Is the handshake over? Are elbow bumps and “air hugs” the new business greetings? Maybe so. According to a December 2020 Harris Poll conducted for Fast Company, 30 percent of respondents said they’d like to shake hands less often in the future, and 26 percent wouldn’t want to do it at all. Overall, 54 percent agreed with the statement, “I would be happy to never shake someone’s hand again.”
Being touchless is about more than just avoiding human-to-human contact; it is also about avoiding contact with stuff, and thanks to technology and automation that has been ramping up during the past decade, it’s becoming ubiquitous. The market for touchless tech has been on the rise for years and was projected in a 2019 study to grow from $6.8 billion in 2020 to $15.3 billion by 2025. Expect that number to be even larger with the impact of COVID: Market Research Future reported “increasing hygiene concerns are contributing substantially to the growth of [the] touchless sensing market” as well as improved user experiences.
Touchless keys, elevator buttons, and check-ins are becoming familiar to most travelers. At home, we are relying more on touchless interfaces, including voice-controlled assistants like Google Nest and Amazon Echo that can control smart home devices, turn on lights, play music, or set an alarm. The National Kitchen and Bath Association reports that residential demand for touchless faucets in 2020 was up 50% from 2019. And 2020 ushered in the concept of voice-activated faucets capable of pouring precise amounts of water on request. A reliance on touchless sensing interfaces, including gesture control apps, facial recognition biometrics, movement sensors, and smartphone apps, will all become standard across residential, retail, office, healthcare, and hospitality.
On The Road Again
In 2021, safety will be paramount, and simple touchless tech solutions could be the nudge to get people exploring again. In a recent survey by Censuswide for Amadeus, 42 percent said contactless payments (e.g. Apple or Google Pay, PayPal, Venmo) would increase their confidence to travel in the next 12 months. Another 33 percent said biometrics (like facial or voice recognition) that enable check-in, pass-through security and boarding without physical contact, would make them more likely to travel.
Touchless check-in and check-out were already becoming norms at hotels before the pandemic. Now, more in-room touchless technology options are being tried out, from motion-sensor lighting to systems for operating remote controls from smartphones. A hospitality application for using the Google Nest Hub was rolled out this year at the Gansevoort Meatpacking Hotel, The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, and the Viceroy in DC. Amazon has a similar offering, giving guests options to control lights, blinds, and thermostats by voice command.
Spas are also adding touchless treatments. At Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, for instance, new hands-off wellness services include a quantum harmonic sound therapy table combining music, gentle sound waves, and highly efficient vibration to induce relaxation; deep red light therapy designed to accelerate healing and recovery; and halotherapy booths, which help detox the skin and give a boost to respiratory health.
The ABCs of QR Codes and OCR
COVID-19 has forced all business sectors to embrace a touch-free, QR Code-powered future. In retail, QR Code return kiosks are increasingly popular. At restaurants, QR Codes are quickly replacing physical menus with diners now accessing selections on their mobile phones. Result? A safer experience for guests and staff that also saves on printing expenses.
QR Codes are likely to play a big part in the development of digital health passports. Singapore Airlines has taken a first step, issuing digital or paper certificates with a QR Code for easy health verification to passengers who have taken COVID tests in selected clinics. Airport check-in staff and immigration can verify their authenticity via secure mobile app, speeding both processes.
At hotels, QR Codes can allow for contactless room access and check-out. Park Lane Hotel in New York City is using QR Codes in ads to encourage direct bookings, directing users to the hotel’s website and offering a 25% discount on booking. We can also expect the travel industry to adopt optical character recognition (OCR), which allows a physical document, like a passport or ID card, to be scanned with any mobile device and have the information immediately digitized and ready for use. According to Marc Babin of Anyline, the technology can allow passengers to scan their passports on smartphones while checking in via mobile apps. It would also enable hotel guests to use contactless ID verification technology to bypass the front desk. Babin notes the adoption of OCR will be “a timely innovation for the massive influx of international travel that will take place later this year and into 2022.”
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