Payments Technology Strengthens Connections Between Businesses and Travelers
Already working to infuse digital touchpoints into the customer journey, the restaurant and tourism industries were fundamentally altered by the Covid-19 pandemic and its resulting lockdowns, social restrictions, and supply chain disruptions.
The sudden shift away from in-house dining and traditional payment methods in 2020 forced the industry to hasten its adoption of new technology. The use of mobile ordering apps, online booking platforms, digital wallets, QR codes, in-app payments, and delivery surged. Restaurants and merchants rapidly adapted to meet customers where they were, and the capabilities they developed led to a substantial increase in their confidence handling technology.
While customers have returned to in-person dining and shopping, this digital shift has forever changed the expectations that people have for engaging with the restaurants, shops, and venues they visit. People want to enjoy the conveniences brought by digital, and merchants can use digital to deliver a great customer experience at every touchpoint.
Technology informs powerfully personal experiences
Among the most important effects of the pandemic on the hospitality industry was the surge in customers turning to technology—and mobile technology in particular—to find restaurants, make reservations, order, and pay. Globally, online ordering grew significantly, with 2.85B people projected to use food delivery in 2023 and consumers in the Asia Pacific region representing nearly two-thirds of this market.1
Post-pandemic demographics are playing a significant role in people’s preferences around ordering and paying for food and drink. For consumers who grew up with smartphones and tablets, online engagement with restaurant and hospitality brands is no longer just nice to have—it is a non-negotiable part of the experience. Research in the United States shows that technology has become a pivotal part of dining experiences for consumers, with nearly half (48%) of those under 35 considering it an essential element of their visits to bars and restaurants.2
Understanding and adapting to generational nuances, such as younger customers’ familiarity with mobile digital experiences and older generations’ desire for face-to-face services, is key. Carefully crafted, bespoke offers, and targeted marketing can help operators and merchants position their business for new and repeat customers. QR codes, in-app reservations, payment options, and online ordering allow businesses to collect valuable data about their guests and personalize experiences during customer visits. This data can also inform more effective advertising and the promotion of loyalty programs and other marketing efforts.
Of course, businesses must be mindful of protecting privacy rights when handling consumer data and abide by legislation such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. Clearly communicating the benefits of data collection is key to getting guest and customer buy-in. Research commissioned by Discover® Global Network found that 73% of digital payment power users and digitally advanced consumers are strongly interested in having their loyalty card linked to their payment card to enable reward point collection and redemption.3
Acceptance signage and payments training make positive impressions
Digital solutions are key to helping customers find restaurants and venues, order, and pay—but exceptional customer service requires more. While traveling internationally, 74% of cardholders* look for acceptance signage before paying,4 making acceptance signage an important cue that can attract customers and give them confidence in their transactions.
Clear signage that highlights flexible payment options during checkout also supports employees who are responsible for the customer experience front-of-house and on the retail floor. Successful operators not only train their staff to handle all types of accepted payments and transactions—they also train them to explain what cards and methods are accepted, which is critical to closing a sale.
Guests want to mix online reservations with walk-ins
Technology has brought widespread changes to the ways people make reservations. The Covid-19 pandemic advanced what was already a growing trend for reservations through websites, apps, and third parties.
Exclusive venues that once had no-booking policies and long queues outside their doors have transitioned to offering reservations that need to be made well in advance. In the tourism sector, travelers still prefer spontaneity, presenting restaurants with the challenge of balancing pre-booked reservations and walk-ins, while keeping both groups satisfied with whichever options they choose.
As technology continues to simplify the booking process and consumers look to reserve tables for spur-of-the-moment meals and pre-planned special occasions, flexibility is key to meeting guest and customer expectations.
Partnerships provide opportunity during times of economic uncertainty
Whether catering to international customers in major cities like London, Singapore and Barcelona, or domestic weekend travelers in smaller cities and towns, building good relationships with local hotels is a smart strategy for operators and merchants.
Overseas visitors, especially those traveling on business, are a valuable market. During times of economic uncertainty, local customers may curtail their spending, and merchants, restaurants, and venues can find increased value in partnering with hotels who can recommend their services and events for visitors and guests.
Maintaining a good relationship and regular communication with hotel concierges is a good first step that can be mutually beneficial—concierges influence travelers’ restaurant, shopping, and entertainment choices. When people have a good experience at a shop or venue recommended by a concierge, it reflects well on the concierge and the hotel.
Quick service restaurants offer innovative examples
While the role of quick service restaurants (QSR) and their customer base differs from full-service restaurants and entertainment venues, the QSR sector has led the way in digital innovations like the use of screen ordering, demonstrating how to apply technology in ways that elevate the guest experience.
QSR operators have shown that by carefully simplifying menus and operations and adding screen ordering, staff can focus on other tasks that lead to a better customer experience. In Southeast Asia, QSR startups are increasingly using the cloud kitchen model to reduce overhead costs and prepare and deliver affordable, chef-curated meals without compromising quality.5 These approaches to innovation position restaurants to focus on recruiting the personality types, talents, and attitudes that will help their businesses thrive.
While QSR innovations have helped kitchens become more efficient, guests at full-service restaurants continue to crave face-to-face contact with the restaurant staff—human interaction and high-quality service are some of the reasons people choose full-service. The key is to find ways to incorporate QSR efficiencies that give staff more time to focus on guests and their needs.
Seamless guest experiences require seamless payments
Payment is a critical moment in the customer journey. Research shows that when guests cannot pay how and when they want, it is a source of real frustration.2
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, merchants were moving into a new era of cashless and contactless payments, but the pandemic accelerated payment trends and prompted businesses to rethink what payment options they offer guests. The restaurant and tourism industries found themselves pushed to adopt new digital capabilities, embrace QR codes, and create new ordering and contactless payment experiences.
Payment apps that were once slow to take off are now an expected option that guests want at their fingertips. Operators are learning that if there is sufficient customer demand for a fresh payment method, they must quickly find a way to accommodate it.
For travelers around the world, innovations in digital commerce and payments technology are allowing for seamless experiences at the businesses where they shop, stay, and dine. With the right mix of technology and the human touch, merchants and operators can provide customers with world-class hospitality, whether they are traveling or staying close to home.
Disclaimer: * Discover® Global Network Cardholders living in Brazil, Croatia, Ecuador, India, Israel, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and United States of America who have traveled internationally over the past 36 months.
- Quality Assurance & Food Safety. “More Than 2.85 Billion People to Use Online Food Delivery in 2023, According to TradingPlatforms.com.” 28th February 2023. Viewed 16th August 2023.
- Discover Financial Services, “Payments and Technology are Transforming Restaurant Success.” Viewed 24th July 2023.
- 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence. “Key Findings: Global Merchant & Consumer Payments Survey: Commissioned by Discover Global Network.” Completed November 2021.
- C+R Research Study of 1,479 Discover® Global Network cardholders, July 2022 commissioned by DFS Services LLC.
- Tech Collective. “The role of technology in the success of QSR startups in Southeast Asia.” 11th May 2023. Viewed 16th August 2023.
The information provided herein is sponsored by Discover® Global Network. It is intended for informational purposes, and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.