The tourism and hospitality sector is one of Kenya’s most dynamic industries. Guests are nervous and concerned about health and safety, top quality customer service can no longer be achieved exclusively through in-person interactions or even to the degree that they are accustomed to, and many guests are choosing to stay home and not travel, meaning occupancy rates are at historic lows.
Covid – 19 has exposed a technology gap within the hotel industry, and for many, it’s time to sink or swim. Even after the pandemic has passed, a vaccine is successful and widely distributed, we reach herd immunity, or simply when travel normalizes to pre-pandemic numbers, the hotel industry may never look the same again. There is a definite need to look at how technology can be better and more effectively integrated.
While the needs and wants of guests are shifting, evolving and transforming at a dramatic pace, the hospitality industry also needs to keep up with the fast pace.
Observing how the hospitality industry has responded to fundamental change such as online distribution and the sharing economy, one can recognize four distinct stages. They can be labelled as ignore, rationalize, resist, and embrace. In the first stage, we simply do not recognize the changing realities and focus on our comfortable way of doing business. In stage two, we acknowledge a change in market dynamics and consumer behaviors but convince ourselves that they are a passing fad, which will not affect our industry in the long-run.
In stage three, we finally realize that the change is meaningful but attempt to impede it, often by lobbying the regulatory system and seeking the help of authorities to regain the competitive advantage, which more proactive disruptors have gained in the meantime. It is only in the fourth stage that the industry rises to the challenge, embraces the change and seeks solutions which help address the evolving needs. Years might be lost between the first and fourth stages, resulting in disruptive players taking on market share and eating into the value chain.
Today, we simply cannot afford this complacency. It is important that we do not waste our energy on the first three stages – and be continuously future- and change-ready. The key factor in this transition is that technology deployment and change management must place guest service as the primary consideration and end-goal.
Technology is a great enabler and has the power to fundamentally change the nature of guest experiences by removing friction points that are inherent in the guest journey. Friction points are touchpoints which frustrate guests as they imply repetitive activities which need to be completed time and again, stay after stay (such as setting up the room entertainment system or the gym equipment), waiting times (such as for a restaurant bill or queuing at the front desk).
While advances in technology help remove such friction points, it is also important to ensure that the transition leads to positive emotional links with the guests. This is more so because the ‘wow effect’ of any new technology is short lived – guests become accustomed to it very quickly. The real difference is made by the people, who have the ability to ‘wow’ guests time and time again – with their warm, attentive, personalized, solution-oriented approach. Technology can never replace humans in this context.
So, the challenge before us – as an industry – is in identifying how we can excel in both areas simultaneously; in short, ensuring that we draw on the capabilities of technology whilst keeping the warm personalized touch of human service.
In doing this, it is useful to differentiate between transactions (fulfilled by technology) and services (provided by humans). Transactions are touchpoints in the guest journey which need to be completed as efficiently and seamlessly as possible. This removes dissatisfaction but does not generate guest delight. Excelling at services creates that. Services enrich the guest journey, provide memorable moments and connect us to the guests emotionally. The tricky part is that the differentiation between the two is not always clear cut. It can vary by demographics and by travel purpose.
This is the time for us to fully leverage tech-advances such as the internet of things, near field communication so that we bring back the allure of hotels as providers of innovative and exceptional amenities and service standards. Collectively, we have a great opportunity to be a forceful, innovative industry. Let’s take on the task.
The writer is the Group Managing Director for PrideInn Hotels, Hasnain Noorani