Point of View

Survival is on the line for travel and hospitality, and emerging tech is the silver lining

January 29, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact has been profound and far-reaching in travel and hospitality, with executives in these sectors having relatively lower confidence about emerging opportunities and rebounding quickly from the pandemic (see Exhibit 1). As lockdown mandates slowly relax, digital innovation is required to survive and thrive.

Exhibit 1: Survival is on the line for travel and hospitality firms

Sample: 27 travel and hospitality executives, 400 total executives

Source: HFS Research with Infosys, 2020

Recovery signs for the travel and hospitality industry across different markets are starting to show as economies open, particularly in the APAC region. Slowly, countries are opening their borders and international travel is becoming possible, making the key mandates for hotels and airlines to make travelers feel safe and make experiences as seamless as possible. Given the massive disruption to many travel and hospitality value chain elements, particularly in areas such as reservations and refund processing (see Exhibit 2), companies are keen to rethink and reimagine the processes that were disrupted at the onset of the pandemic. Key to recovery will be digital innovations focused on emerging technology, such as the use of digital associates to make reservations, mobility patterns to manage visitor flows, artificial intelligence, IoT, 5G, and gamification.

Exhibit 2: Significant to moderate disruption is rampant across the travel and hospitality value chain

Sample: 27 travel and hospitality executives

Source: HFS Research with Infosys, 2020

COVID-19 has accelerated innovation and digital transformation in the travel and hospitality sector

COVID-19 has forced travel and hospitality firms to innovate and embrace new ideas, many of which have now elevated customer safety as a key part of the experience. Exhibit 3 shows a few examples of changes that companies are making in response to the pandemic’s disruption.

Exhibit 3: Travel and hospitality firms are innovating to serve customers

Innovation areasExamples
Touchless experienceHotel, airports, and many travel and hospitality companies are providing touchless experiences.

Japan Airlines is using touchless check-in kiosks at Tokyo Haneda Airport.

Japan Airlines equipped the new kiosks with touchless sensors, allowing customers to complete the check-in process without touching the screen.

Customer loyaltyLuxury hotels are adding private flights in package to attract guests. Of course, flying privately does not eliminate all risks, but it does decrease the risk to a great extent.

Some examples include:

Caldera House, Wyoming

Four Seasons Resort Lanai, Hawaii

The Lake House on Canandaigua, New York

The Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort, Bahamas

Camera analyticsZensors convert existing CCTV cameras into visual sensors without additional hardware to provide vital data and analytics to facilitate critical business decisions, optimize operations, or improve the customer experience. Zensors can help automate some of the key processes around social distancing and crowd management.
Marketing and advertisingCrowne Plaza Greater Noida recently launched a Virtual Reality Experience Centre that allows users to indulge in a computer-generated virtual environment that can be explored and interacted with per the client’s requirements. Crowne Plaza adopted the technology to enhance sales and distribution outreach to a new customer base while allowing clients to experience the hotel from any location.
Experience optimizationFour Points by Sheraton Mahabalipuram Resort and Convention Center equipped itself to offer services such as a virtual tour of the property through video for bookings, QR code scan for sanitization process and to check the menu, an online payment option, room key sanitization at the reception desk, and in-room dining.
Autonomous baggage tugRobotics companies are coming forward with various use cases, such as an automated baggage handling system. Juvo is building an end-to-end automated baggage handling system that will improve productivity, improve safety, and reduce labor costs for airlines and ground handlers.
Real-time data and analyticsSingapore Tourism Analytics Network (STAN) is one of the best examples of real-time data analysis for travel and hospitality. STAN can give tourism players statistics and profiles of incoming passengers, surveys on customer experiences, and up-to-date spending and revenue data.
Safety and hygiene standardsTravel and hospitality firms are looking toward technologies that support hygiene standards and safety for travelers in hotels, airports, and planes. With social distancing as a new normal, we expect a rise in mobile technology usage. Developing mobile apps is one way to to assist the passenger journey beyond checking for infection symptoms. Firms are also revisiting their marketing strategy and messaging to display transparency and proactiveness in response to COVID-19.

Source: HFS Research

Many other personalized experiences can be enabled by innovating business models and using emerging technology.  Some other potential trends on the horizon include facial recognition for hotel or flight check-ins, voice-controlled hotel rooms, robots and chatbots to play different roles in assisting travelers, wearables for access across golf clubs, hotels, and paying fees, and AR/VR for virtual experiences and marketing campaigns.

The Bottom Line: Travel and hospitality firms must embrace emerging technology and innovate to stay competitive

The future of the travel and hospitality sector is dependent on customer hyper-personalization with health security measures; this behooves these companies to go digital for both customer experience and safety.   The emerging technologies outlined above can help support long-term strategies for travel and hospitality companies to improve overall resilience and competitiveness. Emerging from the crisis will be “travel and hospitality 2.0,” a moniker to reflect the new, innovative culture that travel and hospitality firms have had to embrace to pivot and stay relevant to their customers.

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