The past year has shifted operators’ focus to providing streamlined, low-contact hotel experiences for guests in a big way. While the industry was already headed towards technology that achieves these goals, the pandemic and related safety concerns fast-tracked implementation and adoption of solutions such as mobile check-in.

“Since the rise of COVID-19, we’ve seen a growing interest in a contactless experience at our hotels,” says Don Cleary, president at Marriott Hotels of Canada. “Guests want more control and functionality in the palm of their hands to personalize their stay and provide a seamless experience — especially with the global pandemic.”

While Marriott has offered mobile check-in through its Marriott Bonvoy app since 2013, Cleary explains that the company has now expanded the offering beyond its loyalty program. “In October, to accommodate the demand of leisure travellers staying at our hotels — many of whom were not yet members — we launched a new ‘check-in-now’ button on the confirmation page of the desktop and mobile web experiences. It’s proven very popular, with tens of thousands of guests using this functionality every month, and we’ll have this available at all our hotels in Canada by early 2021.”

Stuart Butler, Chief Operating Officer, at South Carolina- based Fuel, which provides software and marketing solutions to the hospitality industry, points out hotels catering largely to business travel had been seeing continuous increases in demand for mobile check-in prior to the pandemic. “But there was never really a major demand from leisure consumers,” he explains, adding recent health concerns have changed that.

“Living through this pandemic, everyone has seen digital adoption accelerate,” says Jessica Davidson, SVP, Digital at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, which recently launched a re-designed mobile app.

While the pandemic wasn’t in Wyndham’s sightline when it began developing the app, Davidson says its launch in September allowed the company to introduce new features when they were needed, including a rollout of mobile-check-in/out to approximately 6,000 economy and midscale Wyndham properties in the U.S.

“[This] took a lot of careful planning with our operations and technology teams,” adds Davidson, which included starting with a smaller property set in order to receive feedback and iron out the kinks, as well as providing training modules, prior to the large-scale rollout.

“Hotels overwhelmingly want this type of technology during a pandemic,” shares Butler. “Our inquiries have increased more than 400 per cent on the product since the pandemic started.”

However, guests’ comfort level with new technologies has been shaping adoption of contactless experiences.

Fuel has introduced functionality to support completely contactless check-in, which allows ID verification to be completed through the app. But, Butler explains, “The vast majority of guests and properties still want guests to come to the front desk.” He notes a reduced-contact check-in, whereby guests can fill out forms digitally and complete the process by picking up their key at the front desk, is desirable for a large number of customers.

“We’ve seen a lot of people, especially young people, who are willing to do a good amount of that process [digitally],” Butler adds. “The key is providing choice to the guests to do what they feel comfortable doing.”

And, moving even a part of the process online can create more efficient operations. As Butler explains, “You can dramatically reduce the time it takes to check-in. Even if the guest still comes to the front desk, you’re taking a 10-minute process and turning it into a 30-second to one-minute process.”

“Mobile and web check-in has enabled our front-desk associates to spend less time on routine tasks and more time providing an even higher level of personalized service,” agrees Cleary. “Historically, the mobile-app experience has even helped lift overall guest-satisfaction scores.”

Butler also points to customer data as a key benefit to taking this process digital, explaining, when forms are completed digitally, the data is more readily available and easily leveraged, as it can be uploaded directly to a hotel’s CRM or PMS. “But, where the value proposition has always been with mobile technology, once a guest is checked-in on their mobile device, you now have a way to individually address them with communication on a one-to-one level,” he adds, noting in-app messages are less intrusive than options such as SMS/text messaging.

And, while apps are a key focus when looking at low-contact solutions, Butler reiterates the importance of giving guests choice. He explains that Fuel recommends its clients offer both an app and mobile-friendly website. “It should all tie together,” he says. “But, there’s an inherent advantage to encouraging people to download the app, because now you have them in your own walled garden.”


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