Digital Experience – Impact of COVID-19 on the Hospitality Industry

Impact of COVID-19 on the Hospitality Industry: Serving the new anxious guests

COVID-19 has completely altered customer expectations in the Hospitality Industry. Customer’s behavior, their journeys and interactions are changing on an unprecedented scale. The Hospitality industry is struggling to align with the “new normal” and is at a point in time where it has never been easier to lose customers. While retaining customers has always been less expensive than acquiring new customers, the need to keep those trusted loyal customers has become an imperative for survival. There is a need for deeper connect and building trust-based relationships with the customers.

The new normal has led to the emergence of the “new anxious guest”. A recent qualitative study conducted by ITC Infotech’s Digital Design Studio team has found that frequent business travelers are anxious about their upcoming travel journeys. The study reveals their emerging needs and concerns around health and hygiene assurance, proof of safe and hygienic services, mindful consumption of services to prepare for the unexpected and an inclination towards discounted services and flexible booking options. Hotels that provide health and wellbeing related information and services such as contactless self-service options, flexible check-in times and immunity boosting menu options will become the preferred choice. The new anxious guest also wants tangible and intangible evidence of services such as COVID-free certified personnel for taxi services during stay, details of last time the room was sanitized, etc. In addition, the pandemic is driving growing uncertainty and guests want to be assured that the property will be able to maintain a supply of daily essential, safety kits, and other resources for a comfortable stay. Finally, the instability of the economy is aggressively shaping new asks. The anxious guests are worried that they may not be able to afford the comfort and luxury of hotels and therefore want flexible booking/ cancellation options and discounted services that allow them to continue using the hotels of their choice.

Some highlights from the research are shown below:The new anxious guest journey. Source: Re-building trust in the ‘new anxious guest’ is crucial for the survival of the Hospitality Industry, Digital Design Studio, ITC Infotech, 2020

In order to address these emerging needs and concerns of the anxious guest, loyalty programs can help to retain customers and measure behavior changes. A good place to start is with the most engaged customers by reaching and connecting with them to ease their anxieties and build trust. Hotels can use this learning to design the loyalty program. In this unprecedented scenario, pure transaction-based loyalty offerings are likely to fail. On the other hand, programs driven by analytics and led by experience are the key to address the most affected areas in the customer’s journey – health and safety and uncertainty and wealth. Offering contextual experiences based on real-time or near real-time data should be the basis for delighting the new anxious guest. For instance, using partnerships to offer benefits that can be redeemed before travel will be appreciated by the new anxious guest. These offers could include the purchase of daily essentials, home services and support, health consultations, etc. The daily and routine interaction with the guest will become a factor in re-establishing trust for the brand. Delivering experiences of fine dining at home can be a pleasant offering (chef curated meals, food delivery, recipe sharing, etc.) to reconnect guests with the brand experience. Re-defining the personalization and doing it rapidly with flexibility — like doubling points, extending point expiration dates, automatic monthly increments of the points, tier retention or upgrade even if the points requirement is not met and extending point expiry — are the types of actions that will work to retain customers.

Providing customers a chance to converse with the brand through next gen loyalty programs is a way of increasing brand engagement at various levels and building the emotional connect through an underlined approach of incentivizing data sharing and behavior. The next gen loyalty solution crafted by ITC Infotech is a combination of platform and services offering Smart Loyalty in the Hospitality segment. Based on intelligent platforms, Smart Loyalty enables hyper-personalization at scale and can help hotels to actively engage with their customers at various stages in their new normal journey. It combines the rich features of SessionM with ITC infotech’s expertise and accelerators to address the needs of the new anxious guest effortlessly. Our domain expertise, derived from two decades of meeting the technology needs of award-winning sister company ITC Hotels suggests that now is the right time to adopt a modern, integrated cloud-based loyalty solution that can amplify personalized engagement. It will minimize the impact of COVID-19 and put in place next gen loyalty solutions that will last long after the pandemic has abated.

To know more about how we have re-imagined this journey for new anxious guest, watch this video “ Guest Experience Design for Hospitality in the new normal – ITC Infotech”


Author:

Tarannum Bano
Service Design Consultant, Digital Design Studio, CX

Udita Chaturvedi
User Experience Consultant, Digital Design Studio, CX

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