Finding the Right Balance: Three Ways That Hotels Can Automate Without Losing Their Personal Touch
By Alonso Franco, CEO and Co-founder of Arrivedo
To stay competitive and reduce staffing costs, leading hospitality providers are looking for ways they can also 'automate' parts their processes to streamline services to the fast changing tastes of modern guests. 'Robot' hotels have already been launched in Norway and Japan, however experts warn that if hotels automate too many of their functions, they risk sacrificing the personalized level of attention and comfort which many guests still desire. Today's hotel differentiation is on services. What can replace the joyous feeling of returning to a room which previously resembled a disaster zone to find it in pristine order, or being pampered like a king and queen when on your honeymoon?
Here are three ways that hotels can automate without losing the personal touch which guests love so much:
We have all been there. You have had a long journey, spent hours on layovers, in cramped planes, buses and taxis, and finally arrive at your hotel – only to be met with a queue to check in. All you want to do is have a shower and rest your weary head, but you have to wait, register your card and passport, and make small talk before you can finally reach the sanctuary of your room.
Check-in and other mandatory hotel processes are often drivers towards more autonomous AirBnB experiences, where keypads and key drops streamline the process for guests when they arrive. But there are ways which hotels can automate this part of the process too. Tyler Craig, VP of NCR Corporation's travel business states, "Customers are used to ATMs at the bank instead of tellers, checking in for airplane flights online, and they are now looking for that same efficiency when they arrive at a hotel."
Using automated check in systems offered by companies like Ariane, guests could notify the hotel of their estimated arrival time in advance, fill out passport registration, select a room, and even leave a credit card for deposit – Uber style – all via an app. Upon arrival, guests could either pick up a keycard from a person at reception, with an alternative machine after entering their login details, or be sent a key code to their smartphone using a service such as Openkey.
However, it is important to offer both automated and traditional forms of check-in. Certain guests – such as non-digital travellers or those with special requests or needs – are more likely to appreciate speaking to a human representative who can welcome them, outline the facilities and have their bags sent to their room. It is also useful to have a human representative to handle any complaints or issues which may arise should something go awry with bookings or if someone has a complaint. We all know that tensions can run high after a long journey.
2. Room service / In-house services
One of the major appeals for AirBnB users, is the ability to live more 'autonomously' when travelling by shopping for and cooking their own food. When you want a midnight snack, some late night drinks, or to indulge in an eyebrow raising amount of junk food, you don't have to worry about whether it is too late to call room service, or whether you will be looked down on for ordering a burger for breakfast.
Recent studies show that consumers prefer to order through automated systems, and actually spend more money when doing so. Leading restaurants have found that orders made via digital apps were on average 20% higher than those taken by traditional cashiers. And despite the fact that for many of us being able to phone down for a snack, meal or simply a glass of wine is one of the luxuries which makes the hotel experience so endearing, when Chili's launched self-service tablets, they witnessed a 20% increase in dessert orders. People seem more comfortable letting their hair down when they don't have to announce their planned indulgences to another human being.
Aside from offering the anonymity of remote ordering, room service via an app or tablet could make the process more comfortable for guests who are visiting a foreign country too. A recent study found that consumers often avoid ordering things from a menu when they are unsure of how to correctly pronounce the name of the item. The researchers concluded that consumers might fear being misunderstood or appearing unsophisticated to representatives.
To tackle this, hospitality providers could automate in-house ordering by rolling out a mobile guest engagement solution which allows guests to request items and services from the comfort of their cellphone, or they could simply have an interactive menu system installed on devices in the guest's room. Marriott hotels and Hilton group have already rolled out similar concierge apps which allow users to interact with staff, request services or order room service from their cellphones.
Recent studies show that millennials crave unique travel experiences and tend to be turned off by the cookie-cutter in-house activities offered by many traditional hotels. As such, AirBnB, which seems to be doing a good job of staying one step ahead of millennial trends, launched its experience service which has been extremely successful in cities like New York.
While some hotels are doing a better job of marketing in-house facilities towards millennial tastes – such as the Grande Bretagne in Athens which advertises it's rooftop 'selfie spot', or the Mandarin Oriental which offers a 'selfies in Paris' package including a Mercedes and a personal driver – there is still a lot of room for improvement. Millennials are looking for experiences which stretch much further than the hotel grounds.
Rather than handing out leaflets and brochures, hotels need to automate the concierge process, to show users what is available in the locations surrounding them digitally. The Hilton group announced last year its plans to roll out robot concierges named Connie, powered by IBM's Watson.
However, while many smaller hotel chains won't be able to afford IBM Watson, they could create something similar to the QT Hotels & Resorts Concierge app which can answer guests' questions, and also point them in the direction of local restaurants and activities. Harnessing the peer-to-peer power of sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp, hotels could create automated tour guide native apps for their surrounding areas based on reviews and location.
These tools could allow guests to really delve into the areas around them and handcraft their own memorable experiences, and would allow hotels to use the data about guests' activities to create packages, partnerships and offers which could make these apps profitable for hotels and local business owners.
AirBnB deserves its top spot on the disruptor list. In less than a decade the company has turned the hospitality industry on its head, and is forcing even the biggest players to adapt, or die. However, before hoteliers change their services too much to appeal to more independant travellers, they must be sure they are not changing the exact aspects which make us want to fork out extra for an amazing hotel experience.