You would think that delivering a contactless experience for hotel guests would be no more difficult than for airline passengers. The reality is that technology used in hotels makes it far more complex to deliver a contactless solution at scale.
The challenge starts at the booking process. The first issue is recognizing the guest and his/her needs. Travelers are encouraged to add loyalty numbers to airline bookings, regardless of the booking channel. Providing additional information, like passport number or government pre-screening IDs reduce queuing for airline passengers, so these are often provided before arrival. All of this information helps airlines recognize their customers faster. With hotels, online travel agencies obfuscate as much information as possible to retain ownership over the customer. Pseudo-emails are provided in place of real addresses; no other form of ID is provided. Further, hotels do not know when the guest is arriving.
The next issue is that hotels, unlike airlines, do not always require payment in advance of arrival. This means that hotels have to additionally collect payment methods for the room nights, applicable taxes and ancillary services. Sometimes payment for room nights is made at check-in and other times after departure. Regardless, hotels have to be prepared to learn much more about the guest during the arrival process.
This makes the pre-arrival stage the most important in the contactless journey. Hotels have to use the little and inconsistent data that is provided by the numerous booking channels to try to engage with the guest. To further complicate matters, the system of record for reservations at most hotels on arrival date is the property management system. This system is often running in the hotel and does not offer a consolidated view for a hotel group. Therefore, pre-arrival messaging is usually initiated at each hotel in a group. To further complicate matters, hotel groups might use multiple property management system providers and/or versions in their hotels.
Once the guest is engaged via email, text, or chat, the hotel needs to confirm the identity of the guest, capture personal details, arrival time, and payment information. For this, the first step is payment authorization. This is a challenge online because credit card companies charge higher fees when the credit card is not swiped by the hotel, and credit card companies typically also make it easier to have a chargeback approved as well when the card is not presented. Confirming identity with ID verification tools and facial recognition is becoming far easier thanks to advances in technology in these fields. Delivering the identity and payment data the other items mentioned above securely from guest to the system in the hotel is no small feat. As mentioned, the systems that need to receive the data are generally housed in the hotels and are often from different providers.
The last step is room assignment. Here again, this process is much more complex than seat selection. For starters, guests always disembark at the end of a flight making the seat ready for the next passenger at a prescribed time. Hotel guests leave at different times or sometimes do not leave at all. This makes the room selection process a dynamic process on arrival date. For these reasons, this process is done manually behind the scenes, but the push is to make this more dynamic and guest driven to enable upsell.
The actual check-in process is next. This really involves understanding that the room is available, performing a “check in” event in the PMS and issuing a room key. To check on the room and perform the check-in, the mobile experience again needs to connect to the property management system in the hotel. Getting a room key is another challenge. A long list of lock system providers each have their protocols for producing physical or mobile keys. Of course, hotel groups do not have great consistency on these systems. Similar to the PMS issue, this makes orchestrating the process from a mobile app all the more challenging. These are challenges that airlines simply do not need to contend with.
The Stay and Departure
The stay itself brings a long list of “touch” points for the guest that are challenging to make contactless, from the elevator to the room controls to guest communications. We will not delve into this facet of the journey because it is enough for another article and instead go straight to the departure. The guest needs to be presented a bill and allow settlement. The guest is also invited to provide feedback. While this is the simplest step, it is still a step that airlines do not need to consider.
Hotels definitely have a harder time creating a contactless or mobile guest experience, largely because of their system architecture. There are ways to mitigate these challenges. Creating a single point of contact for these systems is a great answer. Rather than connect to each hotel, it is far simpler to have one place to connect. Hotels can move their property management system to an enterprise level Cloud solution. Another more cost-effective, agile solution is to add a layer to existing systems that glues them together. This type of solution involves orchestrating all of the system’s calls to the property based systems. To make this perform reliably, however, another step is required. Looking for data in each of the property systems makes searching unreasonable. To solve this, it is best to synchronize the data from all of the property systems and then use their APIs to submit updates.
Data Travel is delivering this solution with the Hapi Cloud Data Hub. This cloud enables the legacy premise-based property management systems and enables hotel companies to deliver solutions that rival or exceed the experience that airlines can deliver on mobile today. In doing so, hotels will be able to deploy new solutions quickly and cost effectively.