Planning for recovery: 5 trends to watch in travel and hospitality’s new normal
Previously, we have discussed how organizations have been stabilizing operations by aggressively optimizing costs, leveraging technology to support remote working, contact centers and ensuring both workforces and customers are safe. This is a complex and involved situation: ensuring maintaining a viable business, whilst balancing people and services, especially without a clear view of how and when customers will return.
This will be ongoing, but organizations will be looking at global trends and early indicators of the nature and scale of recovery and what form this could take. In this context everything is likely to change. It is a reality that the nature of travel will change, with simplified passenger experiences, fewer flight options, less choice for customers and increased costs, with less available income. This level of change will mean that organizations will need to look differently at customers and their organizational structure. They will need the ability to quickly react to regulatory change, customer confidence and offer richer customer experiences, with fewer resources. It is also expected that recovery will not be linear as there is the risk of growth and then further contraction in markets, so this business flexibility will become a necessity.
In this context of continuous change, understanding your customer’s changing desires and needs will be fundamental to planning next steps. The Amazon working backwards process is useful here, as understanding the changing customer persona and their needs and desires will be the differentiator moving forwards, enabling organizations to determine what will be the important focus areas. The customer perspectives and priorities will have changed after different durations of lock down. Personal health and safety and security will be critical but also richness of experiences, prioritizing on what is essential. This will be interesting, particularly if you consider business travelers, with long term established relationships. If these have still been maintained remotely, with increased productivity by more focused working days, then the approach to face to face meetings could significantly change. If business traveler confidence is reduced then this will significantly impact the initial recovery trends.
Another critical consideration is how organizations will restructure post recovery. It is a unique situation, that such large numbers of staff have been unable to work. This is resulting in major enforced organizational changes at significant scale and in aggressive timeframes. Dealing with people is at the heart of this transformation. By necessity this will enforce leaner, smaller teams with reduced governance, quicker decision-making processes with early feedback loops, and focusing on operational efficiency. As organizations evaluate their business objectives and priorities, they will need successful mechanisms to prioritize critical products that can be brought to market cost effectively.
In this environment there are many external factors that will significantly influence the change in customer behavior. However, technology will have a critical part to play in transforming the end-to-end customer experience, with new enforced business processes and enhanced data to drive customer confidence. These are 5 trends to consider in the new normal:
Reenvisaging the end-to-end customer experience with increased biometric controls may become the norm. Use of voice and video to drive a contactless experience along with contact tracing may become more prominent. Voice will be used more extensively for information exchange and controls, with image recognition being adopted more widely to automate registration, check-in and moving through security areas.
The active use of this technology is important as organizations establish new working practices and interactions with customers. For example, when checking in to a hotel, a customer would receive a notification alert of the deep cleaning of a room. They can confirm and check in on a mobile device, identifying luggage and arrival method, which then provides the virtual room key. Once activated, any access to the room is notified to the customer. On arriving at a hotel, for example in a car, the concierge would have the customer details automatically from the registration. The luggage would be removed from the car and then the customer moves to an allocated car parking space, with no direct interaction. They can then move through large open reception areas which will track arrival by camera. On entering the lift requesting the floor by voice and contactless scan of the mobile device will enable access to the room. This is a very simple scenario, but identifying every touch point of the journey and looking at how security and access controls can be contactless and provide a rich interactive customer experience. This will be similar when considering the arrival at an airport, from parking through check-in, border controls through to boarding. How will airlines and airports collaborate to provide a rich, integrated contactless experience? In a previous blog post we highlighted how Elenium, built on AWS, has developed contactless check in and health screening kiosks at airports leveraging several AWS services including Amazon Rekognition. We expect to see measure such as this gain interest across travel, hospitality and beyond.
The extension of edge computing, with rich Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning models running video analysis on cameras, use of natural language processing for rich normal voice customer interactions, will need a different approach to implementing technology. This is not just large-scale centralized compute and storage but leveraging and managing sophisticated, edge devices. This personalized, customer sentiment driven experience will extend the personality of your organization, as the voices and exchanges will become an integrated extension of your brand image.
This is building on experiences such as Amazon Go for a no contact checkout experience or for example, leveraging AWS AI Services and the use of voice. This is becoming a more familiar experience, that customers are becoming used to, with the growth and adoption of devices such as Amazon Echo and services such as Amazon Lex.
Remote Flexible Working
Working remotely and flexibly for extended periods, is in some cases, demonstrating increased productivity and improved work-life balance. Swapping the daily commute for home working will be accelerated, with other areas of growth such as fitness activities and integrated online/offline experiences. It is expected that where possible, all roles will support some form of flexible working, from a few days a week to full time.
This will see the need for more flexible, integrated communication solutions for voice and video with increased use of remote workstations. AWS offers remote work and learning solutions which include remote desktops and applications, tools for communication and collaboration and contact center solutions that can quickly be deployed at global scale. Organizations have quickly leveraged services such as Amazon Workspaces, Amazon Connect and Amazon Appstream 2.0. This is more than ensuring high quality video cameras, microphones and networking. It extends working best practices into the home office. Managing federated teams requires different techniques to ensure inclusion, motivation, managing isolation and a balanced work schedule to prevent burn out. This requires different collaboration and management best practices. Looking to large scale organizations such as Amazon, with large federated teams can not only show techniques and practices in this space, but also the different techniques, for both remote and on-premise workers across the supply chain.
This also extends the skills to more online broadcasting e.g. the virtual town hall. Skills for collaborating, producing and broadcasting events at scale will develop and extend these typically small teams or outsourced skills for organizations. Suddenly video production, editing and broadcasting skills will have a much wider demand and importance across teams. This then extends further into how to successfully manage and run collaborative meetings, with shared documents, virtual whiteboards, evaluating feedback in real time to provide a true interactive experience. This is where industries such as gaming, can demonstrate techniques for large-scale collaboration offering complex and rich user experience environments.
Having capable secure, scalable solutions that need minimal bandwidth and simple low maintenance hardware will be key in providing low cost secure home working environments.
Social Distancing and Working Practices
As organizations focus on recovery, balancing customer and employee confidence, regulatory controls and government tracking and management of future outbreaks will have to be navigated. There will be a demand to implement capable social distancing and safe working practices.
This will put an emphasis on not only implementing new best practices, but demonstrating the actual adherence and management of non-compliance. All of these processes will drive requirements to store even more large quantities of data, such as video and compliance reports. Securely ingesting, storing, analyzing and visualizing this data at scale will require aggregation of disparate data sources in data lakes with mechanisms for securely exchanging information. Another example is image processing that will be able to determine an individual’s temperature from heat sensitive cameras or that the appropriate personal protection equipment is being worn correctly and social distancing rules are being followed, with real time detection and image tracking that can be applied in the work place.
It is anticipated trends in wearable technology will also accelerate with IoT, for example more sophisticated proximity detectors for young children would alert the wearer when they are too close to other non-household contacts. These types of techniques will help enforce and educate individuals on new socially compliant behaviors.
The provision of a level of automated compliance will enable organizations to demonstrate that they are complying with new regulatory policies. Publishing real time automated safety and compliance results will enable organizations to demonstrate safety processes and accelerate consumer and employee confidence.
More Delivery / Pickup
During recent times, new business models have evolved rapidly, with organizations creating new takeaway, pickup and delivery models overnight. Having flexible, scalable, low cost solutions enable these business models to grow quickly and service demand. Organizations will need to spin up and run secure, scalable services and mobile applications. We recently shared how LRS, built on AWS and best known for its restaurant pager technology quickly pivoted to help restaurants deploy curbside delivery and pickup. Examples such as ordering your favorite meal from a restaurant, having it delivered with instructions, will lead to growth in the virtual restaurant as dining experiences are transformed. Interacting with your virtual waiter and Sommelier to guide menu choices, dynamically changing, based on real time availability, will continue to revolutionize the digital menu experience.
Interest in delivery is likely to spill over into the hotel space as well as customers become more accustom to online ordering and comfortable with the safety of these services. The “new normal” may accelerate the shift from room service to each individual guest getting food delivered. Hotels may need to start planning for their lobbies to be filled with 5-10 delivery companies at a time dropping off food. How does the front desk handle the security and process of coordinating the delivery of all these orders? For larger hotels, managing this via their operational systems may become a job in itself, as they may rely on data-driven business analytics insights to determine if they should be offering food options themselves – and if so when and what kind. Business intelligence services such as Amazon Quicksight can help provide organizations with the information they need to make these difficult decisions.
Managing the significant logistics of proactively managing demand forecasting, staffing and optimizing delivery times will become the additional challenges for smaller outlets, as an extension of the core customer offerings. This will all have to be achieved with low operational overheads. This introduces interesting challenges, such as a typical traditional restaurant has control over the timing and number of guests, this natural throttle is now removed, so how will this transition be managed? For starters, machine learning services such as Amazon SageMaker can be leveraged to help optimize planning and operations for considerations such as delivery routes and organization, while AWS Auto Scaling can help meet spikes in demand while optimizing performance and costs.
This business model, although not new, will extend from the larger chains to incorporate the smaller outlets, driving more choice and competition for customers. This blending of traditional and digital native organizations will continue to be a growing trend as the boundaries become more blurred.
A common underlying theme across all trends will be productive use of data to quickly enable data driven decisions, optimizing all aspects of an organization. This timely, accurate availability of data will underpin all valuable business decision making.
A key area of focus will be really leveraging insights from disparate data sources. Many organizations have excellent historical data and patterns and behaviors of customers. Although still useful data sources, organizations will have to look at more advanced analytical solutions to understand future changes in customer behavior. Analytical skills will need to be more sophisticated and dynamic to determine, new trends and behaviors. This is where solutions using machine learning techniques such as reinforcement learning to build more sophisticated complex models to learn against market factors, to react in real time, will be future differentiators.
Recently there have been several public data sources, such as the AWS public data lake for analysis of COVID-19, seeded by data from sources such as Johns Hopkins, The New York Times and over 45,000 research articles. These many sources are enabling visualization of search trends by country and region, market sentiments by sector, confidence indexes and data from public health organizations. They are great market indicators, but organizations will need to augment these with their own internal system data. For example, tracking specific destination searches for routes can give an indicator of a destination and tracking the change in behavior to a change in customer sentiment from global public government announcements. These early warning indicators and real time market dashboards, can help organizations plan more effectively how and when they return people and services based on demand, whilst still being compliant with the latest official guidelines. This will lead to real time tracking, forecasting, anomalous behavior indicators with systems that can learn these new trends and patterns to provide dynamic responses to market conditions. And when the time comes to drive demand, Amazon Personalize can help identify the best offer or message for each individual and Amazon Pinpoint can help deliver that offer or message at the right time and in the right way.
The criteria for technology adoption may have changed but this will still need to be balanced with ensuring that bias and fairness are applied and measured accurately in all of the many solutions and trends. Working with proven, experienced technology partners will support this future recovery moving forward.
This level of global social change is unprecedented, the situation always evolving and the solutions complex. But organizations that focus on their people and the customer, by managing costs, efficiency and innovating at pace will navigate this uncertain future. While no one has all the answers, I hope this has provided food for thought on what the future may hold and get you thinking about what you can do to make your company more resilient. For more ways AWS can help address these and other trends, visit aws.com/travel.