Marriott has announced some “improved” hotel contactless features designed to respond to “customer requests,” but I’m not sure that this is actually what we want. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is not what most of us want.
Hotels will never be the same post coronavirus
While we’ve seen hotels shut down all kinds of services in the name of safety during the pandemic, it’s becoming increasingly clear that hotels will never be completely the same.
Recently, the Hilton CEO boasted that permanent cuts in hotel service are permanent and that the focus is on turning hotels into higher-margin businesses by being more “work-efficient,” particularly in the household, food and beverage and other sectors. He explained that the hotel industry would be higher-margin and require fewer workers than it was before the coronavirus.
Well, Marriott just made an announcement that makes it clear that the hotel group has a similar plan, except that Marriott is turning this around based on customer feedback. Natch.
Marriott’s “enhanced” contactless technology
You have to love the title of the Marriott press release:
“Less hassle, more to explore, Marriott International continues to meet consumer demands for improved contactless technology.”
Marriott is sponsoring a new pilot program that will be rolled out in select hotels to create a “seamless guest experience.” For now, this includes two things:
- Contactless arrival kiosks in selected hotels
- Introduction of a proof-of-concept for contactless take-away marketplaces in two Fairfield by Marriott hotels
Let’s look at the details of these changes.
Contactless arrival kiosks
Marriott controls contactless arrival kiosks in Moxy NYC Times Square, Courtyard New York Manhattan / Midtown East and TownePlace Suites Monroe.
Upon arrival, guests have the option to skip the traditional check-in line entirely and go through a three-step process at the kiosks to check-in for a single reservation, with room keys generated on-site. You can also check out at these kiosks.
Marriott claims the kiosks use antimicrobial technology burnt into a UV light-powered touchscreen glass to kill bacteria and viruses.
I have a few thoughts on these kiosks:
- Marriott refers to these kiosks as “contactless,” but it seems more that they are only humanly contactless and not actually contactless. That’s an important difference
- How does the kiosk check your ID? Although I suppose if there is no ID check it would be a great way for people to walk on the mattress and let other people check into their room
- While this was a good idea in theory, the reality is that it doesn’t help if you’re checking in and want to ask about an upgrade or any of the hotel’s amenities, and doesn’t help with checking out if your fees are incorrect (which I call Elite member often find the case)
- Why doesn’t Marriott just make their app more user-friendly for checking in and checking out instead of installing those new kiosks? Because I would use the app completely if it worked properly, but as an elite member, the functionality is certainly limited
- As an introvert who avoids human interaction at practically every opportunity, I have not yet found a single hotel that has an app or kiosk that efficiently completely replaces a reception desk. I don’t need to be thanked for my loyalty or a 10-minute speech about the amenities, but even apps and kiosks often can’t get the basics right
New grab-and-go vending machines serve breakfast
Marriott claims that Fairfield by Marriott will be an “industry disruptor” by trying out a new take-away market concept. This pilot is available at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Frederick and the Fairfield Inn & Suites Arundel Mills BWI Airport.
These wall-to-wall kiosks provide a central marketplace where guests can choose snacks, beverages, light snacks, and sundries. In addition, the breakfast menu is included in the design during breakfast hours with a selection of warm breakfast rolls, muesli, yoghurt, fruit and much more. At the kiosks you can also buy coffee specialties and à la carte products with contactless Bluetooth payment.
My thoughts are similar to those of the kiosks:
- Even though I have the option of making contactless payments via Bluetooth, don’t these grab-and-go deals seem to be contactless at all?
- I would appreciate something like this as a complement to other food and drink offerings, but it sounds like this replaces what was previously on offer
- The lovely breakfast in the hotel is being replaced with something in a machine, exactly what customers have asked for!
- As someone who loves good coffee, the stuff that comes off these machines is not going to be a “specialty coffee”.
This is about downsizing, not the customer experience
To do Marriott justice, this is likely the direction the industry is headed and it will be a race to the bottom. But at least I respect the Hilton CEO for calling a spade a spade and saying that the hotel industry will achieve higher profit margins, and that includes “work efficiency.”
I mean, seriously, look at the claims made by Marriott regarding these new features:
“Both new technologies will help make operations more efficient and allow hotel staff to interact with guests in a more meaningful and personal way. As an example of the art of modern hospitality, they offer thoughtful amenities to better serve guests throughout their stay. “
Right, I’m sure they’ll eliminate staff-guest interaction so that “hotel staff can interact with guests in more meaningful and personal ways,” rather than cutting staff and cutting costs.
Marriott then justifies these initiatives by claiming that they are “designed to build traveler confidence while strengthening the company’s commitment to a clean initiative.” Here are the stats Marriott is using to support this:
- 65% of travelers say that accommodations need to use the latest technology to make them feel safe
- 87% of US customers would like companies to continue to offer options that limit personal service
- Social media posts with the term “self-service” increased by 170% from 2019 to 2020 compared to the previous year
To be clear, I largely agree with the statistics above, with one very important difference: this is how I feel about hotel stays during the pandemic and not hotel stays after the pandemic. We may be months away from a return to normal in the US. Hence, it is insincere to use these statistics to justify long-term changes that will be implemented in many properties years later.
Finally, I think it’s great, as Marriott says, that these new options are “less of a hassle.” What does this tell you about how Marriott sees their customer service when the company sees interacting with Marriott employees as problematic?
Marriott is testing new contactless features, including check-in machines and grab-and-go machines. Except best, I can say that they are not really contactless (in the sense that you still have to touch things).
Marriott claims this will allow guests to have “more meaningful, personal” interactions with staff, and claims that this is all due to customer feedback. The memo the company didn’t seem to get is that guests could look for it during the pandemic, but not long term.
Can’t wait to get denied a Bonvoy upgrade from a machine until 2023 and get my breakfast from a machine.
How do you feel about the new “contactless” features from Marriott?