Expert’s Voice: How contactless technology is transforming the hospitality industry forever

by | 11 Jun 2021 | Opinions, People

Hotels must adapt to the fact that US consumers are increasingly embracing contactless technology, argues Liesl Smith, senior vice president of marketing at FreedomPay.

Living our lives in a pandemic is challenging us all right now and no more so than folks in the travel and leisure sector. We are seeing businesses of all sizes forced to pivot their operations not only to survive, but to cater to the changing needs of their guests.

Prior to the global pandemic, millions of Americans were steps behind the global commerce ecosystem when it came to payment technology – making purchases via card swipe, chip-and-pin entry, and even writing personal cheques. A 2018 study by AT Kearney found that US contactless acceptance was at just 3%, while the UK was at 65%, and South Korea had a massive 98% acceptance. Digital wallets and contactless payments existed as huge opportunities for growth but were not as widely accepted across the US.

As a Brit living and working in the US, it was clear to me on arrival in 2018 how the payment process was so much stickier than in Europe, where cheques and card swipes were not the norm.

I’d often walk into a store, gas station or venue in Philadelphia or New York City and not know what payment experience I would have at checkout. In fact, the merchants had no idea whether their payment hardware was contactless / touchless-enabled or even how to identify a contactless / tap-to-pay symbol, and it was surprising to me as someone working in fintech that most of the merchants didn’t really care about my experience as ‘ms consumer’.

Fast-forward to 2021, and we’ve experienced a seismic shift towards online, touchless and contactless commerce across the nation. Merchants are much more aware of the changing needs of the consumer.

Certainly, Covid19 acted as a catalyst for this change, the push for a faster, more secure customer experience. The new normal in the US is now a payment experience far more convenient and faster than the last – and I suspect there is no going back.

It is, therefore, unsurprising to see a significant adoption of touchless commerce and contactless solutions across the US. Consumers have become heavily reliant on the internet, and online consumption is accelerating rapidly. A recent study by McKinsey revealed how US ecommerce penetration has seen ten years’ growth in just three months.

In our recent white paper, ‘The American Payment Revolution: Next Level Commerce’, we outline commerce changes and opportunities across sectors, including hospitality, where guests now expect to have control over their experience from booking to check-in to payment.

Here’s how hotels can leverage contactless technology to enhance the guest experience:

Contactless check-in and checkout

When first arriving at a resort, many hotels have now implemented contactless check-in. Guests can now let the hotelier know they’ve arrived through an app and some can even generate a mobile room key. When checking out, guests can review charges and make any final payments through an app or web link. It is even now possible to check-in and checkout without any human face-to-face contact.

Amenity access

When it comes to resort amenities, new apps have emerged that allow guests to book seats at the pool or beach, or reserve a spa appointment, all completed via a smart device. This gives the guest complete control over access to the amenity sites while ensuring proper social distancing.

Enhanced customer experience

With in-app capabilities, guests now have full control over their stay. For example, they can add late checkout, provide room preferences, and add extras to their stay.

Customised loyalty

Through innovative technology, hotels can use their guest’s data to push loyalty and rewards in real time. They can encourage their guests to dine in by sending a 10% off restaurant coupon or fill seats at the pool by providing one free chair with every booking.

Most industries have been hit hard economically, including the hospitality industry, which has suffered one of its toughest years on record and is arguably the most challenged vertical when it comes to enacting Covid19 safety protocols. There is no doubt that implementing new, smarter commerce technology will become the norm as guests’ higher expectations demand not only safety and security, but also frictionless and highly customised experiences.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared on the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business website.

Liesl Smith
Liesl Smith

Senior vice president of marketing at FreedomPay

Apart from being senior vice president of marketing at FreedomPay, Liesl Smith also happens to be a member of the Center for Hospitality Research corporate advisory board. She is responsible for driving strategy for launching new products, creating brand awareness and relationship-building.

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