By Aaron Shepherd, the CEO and Co-Founder of APS (Above Property Services)
Technology is transforming our world in real-time, at an increasingly blistering pace – but at what cost? This question continues to percolate in the background as exciting new innovations enter the fold, quickly stirring up mainstream interest and adoption. It’s a rather interesting duality; human nature informs our relentless pursuit of evolution. Still, many of us fear a future shaped so overwhelmingly by technology. Will tools like ChatGPT disrupt – and then eventually replace – entire industries? Will technological influence supersede human influence? Will we lose sight of human connections and traditional touchpoints? Will we forget about the offline experience in pursuing a better online experience?
As a technologist, I find myself especially drawn to this discussion. On the one hand, much of my life has revolved around developing and implementing tech-driven innovation. I understand intimately the incredible influence technology can have on how we live our lives and how businesses operate and serve their customers. On the other hand, as a technologist specializing in the needs of the hospitality sector, I firmly believe that the tech-driven future we are moving towards is full of traditional human elements. We must use technology to meaningfully enhance human moments. One does not replace the other; instead, they operate as two sides of the same coin.
Much like the retail industry, the hospitality industry must balance tech-driven and human-driven service to truly connect with and better serve the guests of today and tomorrow. Forward-thinking hoteliers realize the invaluable opportunity to leverage next-generation, easy-to-use hotel systems that require minimal training and free up hotel employees to engage with guests.
The Technology Fast Track
If you feel you have tech-adoption whiplash, you surely aren’t alone. Everywhere we turn, a new platform or service is beckoning, promising to unlock a more convenient, seamless, and relevant experience. And while the digital evolution was well underway before 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the speed at which new technology was adopted across the masses.
To this effect, McKinsey reports that in around eight weeks, the pandemic made us jump a record five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption. This transition was not a short-term solution either; 75% of people using digital channels for the first time in 2020 indicated plans to continue to use those tools once the pandemic came to pass. If we look around us today, we will notice that the post-pandemic landscape bears similar markings to the pandemic landscape, at least in terms of the digital tools and conveniences we are now accustomed to using.
According to a recent study, Hospitality in 2025: Automated, Intelligent… and More Personal, 73% of guests are more likely to stay at a hotel that offers self-service technology, while 39% want to order room service from their phone or a chatbot. Furthermore, 65% of hoteliers said incorporating new technologies for staff best describes their strategy to weather labor shortages and attract new talent, and 96% of hospitality brands surveyed are investing in contactless technology. There is no denying it – across the industry, the spirit of tech adoption is alive and well amongst hoteliers and guests alike.
However, while new-age innovations remain integral in the post-pandemic landscape – especially for an industry like hospitality plagued with labor challenges – guests are also exhibiting a heightened appetite for what they were denied for so long: human interaction. To this effect, PwC revealed that 75% of survey respondents want more human interaction in the future, not less.
Achieving the Best of Both Worlds
“Brands racing to meet these shifting expectations are eagerly implementing digital solutions that promise efficiency and accuracy in an omnichannel environment,” shares an Inc Magazine article titled, ‘The Verdict Is In: Customer Service Isn’t Human Enough.’ “But this focus on digital transformation, while important, can often come at the expense of the all-too-important human touch that 75 percent of customers crave. Without it, more than half of your customers will rate their experience as poor, or worse.”
At the same time, it’s important to remember that channel preferences will vary across different demographics and groups. While some guests will opt for self-service, tech-driven touchpoints to pursue convenience or speed of service, others will seek human interaction and assistance. A recent study found that 64% of consumers prefer to engage associates over robots while shopping in-store, and 30% indicated they prefer using a retailer’s mobile app.
With this in mind, the hospitality brands most likely to connect meaningfully with their community are the ones that leverage a robust omnichannel experience. Hotel brands can use modern platforms that leverage automation to streamline workflows and guest touch-points to unlock a more experiential service approach. Unique experiences are, after all, at the heart of the travel and hospitality industry; technology simply gives hotels the operational edge they need to not only maintain brand standards with ease and empower customer interactions. The best part? Travelers around the globe are more motivated than ever to make up for lost time, which has translated to a significant post-pandemic surge in travel demand. To this effect, revenue in the travel & tourism market is projected to reach US$854 billion in 2023, with hotels noted as the market’s largest segment with a projected market volume of US$408 billion in 2023. It is now time for hotels to fortify their guest service approach, striking a calculated balance between tech-driven and human-driven elements.
The continued influence of technology isn’t a departure from hospitality. Rather, technology is the key to our industry getting back to hospitality and what matters most within our world: the guest. The demand for guest engagement remains alive and well, and technology can help hoteliers meet that demand. With the right technology, hoteliers can get back to basics and deliver a truly exceptional guest service model.