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Travel & Hospitality

Using Contactless Technologies to Create Connected Travel Experiences

Sooho Choi
Sooho Choi

The travel industry is improving contactless experiences such as mobile check-in at hotels and mobile boarding passes at airlines to increase physical distancing and to keep travelers safe. In the process, hotels and airlines also aim to bring travelers digitally closer to their brands.

Travelers will increasingly value experiences that minimize risk through reducing human interactions and providing contactless or touchless options across their entire travel journey. While contactless technology is not a new concept, the pandemic has accelerated this trend and integrating a platform travel experience enables contactless technologies that travelers are demanding. Platform travel experiences would help brands personalize the experience using data and travelers with discovery in destinations beyond a brand. For example, a family staying at a resort could easily book a nearby excursion that’s vetted through the hotel and personalized for everyone’s needs.

Publicis Sapient's original research published in The Digital Life Index found that 36 percent of respondents said the availability of contactless check-in and check-out at hotels via websites or mobile apps was a top-three factor in hotel choice, and 30 percent said check-in and baggage kiosks was a top-three factor in airline choice. When considering advanced cleaning enabled by technology, 47 percent said this is a top-three factor for hotel choice and 52 percent for airline choice. A digital hub where travelers could access all the information and help they need for their trips, and one where brands could use data to connect and enhance the experience, is the ideal path forward for brands determining how to succeed in increasingly uncertain economic and public health conditions.

Today's traveler has a disconnected travel journey, toggling among companies to build an end-to-end itinerary. Travel brands have an opportunity with a loyal customer base, a captive audience, and rich data that allows them to provide personalized recommendations on new services and products. We enable travel brands to use the best practices and capabilities of commerce and retail, finding value in new revenue streams and partnerships.

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Contactless Demand in Travel

Contactless isn’t only about avoiding contact with surfaces or objects but also avoiding crowds and the need to wait in long queues. Think of mobile keys at hotels or touchless bag check-in at airlines that allow travelers to bypass queues and staff to get to their rooms or gates.

Different generations and demographics have varying degrees of these kinds of contactless preferences. When checking into accommodations, for example, higher percentages of 25 to 54 year olds prefer contactless options compared to travelers ages 65 and older, according to The Digital Life Index. And with checking in or gaining admission to activities and attractions in destinations, nearly 50 percent of respondents ages 25 to 54 preferred contactless options compared to only 27 percent of travelers ages 65 and older.

Chart of Travelers and Diners Expect Services That are Contactless

Across the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Singapore, on average, about one-third of respondents said they wanted reduced wait times for things like airport screening. But there’s a bigger gap for other considerations, such as enhanced airport security measures like biometrics where 40 percent of U.S. respondents prefer enhanced measures compared to 52 percent of Singapore respondents.

HOW Digital Enables Contactless Experiences

Four digital technologies – mobile, robotics, smart kiosks and contactless payments – enable contactless experiences and, in turn, provide key data and insights that fuel platform travel experiences.

Beijing-based Leyeju Smart Hotel has integrated all four into the guest experience. The hotel is developing a chain of smart, contactless properties with features that include guest reservations made through the website or app, check-in facilitated with facial recognition, robots to guide guests to their rooms and automatic controls for lights, temperature, and water. This level of automation is allowing each hotel to operate with just two employees to manage exceptions and overrides, and puts Leyeju’s operating costs around 40 percent lower than other hotels.

Together, these four technologies lead to innovation, personalized customer experiences, and diversified revenue streams.

Hotels, in particular, are accelerating their efforts in updating websites and corresponding apps to enable these basic mobile, self-service experiences that hand over more control of the journey to travelers. But there’s still a lot of work to do. In the U.S., for example, the number of hotels equipped with digital room keys has increased substantially over the past couple of years to hit 20 percent of rooms in 2019, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, but that number needs to get to 80 percent for travelers to feel more comfortable. Hotels could also use mobile to allow guests to access other areas in a hotel like fitness centers, parking garages, and common areas.

How to Improve the Guest Experience with Contactless

VIDEO

From digital room keys to mobile check-in, COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of contactless technologies in the hotel industry. As digital-first guest experiences become more commonplace, our expert Andrew Kumar explains how travel brands can leverage data-led insights to drive loyalty and improve retention.

Mobile could also enable features like online ordering and frequent flyer loyalty programs at airports, where the latter would give frequent travelers access to perks like discounts at retailers within a terminal or lounge access.

Some hotels allow guests to either use their mobile apps or voice activated tools such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home to make common service requests such as needing more towels, room service or making spa bookings. While large hotels will likely invest in building and enhancing their proprietary digital and property management system platforms, independent hotels could partner with platforms such as Vouched and Beachy to rapidly enable such services. The travel industry can also use robotics to improve efficiency in cleaning and reducing traveler exposure to staff in service roles such as housekeeping and valets.

As quickly as the industry moved to touchscreen, it must shift again to touchless experiences. But this doesn’t have to mean wasted investment. Existing touchscreen kiosks, where possible, can be retrofitted to provide a touchless experience in ways that are realistically scalable, cost-effective, and require minimal fabrication and technical effort. The use of infrared sensors, cameras, and overlay frames enable such retrofitting, for instance.

Who is Already Adapting to Contactless Experiences?

VIDEO

Implementing contactless technologies can be a costly investment for a hotel or an airline. But it doesn’t have to be. Our expert, Jagdish Ghanshani explains how retrofitting existing traditional systems with sensor-based technologies and zero-touch solutions is a convenient, cost-effective way to become future-ready.

COVID-19 has reduced the use of cash. As early adopters of e-commerce, airlines are used to processing online payments before issuing tickets. However, many hotels still have their systems designed to swipe physical cards at the front desks. The pandemic is causing many properties to integrate their reservation and property management systems with different payment providers to process online payments.

Contactless Keeps Brands Prepared

Many travelers are slowly learning to live with COVID-19 and will become conditioned to contactless experiences, not only expecting them but actively choosing them over more traditional physical interactions. The industry as a whole needs to invest in contactless technologies to regain traveler confidence and lessen government enforced restrictions. New restrictions like executive travel orders will likely be enforced even for brands being proactive and following all required safety guidelines. Contactless and platform travel experiences allow brands to rapidly adapt to different regulations while building the customer experience around them. Taking this approach helps ensure the quality of the brand experience won’t constantly change and manages travelers’ expectations while gradually bringing back demand.

Sooho Choi
Sooho Choi
Global Travel & Hospitality Lead

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