Hotel Technology Decisions in the Time of Coronavirus

As everyone in the travel and hospitality industry knows all too well, hoteliers have faced a multitude of unprecedented challenges ever since the COVID-19 public health crisis began wreaking havoc in the early months of 2020 (when the current edition of this Smart Decision Guide was originally scheduled to publish). With a dramatic drop in occupancy rates unleashed by a tidal wave of individual and group cancellations, and through the anemic months that followed (in the United States, for example, the average daily rate (ADR) was down more than 20% and revenue per available room (RevPAR) was down more than 45% during the summer months compared to the same period in 2019), most hoteliers would have been hard-pressed to look past all the doom and gloom.

Amongst the disruptions to business-as-usual, the pandemic derailed the traditional IT budgeting and planning process that generally takes place on an annual basis in larger-scale hotel brands and lodging properties. At many hotels, capital investments and major IT infrastructure decisions were abruptly put on hold. For hoteliers planning to upgrade their legacy platform capabilities, the suspension of activities included decisions related to the selection and implementation of a next-generation hotel property management system (PMS).

As both business and leisure travel plunged, major technology upgrades were no longer top-of-mind. Instead, hoteliers became squarely focused on mission-critical measures aimed at cutting labor and operating costs at a time of record-low occupancy levels. The flurry of initiatives that followed was also, of course, geared toward keeping hotel guests and employees safe from the risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus. By embarking on a comprehensive hygiene and cleanliness program, which in itself became a competitive point of differentiation, hoteliers sought to reassure guests about the physical safety of their properties and to allay concerns about the wisdom of staying there during a public health crisis.

In addition to implementing new hygiene and cleaning protocols, often involving advanced disinfectant technologies, the slew of new initiatives that hoteliers undertook mainly centered on minimizing human interaction and encouraging social distancing. Interestingly, most of the technology solutions that enabled these initiatives were not new to the world of hospitality. Rather, most of the solutions had been previously adopted in one form or another by a growing number of hoteliers beginning long before the pandemic upended the industry.

Specific solutions, which in many cases were rapidly upgraded with new features and functionality, included mobile apps for check-in, check-out and keyless room entry and AI-powered guest communications, entertainment systems and amenities controlled by smartphones, voice-activated chatbots and various IoT (Internet of Things) devices. Other solutions, such as guest-facing kiosks with facial recognition or ID scanning and mobile food ordering and payment processing apps using QR codes and digital menus in hotel restaurants, were less widely deployed prior to the outbreak but have since also gained in popularity.

Many of the solutions were previously shown to be valuable, benefitting both guests and hoteliers. Among these benefits: boosting guest satisfaction, improving hotel operations and lowering labor costs. In-room chatbots, for example, are known to decrease guest response and problem resolution time, enhancing the quality of the guest experience, while reducing guest services costs. Importantly, by integrating automated response systems and other guest-facing point solutions into a centralized command-and-control center in the form of a next-generation PMS, hoteliers could gain access to a treasure trove of data.

This data, when combined with other sources of data, can drive guest personalization. It can generate actionable insights that guide marketing and sales activities. It can point to emerging trends, new revenue opportunities and new ways to enhance the guest experience. That these solutions can also help safeguard the health of guests and employees is a nice added benefit.

Following implementation of the most urgent initiatives, and with some encouraging signs for recovery on the horizon, many hoteliers began to shift their attention to technologies that could take their hotel operations to higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness. While hardly a silver lining, some hoteliers even saw in the crisis an opportunity to pursue projects with minimal distraction and business disruption. According to new research conducted for this Smart Decision Guide, almost one-third (31%) of hoteliers used some of the downtime from normal operations “to assess [their] existing technology capabilities and plans.”

For hoteliers with legacy hotel property management systems, taking their operations to higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness starts with the selection and implementation of a next-generation PMS. An advanced, fully-integrated system streamlines operations across all departments, all function areas and all locations (in the case of multi-property brands). With the best of these systems, virtually all day-to-day operations run automatically and nearly flawlessly. An advanced PMS is also essential to delivering superior guest experiences — which, after all, are a hotel’s only sustainable competitive advantage.

This Smart Decision Guide explores the benefits of a next-generation PMS in the context of “a new normal” rife with uncertainty in the near-term. It also explores the benefits in anticipation of a not-so-distant future when, hopefully, individual and group occupancy return to pre-COVID levels. While hoteliers could not have predicted the devastation that befell their industry, forward-thinking hoteliers can imagine and prepare for the future that awaits them on the other side.

Excerpted from The 2021 Smart Decision Guide to Hotel Property Management Systems, which publishes next month, with underwriting support from the following industry leaders: Agilysys, Info, Maestro, Oracle Hospitality and Sabre.

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