Towards a touchless experience in the hospitality industry

01 / 09 / 2020

Now hotels have reopened after lockdown, team members are welcoming their first guests after five months. In many cases, hotels have had to completely adapt their accommodation to ensure they are ‘COVID secure’, ensuring travellers feel safe.


Now hotels have reopened after lockdown, team members are welcoming their first guests after five months. Despite the relatively low risk in countries such as the UK, where the R number remains below 1, there is understandably a sense of caution when looking to stay away from home. Hotels have had to, in many cases, completely adapt their accommodation to ensure they are ‘COVID secure’, ensuring travellers feel safe. Not surprisingly, McKinsey recently highlighted that across all industries, levels of consumer concern for personal safety when interacting with companies are increasing. To combat this, most major chains have implemented something akin to hospital standards of hygiene. Implementing degrees of touchless experience perfectly complements this, and also offers protection to guests and staff.

One area of focus that has seen great change is cash payments. During the pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised people to use contactless technology instead of cash. Dalrymple and Dolan of McKinsey point out that for customers, handing over a credit card and receiving it back poses only a single risk. For employees, who may handle dozens of credit cards during a working day, the level of risk can look quite different. 

Recent developments in anti-viral screen protectors greatly simplify protecting customers. For example, in the UK, the rail company, MTR, who run the Elizabeth line, is evaluating their use on its ticket vending machines at Burnham Station, in a ground breaking “Proof of Concept” initiative. This technology is expected to be deployed widely across many different kiosk applications up and down the country, over the coming months.

Contactless card limits for on premise spending has been significantly increased in many countries, to cut the need for physical contact. While this is insufficient for many accommodation transactions, the increasing adoption of mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay, and mobile applications that feature Worldline’s Merchant Wallet, will drive significant increases in the use of high value contactless and open up huge possibilities for hotels.

Mastercard’s Craig Vosburg summarises the situation well by citing that COVID-19 will be “the most forceful catalyst we could have imagined” for changing consumer behaviour. Much has been written about the changes of consumer behaviour during this period, and whether this is set to remain. Some changes are due to necessity; physical stores being closed and so encouraging customers to go online. Or through behaviour encouraged by retailers; asking customers to use contactless payments over cash as a way of ensuring safety of employees. Some habits may well be hard to break. 

Just as contactless payment has accelerated the decline in the use of cash, so other forms of touchless experience will accelerate guest adoption of self-service check-in. In the return to business, hotels who will be the most successful will also offer some form of “touchless check in” and / or “touchless ordering” during a stay, delighting their guests. A key business goal should be solutions that deliver effective protection, end to end, to both customers and employees. 

Just prior to the lockdown, Mintel published research that showed that nearly 50% of travellers prefer checking in using a self-service kiosk over a reception desk. Britain’s most popular hotel chain, Premier Inn, has offered speedy check-in kiosks at its larger hotels for many years. This not only reduces the time it takes guests to check-in, and obtain a room key, but it also improves upsell and releases staff to welcome guests as they enter the hotel. As we adapt to a touch-free experience whilst shopping or receiving deliveries, it will become expected within the hospitality industry. 

Many restaurants for example are now table service only, with customers accessing the menu through a QR code. Whilst a native app would be of benefit to the business, to understand more about customer behaviour within a hotel setting, thought must be given to the customer experience. The value of downloading and effectively giving the hotel additional personal information needs to be clear to the customers. Expanding the capability of an app beyond check in, to reserving a table in a restaurant, and ordering food before entering the dining room are obvious examples. Creating a seamless payments experience has a direct customer boost. One large international chain has integrated the room key into their app, again creating a seamless customer experience and using digital capabilities to create a more secure experience. 

A touchless guest experience, along with being seen to take all the necessary steps to prevent infection, is the gold standard for reassuring travellers while the pandemic still presents risks. 

Before the pandemic, businesses focused on removing the pain points and friction associated with customer journeys, increase success, resulting in extra conversions. In its aftermath, this will be even more important, with a touch-free experience

Quite a bit more is required to rebuild healthy levels of repeat visits and high occupancy. Contactless can embrace the whole guest journey, from booking to check out. The best organisations will deploy it in a way that is personalised to their guests and delivered in it is own style and tone of voice. 

McKinsey summarise the opportunity well:

“Companies that can move toward human-centred service operations that reduce risks and improve safety—without compromising on their employee and customer experiences—will have the opportunity to emerge stronger and with justified loyalty as we reimagine the world around us in the next normal.”

Antonio Paradell

R&D Manager, Worldline Iberia
Toni Paradell has been working for Worldline since 2014. He is R&D Manager at the Mobile Competence Center of Worldline Iberia, where he is responsible for research and innovation initiatives, and coordinator of collaborative EU R&D projects.