What a difference a year makes. After hotel occupancy peaked at 62.2 percent last January, the onset of COVID-19 led to seven months of consecutive drops, bottoming out at 24.5 percent in April before stabilizing around 48 percent in October. Hotels have largely remained in operation during this bumpy ride thanks in part to investments made in new technology such as contactless communications, data analytics, and automated systems. Hotels are increasingly embracing innovation like never before as they search for new ways to operate, shedding outdated strategies in favor of what works.
Operators began 2020 providing a traditional hotel experience from check-in to check-out, but such a strategy was no longer applicable as guests prioritized social distancing and digital interactions became commonplace. Hoteliers were being forced to interact with travelers in new ways.
However, thanks to advanced property management and revenue optimization technology, as well as updated infrastructure supporting contactless stay experiences, hoteliers were able to remain in operation at a time when occupancy reached an all-time low and staff sizes were reduced to skeleton crews. As is common in eras of uncertainty and innovation, hoteliers who use these tools to emerge from this period will be capable of operating more efficiently using fewer resources. In order to do so, these leaders have had to adapt to the shifting climate taking place within every aspect of hotel operations, from guest interactions to procurement and assigning tasks.
Front Desk Shake Up

The front desk, once the epicenter of the hotel and the primary connection between operators and guests, has seen its prominence diminished within a few short months. In its place, guests check in using mobile devices and communicate with operators over email, chat apps, or SMS. Avoiding the front desk has never been easier.
Such a pillar of hospitality would not have been so readily replaced if guests had not already been looking for an alternative. Mobile check-in and contactless hotel interactions have had a significant influence on hotel bookings throughout the past business cycle. Today providing a contactless experience is a matter of safety, but generally speaking, an increasing number of  guests prefer to skip queues at the front desk out of convenience.
The hotel check-in process has been due for a refresh, as some guests’ distaste for queuing on arrival was apparent long before COVID’s appearance. The main goal of technology in this area today is to help dissipate crowds in the lobby and mitigate any unnecessary instances of face-to-face contact between guests and staff/employees, but this technology is also helping cut down on the number of activities hotel staff are forced to undertake. By reducing the number of guests hotel associates have to manually check in, hotels are able to remain operating with fewer hands on deck and without compromising the guest experience.
On top of this, digital interactions with guests continue to yield unique insights that may never have been acquired if the check-in process remained static. Research shows that consumers tend to be more honest when interacting with businesses via text when compared to direct contact, meaning there are real, actionable insights to be gained from the conversations that take place through direct messages between operators and guests that may not have been acquired otherwise. These new technology focused customer touchpoints provide greater opportunities to pinpoint provocative trends in guest behaviors and preferences as consumer data continues to appreciate in value.
This technology’s ability to alleviate labor costs has always been attractive to operators, as well. With fewer hands on deck, every associates’ utility and value have been elevated. It is the operators’ responsibility to increase communication with associates as their roles continue to take on additional requirements, and the need for all employees to move around the property becomes more important and purposeful. Technology is making it immediately possible to fulfil these needs.
Revenue Revolution
Reducing costs outside of labor has also taken precedence, which is why revenue managers are having a bigger impact than ever on a hotel's bottom line. The increased importance of margin management and the need to uncover new revenue-generating opportunities has elevated revenue managers beyond their current role. Today's revenue managers must step outside of their comfort zone to become leaders within their organization in order to help push hotels toward revenue and profit optimization.
Twelve months ago, hotels may have been able to compete without access to comprehensive data analytics and automated revenue management tools. Today operators are increasingly forced to adapt to the unexpected, and the rate of change is accelerating. It is more important than ever for hoteliers to understand the value of every corner of the hotel, from room rates to specific amenities, allowing revenue leaders to make split decisions that impact multiple areas of operations at once.
But there is hope. Using modern communications and analytics technology, hotels can remain competitive and even succeed in down markets—and remain well-prepared for the recovery period to come. The lessons of past cycles were not wasted, and the industry has achieved more technologically over the past few months compared to just a few years ago.
Hospitality has changed, but so has the rest of the world. Hoteliers who are resolved to continue adapting to the new reality of what hospitality is in 2021 and beyond will seek access to more precise, effective tools than ever used in this space before. Technology’s presence in hospitality continues to grow by leaps and bounds in preparation for the tide that will eventually turn. I am hopeful this past year of great change will now give way to a new year of great potential.