The hospitality sector covers everything from bars, coffee shops, contract catering, hotels, nightclubs, visitor attractions and other leisure venues. The sector is a major contributor to the UK economy, employing 2.9 million people and generating £130bn in economic activity, while paying £38bn in taxation to fund important local and national services. Hospitality is the 3rd largest private sector employer in the UK; double the size of financial services and bigger than automotive, pharmaceuticals and aerospace combined. We take a look at the impact of COVID-19 and AV innovations that could improve chances of hospitality venues re-opening.
Decisions being taken to shut down hotels, restaurants, theme parks, cinemas, not to mention the entire disruptive effect of the travel ecosystem, all have a significant impact on worldwide tourism. Operators and investors are trying to mitigate the cash and working capital issues and stay in close contact with their stakeholders.
Hospitality has certainly pulled its weight throughout the pandemic, for example by making their venues available for hospital beds and hospital employees. The situation we are in also brings new business models and opportunities, in defining for instance new delivery concepts, human capital sharing platforms, initiatives in promoting the “staycation or holistay concept” and the use of the less productive time to work on activities that were normally pushed forward like asset counts, security plans, defining standard operating procedures, social media plans etc.
Despite unfavourable comparisons by government between reopening pubs and schools, generally the reopening of hospitality great news. There are over 207,000 eating venues in England, and around 25% of these are fast-food outlets. Aside from the social benefits, there are also significant pluses to the nation. According to the British Beer and Pub Association, around 8.5 billion pints of beer were sold, with 7.4 billion 175ml glasses of wine, and 1.2 billion pints of cider in the UK in 2018. Beer has 54 pence of duty per pint. There are around 2530 breweries in the UK.
The UK industry paid around £41bn in tax in 2015; around half of this is VAT. The tax paid in 2014 was around £7bn higher than that paid in 2010. Overseas visitor spending in the UK (not including international students) is reckoned to be around £22bn. The UK tourist industry is the 8th largest tourism destination in the world. In 2014 there were around 30 million overseas visitors to the UK.
Slackening the lockdown
Given the importance of the sector to the economy it was welcome news. in the middle of last month, that further elements of the hospitality sector in England would be permitted to reopen. Indoor theatres, music and performance venues will be able to reopen with socially distanced audiences. Wedding receptions in the form of a sit-down meal in a COVID-secure location for up to 30 guests were also be permitted. Indoor soft play, bowling alleys, skating rinks, spas and casinos were also permitted to reopen.
The trade body UKHospitality reiterated its concern over the lack of a plan for the reopening of nightclubs, but it welcomed the launch of Hotel Support Programme scheme. UKHospitality Executive Director for Scotland Willie Macleod said: “The opening of the Hotel Support Programme is a welcome boost for the sector and a positive sign of intent from the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government consulted closely with UKHospitality on the design of the scheme to ensure it focuses on the businesses that need help the most and to encourage as wide as possible participation.
“Rents are still a huge issue for many businesses, notably casual dining, and we are going to need both fiscal and non-fiscal support to get through the crisis, probably in the form of a grant combined with a further extension of the moratorium on lease irritation. The business rates holiday and VAT cut both need to be extended and businesses will need help if they are expected to hire and retain workers following the end of the furlough arrangement for staff at the end of October”.
“Additionally, there are still sections of the hospitality sector, such as wedding venues, nightclubs, music venues and event centres still unable to open. We need a clear roadmap for the reopening of these and support where they are unable to reopen.”
For those regions of the UK and sectors within hospitality unable to take advantage of public funding schemes. Accounts Deloitte recommend a number of measures to preserve the integrity of hospitality businesses. These are:
- Draw up an extended cash flow forecast for the next six months. Be realistic and have Base and Downside scenarios to understand critical cash points and any breaches of lending covenants.
- For operators: manage your payments to suppliers.
- Minimize all discretionary operational and capital expenditure. Reconsider or postpone maintenance and other capital expenditure where possible to conserve cash.
- Put in place an advanced revenue management system and pricing models to respond to market developments quickly.
- Talk to your operators to discuss their expectations about the impact on performance.
- For operators: assess the impact on Occupancy and RevPAR and create a plan to mitigate risk.
- Understand if the loss will be permanent or just delayed. For investors, understand the impact on the operating fees.
Naturally, advice from the likes of Deloitte, will not be welcome by the AV channel – particularly when the full economic impact of the decline in hospitality is considered. The total economic impact of the hospitality industry. Adding together the direct, indirect and induced impacts described above gives the total economic contribution of the hospitality industry. The total gross value-added contribution to GDP from the hospitality industry is estimated to have been £143 billion in 2014 [Oxford Economics]. This is equivalent to ten per cent of UK GDP. For every £1 million the hospitality industry contributes to GDP itself, it creates another £1.5 million elsewhere in the UK economy.
Ironic, then, when a number of AV innovations have the potential to open up sectors within the hospitality sector. For example, keeping staff and visitors safe is undoubtedly the priority in an industry which supported a total of 4.6 million jobs in 2014, through either its own activities, supply-chain spending, or the induced expenditure of employees and those in its supply chain. This equates to 14 per cent of total employment in the UK. For every ten direct jobs the industry creates another six are created elsewhere in the UK economy.
For example, hotel industry finds itself scrambling to inspire consumer confidence while also working hard to safeguard both guests and employees against COVID-19. The virus has unquestionably accelerated the infusion of new technologies and applications into hotel operations. Tech features that might have originally been intended for introduction as novelties or extra conveniences are suddenly becoming necessities in an era where some people are wary of even stepping outside their doors.
The role of AV
Protocols like mask-wearing, hand-sanitizing and social distancing are being accepted as new norms, and tactics for keeping people apart while continuing to conduct business (i.e., “touch-free” or “contactless” solutions) are the order of the day.
From replacing tangible restaurant menus and paper in-room compendiums with scannable QR codes to contactless hotel check-in capabilities, mobile room keys, touchless payments, and in-app ordering and appointments-booking, almost every aspect of the hospitality experience can now be accessed through guests’ own mobile devices, provided that hotels have adopted the right software.
Customer-facing tech tools are being deployed to provide remote access to front-desk, concierge and customer-service functions through chatbots or live-chats with on-property staff, putting immediate assistance straight into guests’ hands without the need to come face-to-face with hotel employees.
Cloud-based IoT (Internet of Things) software also can be just as essential to running back-of-house functions and streamline operational complexities like coordinating housekeeping systems, assigning staff duties and confirming compliance with newly enhanced cleanliness standards.
Besides employing mobile and self-service technologies to help personalize guest stays and provide cost-effective management of operations, amid COVID-19, incorporating this kind of cutting-edge tech has quickly become paramount for hotels just to stay in business.
In the Sitel Group’s recent report: ‘Customer Experience Trends in a Post-COVID-19 World’, CMO Martin Wilkinson-Brown wrote: “As we move into the ‘new normal’ and hotels reopen for business, the expectation for customer experience is higher than ever.” He foresees that moving forward, guests will expect enhanced tools like live-agent or AI-powered support channels, and personalized communications, not to mention heightened hygiene standards. “Hotels that cater to these consumers’ needs will win brand loyalty as we embrace the new normal and for the long term,” he predicts.
Below, we look at some of the innovations that might deliver on these requirements without enhancing the risks of infection among staff or quests.
COVID-related AV technologies
FaceMe from Cyberlink
‘FaceMe’ product from Cyberlink – said to be one of the world’s most accurate facial-recognition engines – has added new features that are designed specifically to help businesses in reopening amid COVID-19 conditions. These include mask-detection, which can still identify individuals while they’re wearing masks, and help alert management when someone enters the premises without a mask or is wearing it improperly; and thermal-camera integration, as distanced temperature-taking protocols are fast becoming a commonly accepted practice in the post-pandemic era.
In detail, the FaceMe Health software solution integrates mask detection, authentication and temperature measurement into one platform. The solution is designed for a range of facilities, many of which are considered to be on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19, including commercial buildings and factory plants, retail storefronts, restaurants and hotels, as well as institutional locations such as hospitals, schools and airports.
With many facilities reopening, often they require individuals to pass through monitored checkpoints prior to entry to ensure they are wearing a mask and not running a fever. FaceMe Health automates what is typically a cumbersome process, seamlessly screening individuals to verify their identity, if they are wearing a mask and if they potentially have a fever. If an individual is not wearing a mask, not wearing a mask properly, or has an unusually high temperature, the system automatically notifies key personnel for further investigation – creating a cost-effective, non-intrusive solution for more efficient health screening as the globe battles to contain the coronavirus.
Studies have shown that mask wearing substantially reduces the transmission of COVID-19, but face masks render most identity verification systems useless. FaceMe Health is designed to perform identity authentication with up to 95 percent accuracy, even when a face is obscured with a mask and regardless of mask type, angle or demographic. CyberLink’s new screening tool is also designed to identify false positives, such as inappropriately wearing a mask or trying to “fool” the system by covering one’s nose and mouth with their hand.
Kastus coating technology
The Covid-19 virus outbreak has changed the world’s attitude towards hygiene and especially shared touch surfaces. This is our new normal. Hard surfaces such as touchscreens have been identified as part of the cross-contamination problem. Irish company Kastus have launched a new range of commercial antimicrobial and antiviral screen protectors as businesses worldwide seek for a proven solution to help better protect their touchscreen devices against harmful bacteria and viruses.
The patented Kastus coating technology is built into the screen protector surface and offers ‘always on’ double protection for touch screens upgraded with this new innovation. Not only has Kastus tech been independently proven to be effective against Human Coronavirus on treated surfaces, it also blocks up to 99.99%² of surface bacteria such as SA and E. coli.
This screen protector innovation is easy to retrofit on existing touch screens and enables businesses and their consumers to interact with extra peace of mind. The new tempered glass screen protectors provide enhanced protection on any touchscreen device, making it suitable for a wide range of sectors, as Kastus Founder and CEO, John Browne, explains:
“The Coronavirus pandemic has changed how every business across the world interacts with their customers. Now more than ever, consumers and business owners are concerned about the transmission of germs and viruses through touchscreen devices. Businesses are actively seeking solutions that can provide enhanced hygiene and safety to their customers as they reopen their doors and fight to remain open in uncertain economic times.
“These screen protectors are designed to help better protect consumer and staff using Self-Service Kiosks and other shared touchscreen devices in everyday places such as, grocery and convenience stores, Quick Service Restaurants, retail, travel, hospitality, healthcare, and banking. Kastus are recognised experts in Antimicrobial & Antiviral coating technology since 2014 and we are currently working with a host of global brands to help enhance their current estate of touchscreens”
The new Kastus screen protectors can be made to order in sizes from 4” to 34” diameter and are easy to retrofit to any existing touchscreen instore, it’s the same process as applying a consumer mobile phone screen protector. Made from anti-shatter, durable, tempered glass these protectors are designed with the patented Kastus antimicrobial surface-coating technology permanently built in. Each screen protector comes with an accessory application kit, including microfiber cloth and squeegee to allow anyone to effectively apply it within just a few minutes
The new glass screen protectors can be ordered direct from Kastus. To find out more about Kastus and this ground-breaking technology visit www.kastus.com
Nevotek contactless communications
Nevotek, a global provider of cloud-based hospitality tech solutions, recently released two new guest-engagement technologies that integrate with a hotel’s existing Property Management System.
‘Grace’ is a new platform that enables guests to message hotel staff in real-time via their app of choice (e.g. WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat), cutting out the need to download an extra app. This secure communications option allows hotel staff to respond instantaneously to guests’ needs without even having to ask for their name and room number. For example, texting “extra pillow” is all that’s needed for the request to be fulfilled. There’s also an A.I. option to enable a chatbot, an analytics function is embedded in the software and the product supports many major languages.
The company is also launching ‘NevoTouchless’, another ground breaking product that allows guests to access hotel services via their own mobile devices. Guests can pair their devices with their in-room TVs to use as remote controllers, to access online versions of in-room paper compendiums, order room service and more, simply by scanning a personalizing QR code on their TV.
Radar Location Detection
Radar Labs, provides geofencing technology for companies looking to build location-aware app experiences, believes tech that leverages location data is becoming a must-have for travel brands to drive acquisition, share up-to-the-minute information and rebuild consumer confidence in tourism’s overall safety.
Especially as people are increasingly opting for road-trips in the name of social distancing, hotels can benefit from installing geofences that send push notifications to visitors who might arrive within a certain radius. These might even include special offers or promotions and help to steer potential clientele away from local competitors.
Location data can also work to activate touchless check-in upon guests’ arrival on property or prompt them for payment when they present for checkout. On-site capacity limits and real-time conditions can also be communicated to visitors when they are nearing the venue to help avoid high customer densities.
Likewise, rail and bus operators can alert passengers as to when their coaches arrive at a certain distance from the platform, to avoid overcrowding on platforms. Geo-prompted push notifications can also come in very handy for keeping guests apprised of safety protocols and other vital information about their visit.
Many of us heard about the benefits of HEPA filters – capable of filtering out 99.9 percent of airborne viruses and bacteria – and electrostatic disinfectant sprayers to tackle surfaces, but, there are also new, alternative products coming to market that quickly kill airborne pathogens, such as Molekule’s Air Pro RX Air Purifier, which just received its FDA Medical Device Clearance for use in hospital settings and satisfies FDA performance criteria for destroying the COVID-19 virus.
There are also devices coming out like the Safeology Tower, employing evidence-based, high-powered UVC technology that can be used to safely, quickly and effectively eliminate up to 99.9 percent of surface and airborne pathogens in indoor settings, effective in larger spaces throughout hotels, cruise ships, entertainment venues, spas, restaurants, shops, etc. without using chemicals or leaving behind residue.
Today’s robotic hotel staff members can at least aid important efforts aimed at reducing person-to-person contact amid the pandemic. KT Corporation has just released its second-generation GiGA Genie hotel robot, named “N Bot”, which goes about delivering water bottles, fresh towels and other amenities to guests at Seoul’s Novotel Ambassador Dongdaemun Hotels & Residences.
Developed in collaboration with Hyundai Robotics, the artificial intelligence-equipped service robots boast advanced information and communications technology, including space-mapping, autonomous driving ability and voice recognition (it can also speak English).
Remote concierge station solution
Yamaha Unified Communications and Sharp Business Systems are providing the hospitality, enterprise, education, health care, and government industries with a safe, healthy way to interact with customers and guests in any lobby or front desk environment. The Remote Concierge Station solution brings together Sharp’s 40-inch or 50-inch flatscreen and Yamaha’s CS-700 Video Sound Bar in a sleek, mobile stand to allow organizations the ability to staff key locations without having an employee on site to provide high-quality custom service and reception response.
“COVID-19 has highlighted the need for solutions that help public-facing staff have meaningful interaction with customers, patrons, and guests while maintaining social distance,” said Meghan Kennelly, director of global marketing and communications at Yamaha Unified Communications. “The Remote Concierge Station is perfectly suited to meet this new need. Our CS-700 collaboration system has been used for years by businesses all over the world to help users drive professional-quality remote meetings. Now staff will have peace of mind while ensuring that they will be able to see and hear customers just as clearly as if they were talking to them face to face – but they can be safely working from home, in the next room, or even across the country.”
As companies return to a new normal, the solution is an effective answer to protecting front-desk employees as they interact with the public. Featuring Sharp’s large-format professional display and Yamaha’s CS-700 Video Sound Bar, the Remote Concierge Station provides the next best thing to face-to-face human interaction. The Video Sound Bar is a comprehensive, powerful solution that makes natural-sounding audio and high-quality video collaboration possible. It features an adaptive beamforming microphone array for perfectly captured conversation; four Yamaha speaker elements to provide the highest degree of audio intelligibility; and a wide-angle HD camera that captures guests and the room in clear detail. This allows reception staff to monitor room activity and greet users as they approach.
Designed for flexibility and ease of use, the station connects to a UC platform via a single USB. The sleek unit eliminates the inherent inefficiencies of operating disparate video and audio while keeping lobbies, waiting rooms, and reception areas neat and welcoming. The CS-700’s integrated network management system also allows IT staff to rapidly deploy and remotely manage each unit, which is ideal for organizations that have multiple CS-700 units installed in reception areas and meeting spaces.
The Remote Concierge Station comes mounted on a rolling cart that is UL-certified to prevent tipping, allowing organizations to safely move it for use as a mobile conference station. With the built-in flexibility, it can also double as an immediate and long-term digital signage solution for greater ROI. For example, it can be used to remind guests of any mask ordinances and best practices. Additionally, as staff return to the office, it can continue to be used to welcome incoming guests with check-in or company information. It also includes a Shuttle NC03 computer mounted on the back of the display, wireless keyboard, power strip, and remote control.
“The occupancy rate of our hotels in Amsterdam are dropping from >80% to below 15%”
“New investments on hold in anticipation of market developments”
“The global travel ecosystem is down with significant consequences for the economy”
“Guest occupancy rates can slow when faced with an issue like COVID-19, but the business always comes back and will pick up eventually”
“Despite the downside this crisis may bring, it will most probably also provide opportunities. We have some dry powder available.”