Hotels, airlines and trains have embraced technology to address traveler concerns during the coronavirus pandemic, and added cleanliness, mitigating the risk of contact with others and the effects of this technological transformation are likely to persist once a vaccine is available.
Businesses are cutting down on human contact to ensure safety of both employees and guests, and hotels and airlines are expected to pursue partnerships with tech companies to address safety issues that have come up during the pandemic.
To enjoy your stay
In Sitel Group’s recent report, “Customer Experience Trends in a Post-COVID-19 World,” CMO Martin Wilkinson-Brown addresses how technology is evolving the hotel industry.
“As we move into the ‘new normal’ and hotels reopen for business, the expectation for customer experience is higher than ever,” he writes. “Hotels that cater to these consumers’ needs will win brand loyalty as we embrace the new normal and for the long term.”
Electronic check-in and check-out apps to assist guests as well as keyless room entry via smartphone are rising technologies in the hotel segment. Hotels are also using phones and apps to keep guests informed about cleanliness, room service and amenities.
At certain locations, hotels are relying on infrared temperature readers to protect against the coronavirus during check-in. Other locations are taking advantage of cloud-based housekeeping systems to manage cleanliness and ensure guidelines and requirements are followed. Tech will also enable remote concierge services, including food and drink orders through mobile apps. Bots, meanwhile, provide contactless deliveries and check-in and check-out services. The Relay is one app that has seen a surge in demand to accomplish this goal. The Relay saves employees time to focus on other matters and allows guests to feel peace of mind, enabling communication for personalized in-room services and secure, reliable communication from guests, including in emergencies.
Another technology that has gained traction with hotels is XENEX. This device uses UV light to attack bacteria, disinfect rooms, and as a result, stop the spread of the coronavirus. The Westin Houston Medical Center broke new ground by taking advantage of XENEX, which is now used by Hilton, Marriot, and other hotel chains.
As for dining, hotels are using solutions like Maestro PMS and SilverWare POS, systems that provide contactless ordering and payment, including support for splitting checks, tipping and redeeming gift cards. In addition to offering safe conveniences for guests, these systems also allow hotels to track guests’ interests and capture their orders and preferences. According to a study by Criton, 48% of people surveyed said they’d be more inclined to go to a hotel restaurant if ordering food over an app was available.
In the air
Airlines are taking disinfecting to the next level with ultraviolet C (UV-C), which was previously primarily used in hospitals. UV-C is a wavelength that targets a virus’s DNA and RNA, kills it and prevents it from replicating. Cleaning in airports has also shifted. Pittsburgh International Airport is collaborating with local startup Carnegie Robotics to test autonomous cleaning robots. The bots use water pressure and chemical disinfectant to sanitize airport facilities. In response to the spread of the coronavirus, Carnegie Robotics installed the UV-C component as well.
“The traveling public loves them,” Pittsburgh International Airport CEO Christina Cassotis said in a National Geographic article. “The cleaning staff loves them because it lets them focus on other areas.” The robots, which are named after famous pilots, run for eight to 10 hours at a time.
Checking in for flights and boarding flights is changing as well.
Delta, Air France, and JetBlue started using the biometric boarding process before the pandemic, but there is now interest among other airlines in the technology.
“Existing technology will become more popular faster than expected,” said Andrew O’Connor, vice president of portfolio management at Sita, an airport technology company. “You can use your face without having to touch things as much.”
Trains across the world are embracing similar technology. Eurostar, for example, is using iProov, a biometric authentication to enable contactless travel from the UK to France. As a result, passengers are identified without a paper ticket or passport.
Certain airports and airlines are also checking passengers’ temperatures. Handheld thermometer wands are becoming increasingly more common at gates and security checkpoints, and airlines are now focusing more on thermal-screening cameras. These cameras detect heat emanating from a person’s body, confirming the core body departure. Airlines are asking the United States government for temperature screenings at more airports in the future.
Like hotels, airlines are embracing new apps. The CommonPass mobile app lets travelers share their COVID-19 test status before traveling internationally.
Last month, Cathay Pacific Airways started using CommonPass for flights between Hong Kong and Singapore. In the US, passengers who land at Newark Liberty International Airport from London’s Heathrow Airport can use the CommonPass health pass on United flights. Airline staff will confirm the COVID-19 results upon departure.
“Neither COVID testing nor vaccines are a silver bullet, in our view. However, the combination of rapid testing, vaccines and the CommonPass digital health pass could offer a way forward,” said Sandy Morris, an equity analyst at Jefferies, in an article on Fierce Healthcare. “The open question is how fast a digital solution like CommonPass can be deployed. Our guess is it will be rapid.”