The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world with the brute force equivalent of a sudden tsunami flooding onto a lonesome beach.
For the most part of the past year, a worldwide shutdown was in place to try to contain and minimise the collateral damage in human lives brought upon by the pandemic. Even today, most countries are adopting a policy of localised lockdowns to combat the virus’ second or third waves!
Beyond health and life concerns, the pandemic also gutted the world economy in unprecedented ways. Out of the multiple industries in play, the travel and hospitality industry—comprising hotels, airports, and tourism centers—was hit the worst. The pandemic lay ruin to one of the largest industries in the world—bringing air travel to a sudden halt and converting lively hotels and tourism centers into desolate graveyards for months on a stretch!
Talking in numbers, it is estimated that COVID-19 led to losses worth 492 billion USD to the US travel industry alone. The European tourism industry is expected to slow down as well, going down from $211.97 billion in 2019 to $124 billion in 2020. Further, the pandemic has also led to multiple cold layoffs across various verticals within the travel industry—approximately 121 million jobs (out of the total 330 million jobs) were predicted to be lost in 2020!
Still reeling from the pandemic, the travel industry is slowly getting back on its feet.
Although it is still plagued by multiple issues such as recurrent infection waves, local lockdowns, and changing air bridge agreements, the travel industry is already reopening in partial capacities.
It is imperative for hoteliers to evaluate their options and plan their strategy, keeping in mind the huge structural changes of the post-pandemic era, including the evolving behavioural shifts in customer demands and expectations.
Considering this, the travel industry needs to adopt cutting-edge technological innovations to fasten its revival process. As per consumer surveys, 72% of the customers were likely to return to a hotel if they had the kind of tech-led services they expected. In the post-pandemic world, minimal physical touch and contactless services have become an automatic expectation from any hospitality service.
This is where cloud-based solutions can ignite the revival spark for the travel industry.
Increasing the accessibility to customers
Currently, only 7% of the total accommodation facilities (~1 million) worldwide are available online for real-time listing and availability checks, property reviews, and booking purposes. The remaining ~14 million accommodations suffered from the basic issues of discovery and accessibility, with their reach limited to local markets and managed by on-ground travel agents or simply ‘word of mouth’. This presents a lost opportunity for the hotels and customers alike.
No online presence for these 14 million accommodations has several implications:
- Manually managed pricing rates,
- No real-time visibility into availability,
- No instant or last-minute bookings
This also means that the customers shall resort to book their accommodation with properties that are available online, leading to poor choice owing to limited visibility, lack of information, and convenience. In the absence of relevant solutions, these properties shall miss out on the revival train in the digital post-pandemic era.
So, what’s the solution? Simply, properties need to strive for an online presence—whether through their own hosted web domains or through a popular aggregator such as booking.com—and to be able to do so, it is essential to integrate their internal booking, availability, and payment systems and project them online via the appropriate cloud solutions. This will lead to seamless integration of the entire customer journey, from availability check to booking to payment to grievance redressal to checkout.
Improving the stay experience for guests
Once the guests start streaming into the various properties post the pandemic, they shall expect a better and safer experience whilst staying over at any accommodation.
One of the salient features that would be expected in the perusal of hotel services shall be minimal contact with the helping staff or instead with any surface. The adoption of IoT-based and cloud-based devices can resolve this issue.
The idea of IoT revolves around the fact that all devices within the hotel premises, such as lights, thermostats, air conditioners, etc., can be remotely connected, controlled, and monitored. Further, the incorporation of voice assistants such as Google, Alexa or Siri, can enable the guests to control these devices in their rooms using their voice alone.
Imagine walking into your room and controlling the basic aspects of your room simply by saying it out loud. (Fancy yourself playing God?) You can turn on or off the lights, turn down the temperature, or call up room service without touching a single surface.
Further, cloud services can also enable quicker and easier communication with the property staff through apps such as Whatsapp (or similar custom apps), allowing the customers to get their grievances addressed at a particular portal.
Optimising the maintenance efforts on property
We have already discussed the ease of access and control accorded to guests by incorporating IoT and cloud-based devices within the premises, including lights, TVs, thermostats, etc.
However, there is another advantage to these technological additions, which is equally impactful, considering properties need to be constantly maintained to ensure the maximum comfort of the guests.
The ability to control and monitor IoT devices also allows the hotel management to allocate tasks to the responsible staff member remotely and thus, streamlines the entire coordination task for housekeeping. Further, the monitoring levels can enforce the required health and sanitary standards, thus ensuring that the staff is always compliant.
Finally, it also allows the staff to monitor the performance of various devices installed on the premises. The system can be configured to send out an alert to the staff in the case of wear and tear, or any major repairs, which can be done immediately then.
Offering new opportunities to customers
Post the pandemic; most experts believe that international travel shall be viewed with some caution and business travel shall reduce. This can be a strong disadvantage to the tourism industry and will make it difficult for travellers to visit new places as well. In this scenario, the travel industry can look at some technological alternatives to defuse the situation.
One of the buzzwords of today’s world buzzwords is the AR/VR technology, which allows the user to immerse themselves in a realistic and interactive yet virtual environment.
The travel industry can utilise this technology and introduce the concept of ‘virtual travel’—customers can enter into beautiful but virtual worlds where they can move around, interact with the flora and fauna in the simulation, discover and explore new areas and experience various stimuli through audio and video tools. Similar to what a traveller can do in a new location.
The integration of AR/VR tools with cloud communication tools such as video or messaging apps or VoIP devices can allow the customers to engage in virtual travel while being in constant touch with their company or friends, or family.
There are various avenues to be explored with this option—hosting virtual world tours, including both the modern-day as well as ancient heritage places; partnering with retailers to allow a virtual shopping tour with actual purchases being fulfilled through home delivery and cloud payment methods; and touring realtor properties to experience the property before buying/renting it. The possibilities are endless.
Wrapping it up
A new normal has been established in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the post-pandemic travel experience needs to be revamped from level zero to match guest expectations of safety and health. In the absence of these standards, it would be almost impossible to refuel the revival of the travel industry.
We have already discussed how the incorporation of cloud solutions can be a significant factor driving this revival. The adoption of digital tools shall give the travel firms an edge over their competitors by providing a positive customer experience.
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