With the U.S. and Canada reopening, hospitality brands are experiencing their first real waves of recovery driven largely by domestic leisure travel. Hotels are filling their rooms again, especially on weekends, but being prepared for today’s guest expectations requires more than extra sanitizing.

While there’s lots of talk about “reinvention” for this industry, I see it more as an acceleration of digital transformation trends that were already taking off before the pandemic. Customer demands have fast-forwarded 10-plus years into the future, and it’s now our turn to catch up.

From check-ins to midnight snacks, there are multiple points in the hospitality journey that can be optimized with a more customer-focused, digital-first payments approach.

Here are three areas I see our hospitality merchants prioritizing now:

No. 1: Delivering Fully Digital Payment Experiences, From Check-In to Check-Out

Many hospitality brands leveraged smarter technology, such as advanced payment solutions, to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes completely automating (or making touch-free) the check-in and check-out process largely via mobile apps, which, according to a recent McKinsey study, was a top action hotels could take to make their guests feel safe.

In addition to safety, fully digital payments also allow for greater flexibility for managing authorized payments during guest stays. When implemented, hotels don’t have to bother a guest for their card details every time they want to make a purchase and desk check-in can be skipped entirely. Hotels can facilitate card-on-file payments, let guests pay in their preferred currency, and pre-authorize extra expenses such as room service or spa facilities.

Not only do they create a seamless experience, digital payments reduce data exposures as payment details are encrypted end-to-end. This delivers a seamless, digital experience that guests have become accustomed to in other areas of their lives, such as retail, entertainment and healthcare.

As reported by leading travel technology firm Criton, 62 percent of respondents said they would prefer to check-in and out through a hotel app, while 80 percent said they would download a hotel app that would allow them to check-in and check-out and get all the information about the hotel. Over the last year, the barrier for adoption of smarter technology in hotel settings has shrunk, turning the average traveler into a high-tech advocate while out on vacations.

No. 2: Embrace Consolidation and Centralization of Systems, Including Payments, to Streamline Operations and Improve the Guest Experience

In adopting centralized technology solutions across your properties, hospitality brands can improve data completeness and the quality and consistency of their offering across regions, channels and reporting. Unifying channels with a single, digital-capable omnichannel payment partner, for example, allows for brands to more quickly develop services for their guests, such as digital card-on-file and contactless tap-to-pay counter payments, and seamless charging of incidentals. Centralizing technology also helps maintain customers’ data more securely and removes the property from PCI scope.

For CitizenM, Adyen provides a unified view and management of payment data 24/7, regardless of channel or country. With full information on transaction performance, CitizenM is able to optimize conversion and improve customer experience, all while reducing the burden of reporting for the hotel brand’s finance team. Hotels that follow the lead of other industries and centralize and control their payments offering will see a positive impact from moving business to their direct channel.

No. 3: Unifying Payments Data for Better Customer Recognition

Hospitality brands now have better access to more property-focused data, including everything from occupancy levels to length-of-stay to competitors. This gives the hospitality industry more insights on what their loyal customers want and how to inform their business decisions.

Data-driven insights help hotels and brands create multifaceted guest profiles, including home location, frequency of stays, loyalty program memberships, and even service preferences. Such knowledge supports marketing efforts with the ability to tailor outreach, offers and incentives based on customer preferences.

Hilton Hotels is an example of an industry leader harnessing the power of data and technology to better connect with its customers. Statista reports that an estimated 82 percent of travel bookings are abandoned. By utilizing the data collected in its mobile app and loyalty program, Hilton develops personalized messages and offerings based on the consumer’s preferences and past behaviors to entice them in following through with their booking.

Savvy hotel brands are using payments data to analyze customers who are not enrolled in loyalty programs. By analyzing omnichannel tokens across stays, brands can understand customer behavior even if the guest isn’t part of a loyalty program simply because they used the same credit card to pay across stays. This has become a powerful form of “passive” business analysis that helps brands tap into trends for their under-reached loyal customers that aren’t yet part of a loyalty program.

The Guest Experiences of Tomorrow Start With Digitizing Payments

While the past 18 months have been hard on the industry, travelers show no signs of slowing down. And guests are now accustomed to seamless digitized experiences, making it hard to imagine a world where we go back to the way things used to be.

Digitizing your business alongside the customer’s experience will continue to drive greater efficiencies through lower operational costs and less IT maintenance overhead. For hospitality brands looking to lead in their markets, the right payment technology can be the key that opens the door to new opportunities — now and in the future.