Harish Chandra, CTO, Sarovar Hotels

ICT has been gradually making inroads into the travel and hospitality sector. Enterprises in this space have been deploying cutting-edge solutions based on new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), and data analytics in an effort to enhance business efficiency and improve customer experience. In fact, technology has played a critical role in keeping the sector afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic, with companies implementing various tech based, contactless solutions to continue operations.  Harish Chandra, CTO, Sarovar Hotels shares his views on the evolving technology trends in the sector…

How has Covid-19 impacted the travel and tourism industry? How ICT and technology  have helped in addressing some of the challenges being faced?

Covid-19 has impacted the travel, tourism and hospitality industry significantly. Our industry is a people-focused industry and for us, delivering a delightful experience to customers is the topmost priority. In these unprecedented times, chief information officers are transforming into chief innovation officers. Today, most of our employee briefings, staff training and conferences are happening through video conferencing.

In these challenging times, ICT has helped us a lot. Our guests can do online check-ins and select their choice of rooms, upload travel documents, request room upgrades, etc. Room entry has become keyless. Guests can order food & beverage online, lodge service requests, complete check-out formalities, and make payments all through their smartphones.

The most popular technology solutions being used are QR codes, pre-arrival links, digitised menus, and digital payments among others. Some hotels are exploring technologies that will enable phones to act as room keys, although these technologies are extremely expensive at present. It has been estimated that by 2025, many  luxury hotel rooms will be voice enabled and by 2030, mobile keys will become common.

Other technology solutions such as facial recognition are good, but, are too expensive. In current scenario hotels with over 100 rooms, daily check-in  is approx.  30 per cent, and thus facial recognition for guest check-in using key dispending solution is not a cost-effective solution.

What has been the uptake of new-age technologies such as AI, IoT, AR/VR in the sector in recent years? What kind of transformation have you seen in this space in the wake of the pandemic?

Currently, IoT is used in many hotels. Lights are automatic and switch off when a guest leaves the room. There are also automatic soap dispensers.

VR is slowly making its way into the industry. Imagine guests being able to sightsee or watch a movie or play a game without having to leave their rooms, all through a VR headset.  VR allows for an immersive experience.

How has your business been impacted and what technology measures have you taken or planned to deal with the Covid-19 crisis?

The new normal will be based on high-tech and touchless guest experiences. We are making concerted efforts to reduce and remove human contact wherever possible in our processes by using various technologies. We are analysing every guest touchpoint and everything that might come into contact with a human being.

In a post-Covid world, what key digital trends will shape the travel and tourism industry?

Covid has been a real digital transformer. It has pushed companies to do a lot of re-innovation and rethinking to understand how to survive with limited manpower, and how to cut costs. Some hotels have started using temperature screening CCTV cameras that measure guest and employees temperatures. Secondly, it has given birth to a cloud-like model for kitchens installed with CCTV and a lot of new business ideas for hotels Fnb delivery business. Staycation is a new term that has mushroomed in these times. Hitech and touchless technology is also helping in lifting guest sentiments.