COVID Insights, Perspectives 06.24.2020

The Hotel as a Digital Experience

Neil Andrew, Leader of our London studio's Hospitality Practice, explores how this is the right moment for the industry to adopt the digital experience

As we move past this stage of the pandemic and begin to resume travel, we can expect that social distancing rules will remain in place—even if we don’t. To meet the consumer demand for continued safety, hospitality must evolve. But the digitialisation of the hotel experience has historically been frowned upon, as the level of care and attention to detail provided by humans is hard to replace.

This hesitation may be overshadowed by the need to adapt. Although we are currently dealing with COVID-19, sustainability—in particular, climate change—is still high on the agenda. During lockdown we have become reliant on technology, and as a result, more trusting of it. Could the digital hotel experience be a solution that supports both a safer and more sustainable hospitality industry?

Loyalty through personalisation

We tend to rate our hotel experience, in large part, on customer service. Often, the more luxurious the hotel, the more personalised the service—beginning with the first interaction: hotel check-in. If you want to (literally) be welcomed into a hotel with open arms, a self-check in kiosk won’t cut it. (Though this hasn’t stopped some hotels from trying to combine digital and in-person experiences such as with these robot dinosaur concierges.)

But what if, the moment you walked through the door, the hotel already knew you? A sophisticated digital system could provide a highly personalised experience, from check-in to departure. After all, we see high-end tech as very luxurious when it comes to most other things. Not only could the hotel log your allergies, it could tailor in-room dining menus to your needs and suggest new options based on previous dining choices. Your room’s settings could be pre-set to your preferred environmental conditions, and the room itself could transform with digital artwork or personal photos depending on your mood.

The pros of minimalism

Minimal design lends itself to transformation, offering a blank canvas on which to overlay highly personalised settings and aesthetics. This already exists at virtual spas, where you might be immersed in a rainforest during your treatment or enveloped in light washes for chromatherapy. This escape from external stimuli can be both meditative and invigorating. Extending this virtual approach to the rest of the hotel has the potential to significantly elevate the guest experience.

We may need to reduce physical ornamentation for reasons more vital than a preference for the minimal aesthetic. When interiors are stripped back and there is less visual clutter, it will be easier to tell when surfaces are clean.  Additionally, as we run out of resources on a global level, people are more conscious of waste, so hotels spending money on unnecessary ornamentation might be a turn-off for the environmentally conscious traveller.

Invisible tech to improve guests’ well-being

Even as we emerge from the height of the pandemic, we will continue to be cautious about contact wherever we go. Contactless transactions are already used via phones in supermarkets, so implementing this system in hotels is an achievable means of instilling a greater sense of security. This could be extended throughout the hotel experience, with touchless controls for lifts, lighting, curtains, and temperature. Data collection could take this even further. For example, as a person opens their guestroom door, the room could identify where they have flown from and adjust the lighting accordingly to reduce jetlag.

Sleep is an important part of the hotel experience, and responsive technology that monitors body temperature, heart rate, and breathing could ensure you have the best night’s sleep. We now know the importance of measuring our temperature, so your room could potentially tell if you are unwell and notify property management. Where they are no doubt privacy concerns around these advances, there is also great potential from a well-being perspective.

Future entertainment and leisure

The hospitality industry is not just limited to hotels. Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs play an important role in a traveller’s experience—and that experience will be noticeably impacted by the continued 2-meter social distancing.

During lockdown we have digitally recreated the pub quiz, theatre trips, and wine tastings. Similarly, hotels can push the boundaries of in-room entertainment, creating immersive virtual experiences. Imagine a room mapped with images to transport guests to a diner on Route 66 when they order a cheeseburger for dinner. Or using VR headsets to take guests to a live music performance where they can party with other fans around the world.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a deep impact on the hospitality industry, which will be felt long after the lockdown lifts around the world. People are going to be cautious about traveling abroad, and there will be a heightened collective consciousness about cleanliness and human contact. However, this isn’t the end of the industry. Instead, these challenges introduce a vital opportunity for innovation and new ideas. Creative design thinking supported by high-end tech can ensure that the industry continues to provide fantastic experiences for all travellers.