Reimaging mobile strategy in the digital “new normal” – leisure and hospitality
by Yuen H Lee, EVP Augmentum, Inc. 

The nature and the pace of innovation has changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. In pockets of economies that were reopened, the resurgence of COVID-19 cases followed. Businesses face the cycle of challenging reopening and reclosing, at least for the foreseeable future.

During this pandemic crisis, the leisure and hospitality industry was hit the hardest. With restricted international travel, hoteliers, casinos, and theme parks turned to localized travel.

During a pandemic, deciding to close during an outbreak/resurgence or to reopen is one of the most difficult decision. For many leisure and hospitality operators, hygiene and safety protocols become their top priority. Guests demand assurances that the properties they will be visiting will have additional, verified health checks and standards in place. Health and safety will have a profound influence on the traveler’s psyche and what travelers will look for when booking a hotel, visiting a casino, or enjoying a day in a theme park.


The universal consensus is: Health and Safety. These priorities apply to both guests and the employees who serve them. Many businesses are deeply focused on developing responsible operating plans. They include new policies and procedures to reinforce their safety messaging and partnering with established trusted organizations specializing in health, wellness, and cleanliness. Face mask, temperature check, enhanced disinfection of high touch surfaces and social distancing are the standard staples. Other guest experiences during a stay or a visit take a backseat.

Guest experience consists of many mini experiences. It is often not a single event, but a set of interconnected moments, triggers, activation points, and the many mini experiences from these many moments. During COVID-19, with temperature check, face mask, sanitization, cleanliness, and social distancing; personalized face-to-face interactions and human touch points, instead of improving, become frictions to a superior guest experience. An asymptomatic doorman is a luxury no guests need and will be extremely costly to the business.

What if, businesses can turn the ‘health and safety’ centric guest journey into a new normal digital journey that, in addition to safe and secure, is fun and enjoyable, and an opportunity to automate manual operational processes and revenue generation?


What is the cost of health and safety? Priceless. Without it, guests will not visit, they will not return. COVID-19 also intensifies and accelerates the transformation of digital behavior. The pandemic compressed years of digital transformation into months. Many of the new normal digital behavior are permanent. In the span of months, workers work from homes instead of offices, teachers instruct via video and students learn from the laptops instead of classrooms, brick-and-mortar retail stores gave way to online shopping, and online grocery doubled. Every business in the world hit the reset/restart button. The crisis lays bare the differences between businesses who handle the pandemic well and those that are not. Digital incrementalism became digital great leap forward.

In normal times, in leisure and hospitality, superior guest experiences are delivered with a human touch. Coronavirus is transmitted from person to person and from touch surface to person. Leisure and hospitality operators invested heavily on new protocols to reinforce their safety messaging and practice, and re-planning the touch points. To many, the only safe contact point they trust is through their own mobile phones. Cleanliness is essential, contactless is preferable.

Leisure and hospitality businesses must provide fun and enjoyable digital experiences through contextual digital moments to guests as the reasons for their visits or stays, in addition to “please come visit, you are safe!”.


Almost 40% of the global population are mobile phone users. Nearly 90% of the time they spent on the mobile phones are on apps (not talk time). With a combined 5 million apps between Apple App Store and Google Play Store, mobile apps are ubiquitous. Research also shows that there are between 50 and 100 apps are installed on an average mobile phone and only 3 apps on average are used nearly 90% of the time. Furthermore, over three quarters of all app downloaded are used only once and never used again (churn).

Mobile app delivers a set of pre-determined features and functions. Changes will require an update download. Apps are static and do not respond to frequent changes well. The app download process and the time needed to complete the download varies. The pace of challenges posed by the pandemic are unprecedented. Hotel restaurants and gyms, gaming tables and slot machines, theme parks rides, can be opened one day and closed the next day. Operating hours can capacity controls are adjusted constantly to meet changing health authority directives.

COVID-19 intensifies and accelerates the transformation of digital behavior. Mobile App needs help to deliver instant, ever changing, on the spot superior guest experiences, in a largely contactless guest journey.


Before COVID-19, some in the leisure and hospitality industry has begun the march to transform their business offerings, placing guest experiences as a one of the differentiators in their overall guest journey. Some have envisioned that the cost of the implementation of these “experiences” would be offset by incremental monetization opportunities at each of the touch points in the journey. Furthermore, guests would be willing to purchase “experiences” in addition to purchase other services and material purchases. Then, the pandemic hit.

High-quality experiences are based on empathy, customer analytics (know your customer), and the appropriate technology to engage. In COVID-19, the engagements must be compassionate, meaningful, and contextual to both the guests and the employees serving them. The engagements must be accessible anytime, anywhere; to deliver the anytime, anywhere experience. No property hygiene tsar or safety SWAT team can do that.

Businesses should anticipate, meet and deliver the guests’ every need and experience, and quick to pivot to incorporate new guidelines, protocols and technologies. As a veteran CEO once said, “A crisis is a terrible opportunity to waste.” The pandemic, as sudden as it is prolonged, shall pass.

Augmentum creates products, consults, and performs software services for enterprise digital transformation.  Since our founding in 2003, we have co-innovated with our world-class clients to employ human centered strategies and leading-edge technologies to produce mission critical, award winning, transformational digital experiences for their customers, employees, and partners.