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High-touch and high-tech: How hospitality brands can have it all

Insights on navigating digital acceleration from our Executive Council Roundtable with Four Seasons.

June 7, 2021
 ·  6 minutes
A women helping a customer check into a hotel

After a year of limited travel, hotels and hospitality brands are more than ready to welcome guests back. And guests are more than ready for adventure:64% miss traveling so muchthat they’re willing to give up social media for a whole month to go on vacation safely.

The key word there is “safely.” Guests have higher expectations than ever for what their stay should look like in a COVID-recovering world. From contactless payments to mobile reservations and lobby kiosks, guests want the same blending of convenience and technology normalized by retail, healthcare, entertainment, and other industries during the pandemic.

Most desirable luxury amenities in 2021:

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 discussion at a recent roundtable we participated in with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, hosted by theExecutive Council.

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 takeaways from Marco Trecroce, SVP & CIO, Four Seasons, and Mark Rademaker, Global Head of Hospitality, Adyen.

As the world opens back up, digital acceleration is key

Between travel restrictions and public health concerns, most people stayed close to home in 2020. The result was an unprecedented41% annual declinein total travel spend, with international and business travel being hardest hit. Understandably, many hotels had to make a lot of people redundant to save costs.

Now that the world is opening back up, the silver lining for hotels is that people are ready to unleash their pent-up demand for travel. It’s a massive opportunity, but brands must be ready for the burden it will place on their systems, staff, technology, and facilities. As volumes come back, hotels are in a good position to use automation to help bridge the gap with lower staffing levels.

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.”

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.”

Marco TrecroceSVP & CIO at Four Seasons

As for trends Adyen has observed as a payments partner for global hospitality brands, says Mark: “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.”

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 used to be the thing at the end you had to do. Now it’s so woven into everything we do.”

Gary ThompsonGM, Community and Experiences, Executive Council

“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.”

When investing in technology, let guests lead the way

At the end of the day, 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.”

Want to hear more on hotel digital transformation and getting ready for the next decade of hospitality from Four Seasons and Adyen? Listen to Mark and Marco’s full discussion below.

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