gap left by staff shortages.
When asked what’s been most important for Four Seasons when preparing for this influx of guests, Marco called out digital acceleration across mobile, web, and automation of manual processes – payments especially – as key.
“With COVID,” says Marco, “there are multiple conversations about how to go faster, accelerate quicker, how to take the opportunity to help our hotels get prepared. Because our guests want more digital interactions, more contactless experiences, different types of experiences, and that now is becoming the thrust for our thinking of how we move forward. Very challenging when our hotels are closed. But it’s an investment we need to do in parallel, so it’s very strategic.”
2. The best guest journeys offer different options at the same hotel
No two guest journeys are alike, especially when it comes to the luxury experience. Some guests prefer making a reservation by phone, others want to book via mobile app. Being intentional with your technology decisions, no matter which mix of channels a guest uses, is how hospitality brands can integrate technology without sacrificing that high-touch experience.
“Our chat is the best example,” says Marco. “It started with a mobile app, which has now converted into messaging layers. Our chat functionality is translated in 100+ languages and lets our guests communicate with us in a touchless way in their local language. Regardless of channel, we give guests a choice, and as they choose, they get sticky around the chat. It’s one way we deliver high tech and on property, they get their high-touch experience as well.”
“Technology plays a role, but it’s really there to complement the guest experience.”
This is consistent in what we've observed as a payments partner for global hospitality brands, as Mark Rademaker, our Global Head of Hospitality, says: “We’ve seen such a dramatic shift in the way hotels have started to view their guest journeys. If we go back to just before the pandemic, offering different journeys at the same hotel wasn’t something we had in our conversations. Now, it’s so important. We’re really seeing that low-touch experiences like mobile check in don’t necessarily translate into low-luxury.”
3. Payments are now integrated into every part of the business
When it comes to new ways to pay, hospitality brands tend to prefer to play it safe before adopting new or alternative payment methods. The pandemic has challenged that mentality by making things like contactless payments central to doing business safely.
“Payments are getting better,” says Marco, “and easier, for all of us. The consumer side of the experience is infiltrating how CIOs are delivering technology on the inside – whether payments, or any consumer technology, that guests adopt. They really expect to see that inside our hotels.”
But delivering on that for guests on the backend means putting together a payments tech stack that can support those seamless experiences on the front end. “The dilemma right now,” says Mark, “is how do you present payment methods to a guest halfway around the world that’s going to an exotic location on their holiday and offer the same payment on property?”
“Historically,” continues Mark, “the limitations existed because payments in the hotel world have been bifurcated between the ecommerce world and the POS on property. As that starts to blend, it brings up these new opportunities, where you can provide the same experience to that guest across their whole lifecycle of their stay, from booking process to on property.”
Hotels are in the business of getting things right for their guests. Starting from there and using that as your compass to help make the best decisions for your business and your guests will go a long way in delivering a five-star experience.
“Ultimately, it’s about what the guest wants and how to drive your technology stack, your payments, to help support that,” says Mark. “Hotels get very fixated on the here and now, what they want to achieve today. Just as important is how to get to the next step, how to future-proof.”
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