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Technology Drives Hospitality’s Recovery by Enhancing the Human Touch

From contactless transactions to the seamless integration of artificial intelligence, technology is putting hotel and restaurant guests in control of their journeys, delivering a new level of hyper-personalization.


Robert Firpo-Cappiello

Editor-in-Chief, Hospitality Technology

The pandemic accelerated technology innovation for restaurants. As dining rooms closed, demand for restaurant meals — especially quick-service fare — remained high. As restaurants pivoted to off-premises (or “off-prem”) solutions such as curbside pickup, drive-thru, and delivery, technologies like mobile ordering, digital payments, and QR codes helped fuel a growth in transactional dining, satisfying guests’ desire for a hot, fresh meal at a good price.

The emergence of off-prem solutions has opened up two major avenues of revenue for restaurants. First, of course, is the opportunity to streamline processes like drive-thru via innovative tech that keeps lines moving and makes digital payments a breeze. The second is the opportunity to offer personalization on an unprecedented level. Thanks to all those contactless digital transactions over the past year, the local QSR most likely knows guests’ names and ordering preferences. Through AI-driven predictive data analytics, restaurants can offer favorite items, deals, and upsells in the digital environment.

Research from Hospitality Technology’s 2021 Customer Engagement Technology Study suggests that guests remain bullish on off-prem solutions — but their ultimate desire is not for bells and whistles, but for technology to help provide quality food delivered efficiently and at a good value.

Thinking beyond four walls

As challenging as the pandemic was for restaurants, hotels faced a different kind of existential crisis: off-prem solutions don’t exist for hotels. But technology does allow hotels to better conduct and compile health screenings, offer touchless check-in and other transactions, and accelerate the evolution of in-room entertainment and communications.

Now, as guests return to properties, hotels are poised to leverage emerging technologies such as voice activation, interactive smart TVs, and robotics to streamline operations and allow guests to drive their own experiences at their own pace. These solutions also allow hotels to think beyond their four walls by interacting with guests to provide food, retail, and entertainment opportunities, from ordering dinner or theater tickets from a voice assistant to browsing for new clothes on a smart TV.

Research from Hospitality Technology’s 2021 Lodging Technology Study demonstrates that hotel operators are responding to customers’ demand for technology. For example, a whopping 98 percent of hotel operators now offer or plan to offer free Wi-Fi. And a significant majority of hotel operators either offer or plan to offer mobile reservations, touchless payments, interactive guestroom TVs that can stream content from smartphones, two-way messaging, digital signage, and a “mobile room key” (an encrypted code that lives on a guest’s smartphone and can lock and unlock a hotel room). We expect hotel operators to continue reimagining the guest experience in response to growing demand.

Reinforcing hospitality’s core values

In all our recent research — surveying hotel and restaurant operators about their investment priorities and guests about their technology preferences — we note a desire to use technology to reinforce hospitality’s founding principles. We are, after all, a “people” business. Guests return to a restaurant for food they love and an experience that makes them feel welcome. Guests return to a hotel because it delivers comfort and value (which is now defined not only as “worth the money” but also as safe, convenient, and consistent with travelers’ intentions). A hospitality brand’s embrace of, say, touchless transactions or robotic room service is not intended to remove the human touch but rather to provide guests and staff with the time and space to focus on what our industry is all about: friends and family enjoying an exceptional shared experience.

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