It’s fair to say that the hospitality and travel sector was hit harder than perhaps any other by the pandemic - with only 55% occupancy rates for UK hotels, PwC reported the ‘bleakest outlook since benchmarking began’. Although the pent-up demand for travel is likely to kick in as vaccinations continue to be rolled out, it is likely that many vacations will become ‘staycations’. That’s because many popular international travel destinations are behind more affluent countries on vaccinations.
Hospitality, travel and tourism is one of the world’s largest and most important industries. It is the fourth largest employer in the UK and contributed around £28 billion to the country’s economy in 2019, about 10% of the country’s total GDP. With multiple lockdowns, travel bans and other forms of disruption, that number is likely to be far lower in 2020. And, we’ll only see it ticking up slightly in 2021, with everything depending on a full reopening of the UK economy over the summer - though a full recovery could take up to four years. Some of the changes brought on by the pandemic may be permanent: home working could mean that travelling for business is reduced by as much as 20%, for instance.
We’re still far from being out of the woods, however, even with half of the UK vaccinated. Hygiene is still a concern; social distancing measures are still in place and it could be years before businesses operate as they did in 2019. An underappreciated part of this is that several have found that systems put in place as a necessity during the pandemic, such as app-based ordering and self-service kiosks in the restaurant industry, are being embraced by customers and saving businesses money.
The hospitality sector needs to be doing everything it can to streamline and drive efficiencies, and payments play a significant role. The very best systems don’t just save travel and tourism companies processing fees for transactions, they enable more customers to pay in the way that suits them, more securely and with a greater rate of acceptance.
Key challenges for post-COVID travel and tourism
Throughout 2020 and much of 2021, the main challenge for the travel, tourism and hospitality industries was simply that many were not allowed to be open. During the two lockdowns many hotels were shuttered, and recreational travel ground to a halt. Now that tourism is returning, albeit tentatively, different challenges emerge.
Tourism and hospitality is already a highly digitised industry, with the vast majority of bookings now completed online rather than via phone or through travel agents. Digital check-ins via kiosks or mobile apps are available at many hotels, particularly if they are part of larger chains, but are still not standard, when the technology to use them much more widely exists. They have the advantage of not just freeing up staff time, but being far more hygienic – the long-term psychological effect on consumers is likely to be an increased emphasis on hygiene, particularly around flu seasons. Being able to present hotels as safe from infection will be key in helping customers get over their reticence to travel, and digital payments are one way to do this.
Similarly, the pandemic has driven the adoption of alternative payment methods (APMs) as contactless payments became more common, so it’s key that the tourism and hospitality industry keep up. Being able to accept payments from eWallets is crucial, for example with the rise in popularity of Alipay and WeChat pay in China, and PayTM in India. Without facilitating their acceptance, tourists from these countries and others risk being unable to pay the way they want, and the tourism industry needs to be assured that their payments will be accepted. Similarly, dynamic currency conversion (DCC) should be standard as it helps tourists from other countries to understand what they are paying and, ultimately, have a better experience on their trip.
Then of course there is the possibility for data to revolutionise the hospitality industry as it has done so many others. An individual leaves hundreds of data points during their time in a hotel, and these can be utilised to make changes, large or small, that drive profits. A modern payments system is again integral here, as it gives the ability to link data from other sections of the business directly to the company’s bottom line.
Following the pandemic and the consumer trends that are emerging as a result, there is a growing need for merchants to create a new user journey; one that will leverage all these experiences and be truly omnichannel will better satisfy their customers.
Full service omnichannel solutions to increase convenience and improve guest experience
The latest payments solutions on the market today offer a range of cloud-based payment capabilities, seamlessly integrated into the hotel’s property management system (PMS). And thanks to tokenization, such technology responds to all omnichannel requirements of a hotel.
It is these solutions that can play a big part in easing the payments process for hoteliers, with a single point of contact for all payment and integration services. This means that hotels are now able to enjoy greater convenience in key guest interactions and in having guests pay for their stay – benefiting from having all payment functions fully integrated into their central management system, creating a unique customer experience for their gusts.
Travel, tourism and hospitality after the pandemic
It is impossible to know what the pandemic will change for good while it is still happening all around us, but one thing we can say for certain is that everyday life is being more digitised and connected – this trend was happening long before COVID. Travel and hospitality have already taken great strides in digitisation, and when faced with a difficult economic terrain for the next few years they should be building upon the structures that are already there, particularly around payments, to ensure that they keep up with the wave of digitisation sweeping other industries.
To learn more, visit: www.worldline.com/hospitality-suite