Comment: The rise of digitisation in hospitality

Richie Santosdiaz discusses how the industry has embraced digital solutions as a result of COVID-19

Richie Santosdiaz
Richie Santosdiaz

Despite coronavirus appearing and disrupting much of our daily lives, there has been a general push of digitisation happening. No doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated that, which has been felt across all sectors. However, for industries such as hospitality how does that happen when the fundamentals require the need for contact to contact with people?

The restaurant industry is important for the global economy, as for example in the United States it employs around 10% of the total US workforce population. Also, the global hotel market is worth over US$500 billion. Clearly they are both important parts of the global economy. Therefore, the current market situation has forced the industry to revamp where possible in order to continue operating.

For example, the restaurant industry in the UAE has modified by focusing on delivery. In fact, it is not just delivery. Third-party online delivery apps like Zomato and Deliveroo have introduced contactless delivery; this is when the delivery driver maintains a safe social distance in delivering the food – from leaving it at one’s door to standing a certain distance upon delivery. There also has been a noticeable trend of highlighting hygienic practices and an emphasis on the protection of one’s food from cooking to delivery.

It is not the food that is being delivered but the experience that is truly innovative. Dubai, particularly known in much of the world for its brunch culture, has even started going online. For instance, McGettigans JLT in March launched an online brunch experience which the package that was delivered got a two-course meal and a mixer. Others such as Dubai’s Reform Social & Grill had an Easter-themed pub quiz, where a British roast was delivered to participants.

Although restaurants who can open have some avenue of operation, albeit still suffering, the hotel industry has its primary source of revenue generally from guests who stay there and due to global travel restrictions, that remains a challenge. However, it gives the industry much to reflect on with potential solutions not just to combat the current difficult situation but for the future in a post-COVID-19 world. Also similar reflections apply for the hospitality industry as a whole.

One avenue could be the customer experience, where when guests are allowed to return how does a contactless experience occur? It would have to be evaluated in all aspects of the customer experience journey – from check-in to check-out in hotels and for speaking to host/ess in a restaurant to leaving the establishment after paying the bill. Similar to what restaurants have, when they can, have had to adapt with delivery and the message of safety, this would be hospitality as a whole. The overall assurance that the establishment – whether hotel or restaurant – is perceived safe health-wise for patrons; digitalisation would indeed play a huge part in this.

And this trend of digitalisation as a whole has been happening before COVID-19. For instance, in the Middle East and Africa (MEA), currently one in nine payments at point of sale POS are contactless; Mastercard recorded a 200% growth of this in the region last year. In light of the current situation, the company increased limits of contactless CVM in the UAE by 66% to AED500 million.

Hopefully, once COVID-19 subsides, we can carry on with our lives. Despite having to adapt to difficult times, we have been resilient. Digitisation will most likely stay and further increase its influence and necessity across much of the supply chain in hospitality. 

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