How COVID Has Accelerated Us into a Touchless Future

by Melanie Meador, CEO, Redeam

For much of my career, I have worked on initiatives that have involved technology integration and streamlining manual processes. We touted the many benefits of these integrations: speed, reduction of operational inefficiencies, frictionless user experiences, and cost savings to name a few. These integrations enabled the companies using them to level-up their businesses, often giving early adopters a competitive advantage. Never in a million years, however, did I think that these integrations would now play an essential role in what may be a key element in our foreseeable future, a world wanting touchless transactions.

As the disease COVID-19 has wreaked the most horrific havoc on our world –decimating businesses, economies, and lives alike – it has also gravely affected our human behavior. People we want to hug, we should not. Things we used to love to do, we should not. Places we want to go, we now avoid. The virus that causes COVID has forced us all to pause and think about our everyday behaviors in a completely different way. And it’s caused us to question all the people in the outside world around us. No one is safe and everyone’s a target.

When I was growing up, we kids were all afraid of “catching cooties.” It was a fictious infection, a game you’d play to avoid being tagged, or when bullies would want to pick on another child, they’d label their victim as “having cooties.” While it turns out that cooties has an even more storied past than I was aware of, the theme of bad-equals-avoidance came back to me as I considered a coronavirus-infested world. Except unlike in my childhood, now we live in a world ruled by technology.

From No-Touch to Touchless

The personal computer enabled ordinary people to have access to the kind of technology that would ultimately change our lives, but it was a high-touch device to use (as anyone who had to set one up for the first time would tell you!). When mobile phones arrived, we could be set free from our cables and wires, but we still had to press buttons to get the thing to work. When Apple introduced its iPhone with its touchable glass screen, everything about touch began to change. We tapped, we swiped, we “clicked” – even when we typed, we were touching keypads that really weren’t keys at all. We got used to touching these screens, and we liked it!

Touchable technology devices continued to evolve. We had touchscreen tablets and laptops, kiosks, fitness equipment, smartwatches, and household appliances. The more we got used to tapping and swiping, the more we wanted to do it. It’s been wonderous…until it’s now not unless the screen is ours and ours alone.

COVID has us all thinking about what we’re touching. Or rather, what we don’t want to touch. Paying cash for something now? Even if an establishment will accept cash, 51% of people now prefer to pay by credit card or mobile pay over cash, according to one recent Mastercard survey. To avoid even having to submit a physical credit card – called “contactless” by the industry – consumers are increasingly turning to other means of payment by credit, including a tap-to-go card feature, using mobile apps, or phoning into a location to pre-pay for pick-up or delivery. (American Express recently published an interesting infographic with the results of their survey into this topic. One key highlight is that consumers who previously used some form of contactless payment are now 58% more likely to use it than before COVID.)

But even beyond contactless credit card processing, we now have touchless futuristic technologies that don’t rely on the use of our fingers at all. These technologies – like voice commands, facial recognition scanning, thermal cameras and heat sensors, and biometrics – use aspects of our body that don’t require us to reach out and touch anything. While these technologies have been around for some time, before COVID, Asian cultures – particularly in China — had more widely adopted their use, in part because of consumer privacy concerns in the West. Since COVID, attitudes have shifted fairly drastically.

Now, consumers want touchless options. We want food delivered to our doors with the ability to include the driver tip directly in the purchase payment. We want to hold our mobile devices in front of a keypad to gain access to buildings and hotel rooms. We don’t want to have to go to will call windows for paper entrance tickets – we just want to present a mobile access pass, and glide right through. We want self-guided or remote-guided tours that are delivered by technology. And we want our temperatures taken to grant us access without someone having to touch us.

The Experiences Industry in a Touchless Future

infographic attractions experiences reopening best practicesWe have already seen this adoption curve being implemented in all aspects of travel – from airline mobile boarding passes to hotel digital check-in and mobile app-based keyless room entry. Attractions, activities, and other experience providers have also recognized the need for low-touch and touchless interactions. Disney, which has often set the bar for innovations in customer experience, detailed its reduced contact policies – including cashless transactions and the use of its My Disney Experience app — when it announced the reopening of Walt Disney World in July. Many attractions have since followed suit with similar best practices and encouraging online bookings whenever possible. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City, for instance, now sells only timed ticketing (all guests must make timed reservations) and all reservation purchases must be booked online first.

When it comes to ticket redemption, experience businesses have also begun to see the necessity for more contactless, digitized solutions. Many experience tickets sold online are sold through third-party resellers, whether that’s on Google through its Reserve with Google offering, or through online travel agencies like Viator, Klook, or GetYourGuide. In order for the attraction to collect its revenue from that third-party sale, they have to provide proof of redemption back to the reseller. In times past, this was literally in the form of paper vouchers which had to be counted and uniquely reconciled. COVID and online reservation requirements has also now changed this process for experience operators. They now need a solution that helps them keep track of and provide digital proof of redemption.

This is where Redeam comes in. With Redeam’s integrations experience operators can more seamlessly and automatically account for third-party redemptions without the experience having to provide “paper proof.” This enables the experience to more confidently sell and redeem guest tickets in a contactless and efficient way.

If you’re an experiences business of any type, size, or location and need help with digital contactless solutions, please reach out to Redeam today!

UPDATE: Other articles have since been published about contactless technologies in travel, so Redeam’s taken the initiative to curate them into a useful list.

Touchless tech: How hotels are preparing for a post-COVID guest experience” (Phocuswire, 7/28/20)

Touchless tech: Airports and airlines take steady steps to restore confidence in flying” (Phocuswire, 8/4/20)

Touchless tech: How short-term rentals are simplifying stays amid COVID-19” (Phocuswire, 8/12/20)

Touchless tech: The simple – and advanced – ways ground transport providers are encouraging travel” (Phocuswire, 9/16/20)

The rise of touchless technology at airports” (Airport Technology, 9/17/20)

Touchless tech: Cruise lines adapt to prepare for a healthy return to sailing” (Phocuswire, 9/17/20)