By Koen Vanpraet, Group CEO, PXP Financial (www.pxpfinancial.com)
The hospitality industry continues to be heavily impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.While bars and restaurants are opening back up, many have been forced to rethink how they approach their services. This was not only to be in- line with government regulations though, but it was also to adapt to the changing desires of customers who hoped to reduce person-to- person contact and placed a higher priority on hygiene and social distancing.To keep customers coming back, changes had to be made.
In the payments industry, this can be easily seen through the huge rise in cashless transactions made due to fear that physical cash might carry diseases. Shortly after lockdown began, Square performed research into the number of businesses who were effectively cashless (with cash payments making up less than 5% of all transactions) and found that in the UK, pre-COVID it was only 10% but after the pandemic hit this number rose to an incredible 60%.Then in late 2020, McKinsey found that the use of cash globally decreased four to five times the annual expected decrease in cash usage, based on trends from over the past few years.
As the UK came to the end of its national lockdown on the 12th April 2021 hospitality businesses across the UK have begun to reopen.While hospitality establishments have prepped for an influx of customers, eager to simply get out the house, eat out (and do not do the washing up!), this doesn’t mean that everything will go back to the way it was in early- 2020.The customer’s desire for a touchless hospitality experience have not simply gone away and so as the industry reopens, it is imperative that businesses in the sector are implementing flexible payment strategies that ensure customers can pay, while also remaining safe.
USE TECHNOLOGY TO SUPPORT A TOUCHLESS MEAL OUT
Under restrictions orchestrated by the UK government, many bars and restaurants were quick to innovate with digital solutions that helped them maintain social distancing.The use of contactless payments increased as some venues took up a policy to not except any forms of physical payments.Then there was a digital implementation of table services and app-based ordering, utilising the customers smart phones and internet connection or QR codes to make orders.This all fed into delivering a touchless experience that kept customers safe and this should be retained even post lockdown as an option for consumers.
The same can be shown on the payments front.There are now numerous mobile platforms that can facilitate both the ordering of food and the payment process.This had the advantage of not only encouraging contactless but also allowed the industry to offer multiple payment options for patrons.As more people manage their lives with a smart- phone, the adoption of online and cashless payments was inevitable and under COVID-19, it was essential. Customers expect this now and so having this option available post-COVID is a must for any hospitality business coming out of lockdown.
HOTEL CHECK-IN – QUICK, EASY AND SIMPLE
The situation is a little more complicated for hotels. While many of the changes above can be used for restaurants facilities, typically the customer touch points can often be literal touch points and that makes them more complicated to make contactless payments. However, with the right digital technology in place, hotels opening this year can do so while reducing the need for physical contact with guests.
Pay by Link is one example of a tool that has been tested under COVID restrictions to support a touch-free check-in.The tool allows hotel staff to create and send customised payment links directly to a customer’s inbox so that they can pay using digital payments.This not only reduces the need for face-to-face transactions, but it also means check-in can happen before the guest even sets off for the trip so that as soon as they arrive, they can head straight to their rooms, digital key on their smartphone in hand.Then, when they are ready to check-out they don’t have to drop anything at the counter, it can all be handled through a digital application which speeds up and streamlines the entire process.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with traditional methods of customer service, COVID is still a concern for many and so finding a way to meet customer needs while maintaining contactless and social distancing is vitally important.This way, the hospitality industry can pro- vide its guests a pleasant holiday experience while still maintaining a more hygienic customer service.
THE KEY TO SUCCESS LIES IN DIGITISATION
The key to surviving under COVID-19 in the hospitality industry is to digitise numerous customer services. Now that more businesses are getting the chance to reopen after over a year, it is imperative to have these changes already in place to find success. COVID-19 has changed what customers expect and want from their hospitality experience and it will not be reverting to pre-COVID conditions just because restrictions have lessened. As your hospitality business emerges from lockdown and re- opens, ensure you have digital options available, to ensure you can offer your customers the convenient and safe touch free experience that they will expect.