By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky

Will we ever see the day when hotels no longer have a front desk? It depends on the brand, of course. But coming out of the pandemic, there’s no denying that guest behavior has changed and some prefer to forego the check-in and check-out process. The key for today is flexibility while still implementing systems that let you ‘future proof’ your property.

To get more insights into this transition as we enter a strong travel recovery phase, we connected with Robert Stevenson, CEO at INTELITY, to get a sense of the current state of mobile app solutions and what hotels should be aware of when shifting to a mobile-first hospitality experience.

“Some of us have been reluctant to allow travelers to do it all from their mobile devices – check-in, out, room keys, concierge, service requests and so on – because the sentiment is that it’s removing the human element from the service equation,” noted Stevenson. “At INTELITY, we see it as the exact opposite. By offering a fast, seamless mobile app you’re giving guests what they want right now. Then with full support from GEMS (our proprietary Guest Experience Management System), service delivery improves dramatically from all the enhanced back-of-house connections.”

The big uptick in preference for mobile check-in, check-out, digital concierge and mobile keys cannot to be attributed solely to fear of COVID-19 transmission and aiming for contactless everything. Instead, blame it on home-sharing platforms. As more and more travelers from all demographics come to accept the experiences offered by these alternate lodging providers as the norm, the more all travelers will come to expect the same service offerings from traditional hotels.

In fact, most brand-facing elements of the home-sharing experience are completed via the guest’s phone. Communications are handled entirely through the app including the check-in, keyless (or another form of) entry instructions and special requests. More often than not, the guest never even meets the host in the flesh! And seldom does a short-term rental customer ever complain about the lack of a formal check-in at the front desk; no front desk means no waiting in line and more convenience.

Eliminating Transactional Conversations

“As we’ve seen from our latest onboarding of the CIVILIAN Hotel in New York, leading brands are embracing how a mobile-first hotel can boost the guest experience because, amongst other reasons, staff are freed from lots of minute tasks, making service delivery faster and more accurate. The assumption that the personal connection gets lost with all this digital expediency is flawed,” continued Stevenson. “We aren’t eliminating the rapport-building aspect, but only the ‘transactional conversations’ – this term recently popularized to describe the types of in-person interactions not wanted by guests.”

The distinction between the ‘transactional’ aspects of service and the rapport-building or ‘human’ elements becomes wholly evident when you see the results. You can quantify the inconvenience for the guest and the inefficiency for the business of these transactional conversations by comparing satisfaction scores, brand loyalty, costs of associate turnover and ancillary revenue capture whereby guests spend more with the property due to the frictionless nature of a branded app.

Particularly for the current labor crisis in hospitality, consider these three other benefits:

1. Less time needed for some of the tedious aspects of the job, increasing productivity elsewhere while also allowing associates to spend more ‘quality time’ in a less harried state with guests

2. Heightened motivation due to the more nonrepetitive nature of each frontline role, resulting in reduced staff churn and ‘presenteeism’ where employees are physically present but disengaged

3. Ability to maintain service standards and amenity offerings with fewer associates overall, which is critical for rapid upswings in occupancy like during travel recovery scenarios

Part of a Future-Proofed Solution

With the above hopefully dispelling the worry of losing the personal touch, the next big consternation is that all these upgrades will soon be out of fashion in favor of the next big thing in hospitality. Closing out the conversation with Stevenson, we talked about what hoteliers should do to ‘future proof’ their properties – to build a tech stack that meets current needs and is pliable for upcoming ones, too.

Here are some features and functions to consider when upgrading your systems:

•  Convenience matters most to guests and they will always gravitate to brands that create as frictionless an experience as possible, especially by eliminating the transactional elements

•  With no end in sight for the current labor shortage, automation and AI-based tools must be continually rolled out to enhance service without simultaneously increasing the burden on staff or managers

•  Integration flexibility via open APIs (application programming interfaces) and available SDKs (software development kits) so that you can keep building bridges between different systems to heighten communications and merge data tables for better analytics and personalization

•  With the trend toward total revenue per guest (TRevPAR instead of RevPAR), the ability for software to increase packaging, upselling and cross-selling becomes instrumental

•  Embedded tools to reinforce branding (such as white-labeled yet customizable apps), continue the relationship post-stay and to incentivize loyalty program adoption by augmenting, or even gamifying, the rewards available to guests

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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry or Adam directly.