From the self-serve kiosks at the entrances to the QR codes that dot practically every sign, it’s hard to miss how COVID-19 has changed Las Vegas resorts.
Over the past year, the hospitality industry has been forced to adapt to the changing needs of customers who want to avoid crowded lines and limit human interactions while delivering the typical Las Vegas experience.
For hotels, resorts and the industry as a whole, the new era of high-tech and low-touch heralded by the pandemic is likely to continue.
“As soon as people get used to digital interactions and digital service encounters, be it in the supermarket or hotel, this will become the norm,” said UNLV hospitality professor Mehmet Erdem.
Self-service kiosks aren’t new, but they have become increasingly popular in the Las Vegas resort industry, allowing diners to skip the lines and the crowds. On the casino side, business demand for cashless digital wallets and electronic table games has increased since last year’s pandemic.
Much of what was once the traditional guest experience in hotels has been reduced to a 6-inch smartphone screen. A person’s smartphone can be a check-in device and even the actual room key. It can call up almost any restaurant menu in no time using a QR code. And in more and more resorts, a virtual concierge is just a text message away.
Many of these technologies began to gain popularity with consumers before the pandemic, but hospitality companies have historically been slower to keep up with these changes, Erdem said. Executives tend to shy away from the high cost of new technology products or changes because they worry about how long it could take to amortize the investment, he said.
With consumer demand for contactless or non-contact technology soaring amid the global pandemic, that financial factor has been all but removed from the equation.
“The pandemic has shown that the value of a technology product goes beyond cost savings or revenue generation. It’s more of a strategic tool for survival and business continuity, ”said Erdem.
Before the pandemic, MGM Resorts International had plans to introduce a mobile check-in app for guests in late 2020 or early 2021. The pandemic “has definitely accelerated a number of different technological and digital strategies” for the company. said Craig Martin, vice president of product management at MGM.
The implementation was initially in response to health and safety, Martin said, but it also offered “a convenience factor that has really been very well received by our guests over the past year”.
Those changes definitely changed the guest experience, added Martin.
“It allows guests to optimize their interaction with MGM and enjoy the ease of use on their phone, but they can really focus more on the Las Vegas experience,” he said.
Caesars debuted with self-service kiosks in 2015 and with its virtual concierge service Ivy in 2018. But since COVID, guests have been using these platforms much more frequently as they have become more scrupulous about avoiding crowds, according to Terrence O’Donnell Jr., vice president and assistant general manager of Caesars Palace and The Cromwell.
“Guests are more tech-savvy and it has become such a part of everyday life that guest adoption is far greater than ever,” said O’Donnell. “Our guests are so much more willing, willing and able to use them to experience the amenities they want.”
Adopting these technologies doesn’t have to mean consumers completely lose personal experience, said Erdem of the UNLV.
Contactless payment and ordering systems, for example in restaurants, are also helpful in increasing the efficiency of the wait staff by making the back and forth of the check and carrying the customer card superfluous.
This time saving, according to Erdem, enables the employee to spend more time with the guests and personalize their experience.
“We shouldn’t think of these technologies as replacements for humans,” said Erdem.
The latest and greatest in health and safety technology is likely to become a promotional tool for resorts, said Stowe Shoemaker, dean of UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality.
He compared it to the changes in hotel bedding that occurred after Westin launched its Heavenly Beds in the late 1990s and began promoting it, addressing cleanliness and comfort.
“Well, pretty much every hotel from Motel 6 to the Four Seasons all have really comfortable mattresses,” Shoemaker said.
Some of these advances are currently being tested at UNLV’s Black Fire Innovation Hub, a “living laboratory” with recreated hotel rooms, casino floors and kitchens.
These include LG’s CLOi, an autonomous germ control robot that disinfects a hotel room with UV-C light to sterilize the air, and a super-thin projection screen television that allows the screen to be displayed between sheets of plexiglass
The rollout of these new advances is rapidly moving forward, especially when health and safety is paramount, as consumer awareness of airborne pathogens and expectations for increased cleanliness are unlikely to go away, according to Black Fire Innovation Managing Director Robert Rippee.
“I think this is behavior that will stay with us long after the pandemic has subsided,” he said. “Our behaviors change whether we accept them or not.”