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As we prepare for a New Year, amid another national lockdown, it’s hard not to wonder what 2021 will hold for the hospitality industry after a chaotic 2020.

Let’s go over some things you can do and start thinking about now to maximise customer experience and profits in 2021.

On a business level, the pandemic’s impacts have reached every industry in the world, with the hospitality industry taking a historic hit. Many hotels find themselves empty as they look to fill the once full lobbies and rooms.

2020’s impact on the hospitality industry

Before we look forward to planning a successful future, it’s useful to reflect on the past and remember it so we can learn from it.

Some of the factors that led to an unprecedented 2020 for the hospitality industry include:

  • COVID-19 forced the world’s economy to shut down almost overnight
  • Governments around the globe-imposed Lockdowns which instantly led to hospitality businesses closing.
  • Hospitality businesses pivoted to delivery and click-and-collect. Click and Collect is you make purchases online and pick up orders rather than having it delivered.
  • Implemented social distancing and reduced their maximum occupancy down.
  • Adapted new technologies like apps where consumers can order from their phone to eat in, deliver, click, and collect.

What did the hospitality industry do in 2020?

The pandemic forced hospitality businesses to evolve its technology foundation. As Shu Showdury explains both in outsourcing to marketplaces and buying direct ordering technologies.

Additionally, restaurant operators found themselves on the frontlines of testing public safety procedures. Many of which were technology-based, including contactless transactions, temperature checks, curbside service, and virtual menus.

Hospitality businesses have made significant changes to their operations in the COVID-19 business environment. All with a focus of ensuring staff and customers’ health and safety. In addition, these extra measures are focused on enhancing the willingness of customers to patronise their businesses.

COVID-19’s impact on the hospitality industry

The ever-expanding global tourism industry was one of the main factors behind the hospitality industry’s growth before the COVID-19 outbreak. Sadly, COVID-19 stopped that train in its tracks.

The coronavirus’ impact on the hospitality industry is enormous and not yet predictable, for both revenue and supply chains.

Decisions made to close restaurants, hotels, theme parks, cinemas, leading to a full disruptive effect of the travel ecosystem, are all significantly impacting worldwide tourism and hospitality.

In 2020, businesses in the hospitality industry had to undergo an accelerated digital transformation. We saw businesses utilising digital technologies to meet customer and business demands did really well. Creating new or modifying business processes, culture, and customer experiences we actually saw some operations reporting best-ever months.

Restaurant operators who pivoted quickly and leveraged technology were able to produce new customer channels to stimulate revenue. Making the most of online ordering, delivery, meal kits, etc., to help work with already razor-thin margins.

Restaurant operators have been forced to evolve their technology infrastructure both in terms of outsourcing to marketplaces, as well as purchasing direct ordering technologies.

SHU CHOWDHURY – HTTPS://WWW.FORBES.COM/SITES/CINDYBRZOSTOWSKI/2020/10/23/A-RESTAURANT-OPERATIONS-EXPERT-SHARES-INDUSTRY-INSIGHTS–PREDICTIONS-IN-LIGHT-OF-THE-PANDEMIC/

What do experts predict for 2021?

As the coronavirus causes an unprecedented disturbance to the hospitality industry, it’s clear to see we have entered unchartered territory regarding mapping a post-pandemic recovery.

Some experts predict it will take roughly three years for hotel demand to bounce back to 2019 levels.

Governments must play a leading role in saving the hospitality industry. The U.K. is among many European governments promising aid tallying millions of euros towards rescuing all types of businesses hit by COVID-19.

Hotels that rely on large groups and conventions will be slow to pick up as meeting attendees get reacclimated to being part of large groups again. But, it’s not all bad news for the hospitality industry; destinations with outdoor amenities like beaches and mountains are already experiencing a high influx from pent-up demand.

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Drive-to locations are also experiencing increased occupancy levels.

For those that pivot and integrate new technologies, 2021 could bounce back better than expected. There is evidence that people are eager to get back out, socialise and share experiences with each other. It’s worth remembering that there is often an economic mini-boom after such traumatic events. Even after the Spanish flu, the world saw consumers spending more.

How will technology play a part in helping?

With such massive impacts, the hospitality industry will have to learn to operate in a way not seen before.

The current global situation is forcing hospitality operators to re-think the traditional hospitality business model. Now, there is a shift of focus to safety, cleanliness, and social distancing protocols. This trend will continue long after the current COVID-19 crisis ends. Now, it’s up to hospitality managers to adapt in order to survive. Technology is vital to adjust to the new normal.

The good news is that technology can also help the hospitality industry recoup some of the lost profits caused by the global pandemic. IT-systems have replaced humans in many hospitality operations areas, enabling them to lower costs in areas like recruitment, salaries, tax, and introduce programs to help keep employees motivated through the chaos.

Consumer Apps are going to be big in the hospitality industry

One of the most exciting and promising growths comes from consumer apps. These are apps that consumers download on to their phone for your venue, group or organisation. On the app, the consumer can generally receive personalised messages and notifications. They can also see your menu and order from it. That order can be for on-premises or delivery. These are just a few of the many features the consumer benefits from you. From hospitality businesses, it drives loyalty and experience, both of which lead to increased profits.

Hospitality consumer apps are essential because it has never been more critical to send your clients the right message at the right time. Sending personalised notifications and messages with exciting and relevant details, as well as updates and information on COVID policies and cleaning standards, will allow you to gain customer information and even upsell additional features or products while also educating the customer and providing some peace of mind.

Customers will be looking to feel safe and like they are not jeopardising their family’s health when they travel or go to a restaurant. By sending personalised messages and outlining your company’s COVID-19 policies and cleanliness measures, you will give your customers satisfaction and peace. In turn, this will allow them to enjoy themselves and return to your establishment, tell their friends about your excellent service, and even stay a night or two longer at your hotel or order dessert at your restaurant.

For Hoteliers, another vital technology feature allows you to interact with “soon to arrive” customers, acquainting them on how they can make their stay more memorable and comfortable, and requests for comments on their experience for guests who have just left.

Let AI Chat bots help in hotels

To save on human resources customers will be able to get attention from Artificial Intelligence (AI) based chatbots. Instead of a guest calling reception, Hotel AI Chatbots can answer questions about the hotel services and provide quick answers instantly. While chatbots can answer all the standard questions, in-depth or more complex service requests are transferred to the department responsible for fulfilling them.

The pandemic has taken a toll on economies around the world, and it is our prerogative as technology innovators to find ways to apply AI-based solutions for positive growth and recovery. No matter how big or small a business, we want to make Conversational AI accessible for everyone by encouraging greater adoption and usage. With our WhatsApp Business virtual assistants, every business will have an opportunity to strengthen business-facing engagement. Conversational AI has the power to redefine brand conversations by providing personalized and immersive experiences to achieve employee and customer satisfaction and loyalty

RAGHU RAVINUTALA, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, YELLOW MESSENGER

Most in the hospitality industry know about contactless solutions but it’s worth remembering

Contactless solutions have already become irreplaceable within the hospitality industry, and it will continue this way when the pandemic ends. The new generation of customers will have used technology and mobile phones from their childhood, so their priority will be access to services without any human contact or too many clicks.

Web registration and mobile check-in will make every step in the process quick and straightforward, with little delay or wait time. These solutions also dismiss concerns about safety and hygiene at a hotel, for both staff and guests.

Receiving payment via a bank link, which the hotel sends to the guest after making a reservation as a payment link, is another element of the booking sequence that can be incorporated. The front-desk can use mobile solutions for guest interaction, and there are web-based reservation options for all in-house services.

While things likely won’t be back to normal for a few years, hospitality managers need to make some simple adjustments, namely getting technology to help to provide the best experience for customers while still capitalising on profits during the new normal.

What are the next steps you could take to create a better 2021:

  1. Complete a technology audit and review – Have you got the right technological infrastructure needed to succeed?
  2. Create a company-wide plan with attainable and realistic OKR’s
  3. Increase team communication and help everyone get their mindset in a positive place again
  4. Keep an eye out for government support packages
  5. Start to remember how to pro-actively develop the business and not just fight fires all the time.