Industry Update
Opinion Article30 November 2021

Hotel Operations Platforms Now Enable ‘Utility Players’

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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Venturing down to HITEC in Dallas near the end of September, it was a tradeshow fraught with obstacles that hindered it from achieving the highs of its antecovidian outings. It competed for attendees with the Lodging Conference held concurrently over in Phoenix; there were still lingering fears over the Delta Variant spiking in Texas; and perhaps the greatest concern is that many technology vendors, much like the hotels they are serve, are operating on lean budgets with just-in-time delivery of new features and sales through one-off video calls that defeat the purpose of a maintaining an expensive booth presence.

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Still, the hotel industry marches on and tech suppliers are here to help, especially when it comes to economically mitigating the ongoing labor shortages that are palpable in just about every travel market across the globe.

The first layer of the tech stack is, of course, the PMS, for which vendors have already rolled out features to assist with mobile bookings (for guests) and mobile management (for team members on the go). The best PMS suppliers are aiding on the staffing front by enhancing the prearrival experience – either natively or through better integrations to bolt-on platforms – to both present customers with better upsell opportunities (room upgrades or attribute-based sales) and to secure as much ancillary revenue on the books as possible (dining reservations, spa appointments, golf rounds and so on).

Besides revenue optimization, what’s critical in a labor-deprived world is to have a crystal-clear picture of what service your guests will want to utilize prior to their arrival. That way, you can plan accordingly and don’t end up in a situation where you can’t provide, with money is inevitably left on the table.

One recent firsthand experience illustrating this was while traveling to a Californian resort where, due to staffing shortages, the signature restaurant had to close at 10pm even though there was a rush of late dinner walk-ins from in-house guests who were more than keen on drinking well past the midnight hour. The eatery was kept lightly staffed due to various forces and the manager, in the hours or days prior, had to make a judgment call on overtime allotment based upon the information they had at the time – that this particular evening would likely peter out by 10pm as it had in the near past when reviewing historical data.

In this instance, though, over two hours of bar tabs were lost due to a probabilistic shift scheduling snafu. Whether it was actually the property’s ‘fault’ or simply a fallout from macroeconomic forces is beyond any single manager’s control.

But had the hotel worked to secure those seating times in the weeks before the evening in question – via strong booking engine software, prearrival emails or proper voice channel follow-up – then the restaurant director would’ve anticipated this late-hour need and likely reacted by finding the necessary staff to keep the drinks (and revenues) flowing.

This example brings us forward to the second layer of the tech stack, which is the hotel operations platform, giving managers an intuitive and tabulated interface through which to oversee key tasks like housekeeping, maintenance work orders and guest requests. Crucially here is how these systems have now evolved to facilitate what the two of us dub as ‘utility players’ or those frontline staffers who can complete jobs across multiple departments.

Unionized hotels aside, we first borrowed this baseball terminology to describe how hotels were keeping the lights on during the worst days of the pandemic with each remaining member of the skeleton crew performing a variety of previously siloed duties. With the pandemic waning and demand returning, the need for labor is back but the silos should decidedly not return.

The hotels poised for success over the coming decades are those that start to blend departments (and their supportive technologies), both to save costs on labor inefficiencies and to heighten service through better, more integrated communications channels. The hotel operations platform is the enabler for this evolution because most are equipped with specific features to shuffle tasks around amongst employees as well as establish escalation criteria, tracking metrics and gamification.

There’s a lot of overlap in functionality for these systems, so we stress that you consider what the executive team wants as well as what the managers using these platforms can handle. For them, learning how to work within two interfaces (the PMS and the ops platform) is easier than having five or more partly connected applications open. Consolidation is key to maintain daily active usage.

Then from the employee’s perspective, having a system that can enable utility work will help to reduce on-the-job confusion as well as boredom, in turn assisting with talent retention and stymie the labor churn that plagued our industry since roughly Summer 2020. Such ops platforms let a hotel rebuild their teams and simultaneously motivate them through the exposure to numerous and varied tasks, making the employee experience more dynamic as well as revealing where said staffer would be best suited for career advancement.

Without getting too far into the weeds of examining select features that may be offered by one vendor or another, what’s important for now is to understand this broad trend and how hotel tech is progressing in sync with what properties need to navigate the untested waters ahead. If you weren’t able to make it to HITEC, we encourage you to reach out to vendors working within this hotel operations management space to see how they can help maximize team productivity so that you can realize all of the abovementioned benefits.

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