The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to forego business travel and embrace virtual meetings, but as travel restrictions ease, the hotel industry is ready to welcome back business travelers. New policies and technological enhancements introduced in response to the pandemic focused on making travel safer and more secure to drive recovery and transform the guest experience.
Business travel had been on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic but halted when social distancing and stay-at-home orders went into effect. As more people are vaccinated and restrictions easy, the future is looking brighter for corporate travel and the lodging industry. In fact, business travel has been slowly increasing month-over-month in 2021.
New safety and cleaning protocols are in place across the industry to address health and wellbeing concerns for guests and employees—a wave of new technological innovations has already started. Contactless opportunities like tap-and-pay, mobile check-in and check-out, digital room keys, customized room selection options, and guest information alerts are already transforming the guest experience.
Technological innovation is driving the industry’s current changes, but it’s not the first time the lodging and travel industries have taken advantage of newly available technology. Over the last several years, finding a hotel, booking a room, paying for travel, and improving the guest experience have evolved with technology and will play a role in bringing the industry back to its pre-pandemic status.
Finding a Hotel
Many travelers remember using paper maps, highlighting routes, and circling the towns they intended to stay in overnight, hoping they would find a hotel that would have a room available upon their arrival. Then, travel managers had to rely on guidebooks, brochures, and specialized knowledge to book travel on behalf of their teams.
And lodging companies in the past made finding the right hotel easier for customers by compiling hotel lists that met client’s specific needs—like properties that could accommodate 18-wheel trucks. But even then, reservation agents or travelers themselves had to scan through binders by state and city to find options.
Today, finding a hotel is as simple as using an app, choosing preferences, and clicking to book. Guest reviews, extensive photo galleries, amenities, and rates are easily accessed, filtered, and sorted. Also, travelers can use geolocation services on their smartphones to find nearby hotels that meet their travel needs.
Booking a Room
Like finding the right hotel, room booking has gone through a technological evolution. From calling the hotel directly to centralized reservation centers to online booking, the process of selecting a room continues to become easier and more personalized.
For corporate travel, many organizations today rely on comprehensive lodging solutions to limit the rooms their employees can book, offering only choices that match their policies.
Paying for Travel
Before central reservation databases, API integrations and real-time adjustments for room rates were published seasonally. Accessing business-specific rates was out-of-reach for most travelers. Direct billing agreements often involved manually filled paper sign-in sheets faxed or mailed back to billing offices, as well as paper checks sent weeks later.
The company-issued credit card made payment easier for travelers who could access one, but today, virtual cards make paying for travel-related expenses easier than company credit cards. Virtual cards let employees designate what purchases the card can be used for and offer dates, spending limits, and other controls that were not available a few years ago.
Improving Guest Experiences
Moving to contactless goes well beyond booking and billing. Already in place technology and developing ideas will continue to improve the guest experience in new ways. Today’s technology enables a contactless experience and personalization, from smart thermostats that allow travelers to set desired room temperatures before arrival to mobile device connectivity that allows travelers to change their television channels from their smartphones.
Corporate Travel Will Return
Although business travel has permanently changed because of the pandemic, the lodging industry is adopting new technology to improve the guest experience. And as business travelers return to hotels, their stays will be safer and more personalized than ever before.