It may now sound cliché but, the tourism sector remains as one of the most hit sectors by COVID-19, mainly because the industry was majorly dependent on contact-intensive services that are key to the tourism and travel sectors.
Before COVID-19, travel and tourism had become one of the most important sectors in the world economy, accounting for 10 percent of global GDP and more than 320 million jobs worldwide.
In 1950, at the dawn of the jet age, just 25 million people took foreign trips. By 2019, that number had reached 1.5 billion, and the travel and tourism sector had grown to almost too-big-to-fail proportions for many economies.
The global pandemic, the first of its scale in a new era of interconnectedness, has put 100 million jobs at risk, many in micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises that employ a high share of women, who represent 54 percent of the tourism workforce, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
However, during the same period businesses had to adjust to the trying times and had to develop more efficient approaches, innovate and employ bold new strategies. This led to unprecedented growth in the adoption of digital technologies for hotels and the hospitality industry.
Many of these new technologies are going to evolve and continue to define the future. Let’s take a look at five of the most important technologies that have emerged as essential for hospitality businesses in a post-pandemic future.
Over the last two years, major hotel brands have begun to install Artificial Intelligence (AI) voice assistants , such as Alexa and the Amazon Echo in their newly updated ‘Smart Rooms’. Integrated into the room tech and the Intern et of Things (IoT), these voice- activated, digit al butlers can do everything from searching for local attractions to dimming your lights.
With the need for contactless service during the pandemic, the advantages of an AI concierge became even further pronounced. Not only can this advanced technology provide an attractive and safe service for customers, it can also collect and analyse essential data.
Now, hotels are examining all the ways AI assistants can give them a competitive advantage during their economic recovery.
For example, Singapore is now investing heavily in local AI concierge technology companies, such as Vouch and Travelstop, to help boost their struggling tourism sector.
However, if you’re hoping for a sci-fi future with humanoid robot butlers, you may have to wait a bit longer. There have only been a few attempts to install moving, talking robot butlers in hotels so far, and many of these have been unsuccessful.
Despite all the talk about robots taking our jobs, AI of the future will in fact be used alongside human staff to complete different sets of tasks. In fact, skilled professionals who are competent in management, communication and soft skills will continue to be in high demand.
Before the pandemic, virtual reality (VR) technology was only just being touched upon in the hospitality sector. Tech company Navitaire developed a VR booking system as early as 2017, but this technology has yet to gain widespread traction.
The real value of VR in hospitality and tourism emerged during coronavirus lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, when would-be travellers sat at home in their sweatpants, wishing they were somewhere else.
VR travel company Ascape reported an increase in VR app downloads by 60% from December 2019 to April 2020, and doubling of downloads again between January to April 2020.
The pandemic has prompted a flood of creative VR travel experiences crafted by a diverse range of providers including national parks, hotels, tourism companies, public broadcasters and museums.
During the pandemic African countries also offered tourists from all over the world the chance to travel the continent and even go on safari by virtual means.
Virtual tourism also makes use of technology such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) as offered by apps such as FlipparGO, which is now in Kenya. All with the aim of providing an experience that one cannot get through still photographs or videos on platforms like Youtube alone.
Over time Hotels, airline, tourism boards, travel agencies in particular have jumped on VR as an opportunity to showcase local attractions, market destinations or entice customers to take tours of rooms and facilities. Jumpto Travel , for example, offers VR previews of hotels and travel experiences to potential customers.
Last year Kenya, saw a virtual live stream campaign was launched in 2020, to showcase destinations such as parks and reserves across the country. The campaign was a part of the #MagicAwaits campaign led by the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB).
With new COVID-19 variants coming up daily hence re-introducing lock-downs, through virtual reality customers can be enticed to visit the different destinations later if provided with some memorable experiences and the chance to ‘try before they buy’.
Of course, VR travel will never be a replacement for the real thing – and nor does anyone in hotels or tourism want it to be.
However, as VR tech becomes more advanced its popularity and uses will also grow in creative marketing, introducing customers to new destinations, providing experiences for less mobile people, and helping bring people to places that are otherwise inaccessible .
AI-powered chatbots provide customers with swift answers to questions on a 24/7 basis, regardless of staff availability. The chatbots are essential for living up to current expectations on customer service.
Typically, these chatbots are at their best when answering common questions, which have standard answers. Yet, advances to AI technology mean modern chatbots continually improve as they have more and more interactions. They can also be especially good at responding to queries about COVID policies and safety or hygiene measures.
Mobile app integration is basically the technical term for ‘when your phone becomes your tool for virtually everything,’ and it has been a steadily growing trend for years. The pandemic has just massively accelerated adoption.
The number of customers using food delivery apps, such as Menulog, UberEats and Deliveroo, in Australia and the US has doubled since the pandemic began.
Restaurants have adopted contactless menus with integrated mobile ordering , so customers can avoid contact and order straight from their personal phones, rather than touch a restaurant menu or tablet.
Going further than a simple digital menu, some companies, have launched a mobile tableside platform for restaurants that allows guests to order meals, split the check, add a tip, pay via their mobile devices or add the bill to their room account.
Branded apps are now being offered by most major hotels , such as Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton, IHG, Ritz Carlton and Hyatt. These apps allow guests to make pre-check-in requests, easily check-in, unlock the room, communicate with staff, look at menus and services and control room features.
Not forgetting food delivery apps like Uber Eats and Glovo that simply allow you to order and make payment from your favorite restaurants at the comfort of your coach & apps like Air BnB and Booking.com that simply allow you to check the most affordable accommodations.
These are a just a few of the apps and integrated mobile technologies providing convenient solutions for customers. Travel apps, booking apps, review sharing apps, social media content aggregating apps, apps that manage and integrate other hotel industry apps like Siteminder – and the list goes on.
There is endless potential in mobile integration not only to help customers, but also to help hospitality businesses to track data, manage revenue, offer new products or improve services.
Plus, branded and mobile menu apps have been shown to be effective in increasing customer spending. This is because they facilitate easy and no-wait ordering, and promotion of special offers or upselling using push notifications.
One of the most exciting emerging travel technology trends is the Internet of Things (IoT), which involves internet-based interconnectivity between everyday devices, allowing them to both send and receive data.
Already, we are seeing examples of its role within the travel and tourism industry and this is only going to increase.
For instance, IoT technology can be used in hotel rooms to provide customers with a device that connects to everything from the lights, to the heaters and air conditioning, allowing all to be controlled from one place. In airports, meanwhile, luggage cases can be installed with sensors that will alert passengers when they pass by.
Created as a consequence of COVID-19, contactless tech is at the heart of the paradigm shift that most industries, especially those in Travel and Hospitality have had to lean on to ensure their survival and avert the spread of the virus
As stated earlier, human contact will always be central to an industry defined by service, but now there are ways to manage safety that will still never replace customer service with a smile.
Restaurants have re placed paper menus with scannable QR codes and begun to adopt new tableside ordering technologies.
Non-touch control panels were used in hospital elevators during the pandemic, and this technology is now beginning to enter the hotel market.
Because many of these contactles solutions are also easy, convenient, fast, and integrated with smart hotels and mobile apps, they’ve had the additional benefit of streamlining customer experiences.
Finally, recognition technology is especially interesting within this list of key tech trends, due to its potential for removing friction from purchases and making interactions seamless. The technology itself includes fingerprint recognition, facial recognition, retina scanning and various other biometric identifiers.
Such technology is already being used in some hotels to allow access to rooms via fingerprints or to allow for semi-contactless check-outs. However, in the future, it is hoped that this technology may be able to allow customers to pay for meals in the hotel restaurant simply by walking through the exit.
In conclusion, although digital transformation has reached the tourism industry in earnest and is gradually changing jobs and customer relations, it is important to understand that technology is not an end, but a means, and that tourism is an individual experience, often shared on- and offline.
We are entering a new era of where innovations in technology are bringing exciting new possibilities to hospitality. With opportunities being created every year that were previously unthinkable, the future is going to an exciting time for hotel management graduates.