Navigating Crises and the Tech It Will Take to Overcome COVID-19

It is amazing what you can accomplish with a kayak, a great deal of preparation, and the determination to achieve a 15-year-old dream. ­The HFTP Hangout that took place on Wednesday, May 13 took a dramatic departure from the trending hospitality industry topics of contactless technologies and financial planning sans budget – and focused instead on DataWorks Founder/CEO Mark Cecil’s fascinating 42-day, 1,200-mile trek last month through the waters encircling the state of Florida.

On March 7, Mark entrusted his company to his capable staff and appointed interim CEO and ventured out to put his camping, navigation, kayak and self-motivation skills to the ultimate challenge – in this case, the “Ultimate Florida Challenge.” Organized by the Water Tribe, this race is a grueling 12,000-mile expedition race circumnavigating Florida not for the faint of heart. He finished the race 42 days later, returning to the site he started, but to a very different world.

During his Hangout session, Mark shared his story of how he overcame the mental and physical hardships of the race, what he thought about during all of those hours alone at sea and the striking parallels between business and the race.

 The Parallels Between Business and the Race

  • Perform a risk-rewards analysis. Analyze the risks. Are you prepared? Do you have the right equipment? Do you have the time? Are the conditions right for success?
  • Set both long-term and short-term goals. Do not just aim for the finish line, especially when it is 1,200 miles away. You also need short-term goals to help you get there.
  • Execute a solid plan. Plan for the every-day, but also plan for the unexpected. There is nothing like a disaster to refocus your disaster resource plan. Before COVID-19, you most likely did not have a caveat for pandemics and that is okay. Update your disaster plan to include it.
  • Adopt or drop out. Especially in trying times like these when the conditions are very physically or mentally tiring.
  • Conserve your resources. If the wind is 35 knots in your face, take a weather hold.
  • Assign a First Officer. Succession planning is very important. We all have to think about the day we are not here. Make sure you have a capable successor to take over at the helm in your absence.
  • Trust your crew. Empower your staff, trust in their abilities, praise them in their successes and take ownership in the failures. 
  • Finally, stay the course – and come to see disasters as opportunities to start over and rebuild.

The Challenges to Touchless Tech

Past Hangout sessions have already explored the future of the guest experience and what it will take to restore confidence in travel and hospitality. Attendees have consistently agreed that health and safety will be the utmost guest priorities, at least for the short term. This sudden shift to health innovation will require significant investments in cleaning and contactless technologies.

However, the transition from high touch to touchless is easier said than done. The adoption of the technologies to make this shift is going to be tricky at best. Two of the Hangout sessions from this week focused on touchless systems, as well as the challenges and opportunities involved in accelerating the reopening process.

Tuesday’s Hangout session on this topic was presented by Craig Keefner, Executive Director of the Kiosk Manufacturer Association and Tom Lasiter, Intel’s Americas Hospitality Director. The Europe Hangout on the following day picked up the topic of touchless technology and expanded on it. This presentation was led by Ian Millar, CHTP, Manager of the Institute of Business Creativity and Senior Lecturer at the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL).

There were several key takeaways from these two discussions on touchless technology, including:

  • One size does not fit all. The solutions are highly varied across the various hotel segments, whether you are a luxury brand or a budget chain. Guest interactions are expected to be different so the solutions will be different, as well.
  • It does not always work the way you envision it. You may invest in a new technology to streamline a contactless check-in process, but did you consider potential issues with authentication? A guest may be able to check in on their phone but still need to interact with a staff to show them their ID, if this is your authentication process.
  • Sophisticated tech solutions create barriers to unsophisticated users. When you have solutions like mobile apps and QR codes, you lose a percentage of users who could fail right at the entry point. You still need to have processes accessible to these users.
  • There needs to be a balance between health and privacy. Some contactless tech solutions like facial recognition involve privacy infringements. And while many people may be willing to prioritize their health and safety over their privacy, others may not. You cannot simply service the convenient customer base – you have to service them all.
  • Understand the valuable proposition. All of these technologies are available, but at a cost. Perform a cost-benefit analysis. Will it be worth it?
  • Do not present the tech to a non-tech audience. When you are presenting your solutions to a non-tech audience or to your board of directors for consideration, use less tech terms. Present it from a more operational perspective. Explain the pain point of the customer to convey its value. There is a catalyst that prompts its necessity for the consumer.

Touchless Tech: The Future Is Here

Capping off this week’s Hangout series was a special “Part Two” session from John Picard and Diane Estner. You can read about their first Hangout session in this blog post. In this second part, John explored adaptability and upgrading to wellness.

John echoed Mark’s sentiment in his Hangout session that we have to see this as an opportunity and design problem. So, how do we find the opportunity in chaos? We need to be super creative and open to big change ideas. We need to be trailblazers and innovation catalysts. And, we cannot do this alone so it will require a massive amount of interoperability.

How do we remake an entire industry as large and lucrative as the hospitality industry? These are some of the takeaways:

  • ­Come up with a new vision. The data needs to drive this vision, not opinion. Follow the airline numbers, as they are driving the outcome. Look to the transformative platforms in the market today. What are some of the big ideas out there, and how do we unlock their value?
  • Wellness is a luxury. Look at your entry and lobby as keys to creating a new impression of health and wellness. Reconfigure your business center, the digital dimensions of your rooms, and build a safety cage around both your guests and employees to restore their confidence.
  • New technologies are always around the corner. Technology has the potential to drive the evolution of the industry. Medical technology could also be key to containment as much as a vaccine. For instance, there is a sensor in development that has the capability of detecting the presence of COVID-19 in saliva within three seconds. This sensor could possibly be available for super affordable mass distribution within the next 6-12 months.
  • Re-imagine your space. Reinventing the industry takes grand, imaginative ideas – take advantage of idle space and make it work for you. Empty rooms can be turned productive with the installation of data farms to the farm-to-table sustainability of vertical farms and everything in between.

About HFTP Hangouts

HFTP Hangouts continue through the month of May. Visit the HFTP website to view the schedule of upcoming Hangouts and sign up to attend today.

Briana Gilmore is the HFTP Communications Coordinator. Briana can be reached at Briana.Gilmore@hftp.org or +1 (512) 220-4017.

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