Life & Style

Check in. Relax. But touch me not

The reception, for ages, has been an inevitable and arguably important part of our hotel stays. It is where we arrive to check in, request an extra blanket or complain about the TV remote. It is also our last point of contact before exiting the hotel. But the pandemic has changed this reception routine.

To reduce contact as much as possible, many hotels have introduced online check-ins, wherein guests can enter their room directly, bypassing reception. And, this is just one of the many disruptions guests witness in hotels during the pandemic.

As accommodations across the country slowly re-emerge after the lockdown, their main challenge is to ease the anxieties of their consumers.

A Pune-based IT employee Rajdeep Sen, 42, stays in hotels at least twice a year. “I will now avoid hotels at least until the vaccine is ready,” he says.

Hospitality brands are fast adopting digital technology to reduce contact.

Check in. Relax. But touch me not

Post-lockdown changes

When Bengaluru-based entrepreneur Arun S checked into The Residency hotel in Coimbatore, he had in his room an iPad with which he could customise the lighting, control the TV and the AC and order food.

“To an extent, it reduced my anxiety of interacting with people during these times.”

The Oberoi Group, apart from employing a similar technology, has introduced tent cards with QR codes across all their restaurants which allows diners to view menus on their phones.

Interestingly, The Residency and Oberoi implemented iPad-based technology before COVID-19.

The Residency’s chief operating officer Gopinath Balasundaram says, “We introduced it in some of our properties to provide a unique experience to our guests.” But what used to be a matter of convenience has now become an aspect of safety.

Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), the parent company of Taj hotels, has tightened its safety guidelines in all their hotels. Some of their post-lockdown changes include mandatory temperature checks for guests and staff, frequent cleaning of high-touch points like elevators and lobbies, suspension of self-serving buffets and reduction in the number of restaurant tables.

Vinay Deshpande, senior vice president and head of Digital & IT, IHCL, says, his team worked from mid-April to June to set up I-ZEST, a series of digital solutions to reduce contact, in over 20 hotels. It ranges from online check-ins/check-outs to digital menus for restaurants.

A digital key, wherein guests can open and lock their rooms with their phones, is to be launched soon.

Hilton Hotels and Resorts have already introduced digital keys in some of their properties. It has also partnered with Kipsu, a digital messaging app, to develop a chat service.

Check in. Relax. But touch me not

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“Some guests prefer texting over talking. So, with this, they can message their requests and orders,” says Ruban Das, general manager of Hilton Chennai. Est, the café in their property in Chennai, has tied up with a digital cataloguing company, DotPe.

“Its QR-based catalogue and e-commerce platform reduces contact. And, our customers within the city can bypass third-party food delivery apps and order from our café directly,” adds Das.

Breathe better

Chennai’s ITC Grand Chola, meanwhile, has invested in MERV-13 filters (generally used in hospitals) and ultraviolet air purifiers for indoor ventilation.

Zubin Songadwala, the hotel’s general manager, says the indoor air quality exceeds the standard set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). This apart, ITC Grand Chola also offers contactless check-ins and check-outs, QR Code-enabled menus and e-payment options.

Contactless communication

Rahul Salgia’s DigiValet, an iPad-based hospitality service provider, caters to over 30,000 luxury hotel rooms internationally. The company started its guest room services in 2008 with iPod touch. It is now used in hospitals, apartments and senior living communities.

Salgia is hopeful that even smaller hotels will show more interest in adopting tech that will reduce contact. He plans to create a new division of DigiValet, which would cater to non-luxury hotels.

In August, his company launched Thru, a cloud-based service that would allow guests to complete their check-in from their devices. “It can be implemented in any hotel in just one day using an online sign-up process. Hotels need not buy any additional hardware or software. Further, Thru comes with absolutely no adoption fee or any exorbitant capital layouts.”

More product and service providers, who can help hotels minimise contact, are likely to sprout in the next few years.

S Vaidhyaraman’s Chennai-based startup, Engauge, builds customised chatbots, which act as a virtual concierge. They aid guests in booking rooms, checking in/out, ordering food among other services. The chatbot’s built-in Google translate feature resolves language barriers too. Engauge initially targeted only luxury hotels. Before the pandemic, five such hotels in Chennai and Bengaluru were using their chatbots.

“There wasn’t a burning requirement for contactless communication before the pandemic. But now, when it’s a question of safety, we expect more hotels to use our technology,” says Vaidhyaraman. He says the number of enquiries for Engauge surged after the pandemic.

Hoteliers reckon it is tough to predict a return to pre-pandemic routines until the invention of the vaccine. But the question of going back to pre-COVID practices itself is perhaps redundant. Because the technologies many hotels have adopted are permanent. And they have most likely changed some aspects of hospitality forever.

Check in. Relax. But touch me not

Business not as usual

Hospitality is among the worst-hit sectors due to the COVID-19 pandemic across the world. The nation-wide lockdown in India brought the businesses of most hotels to an abrupt halt. With inter-State travel resuming, hotels are attracting guests, assuring them top-notch safety and hygiene. The recovery of their businesses, however, will be slow. According to a survey conducted in June by global property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle (headquartered in the US), 60% hotel operators believe that it would take up to two years for them to return to revenue per available room (RevPAR) levels of last year.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 8:58:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/as-guests-return-hotels-employ-digital-check-ins-e-menus-and-more/article32561334.ece

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