To automate, or not to automate? The Hospitality Industry's soliloquy.
18 experts shared their view
Hospitality has been historically sluggish in automation adoption, mainly due to prejudice towards a notion that has always been (wrongly) considered the "human touch" antithesis. However, according to CVENT, over 56% of hospitality professionals anticipate that automation will be "extremely important" in 2022. So, why this sudden change of heart?
If, due to post-COVID labor shortage, we never had a bigger need for automation, using it to solve the staff problem is just the tip of the iceberg. Automation can also reduce labor costs and help understaffed teams, streamline and standardize processes, enhance communication between departments, and improve guest satisfaction by making it possible for hotels to provide a frictionless, tailor-made, hyper-personalized experience.
Where do you see the most valuable applications of automation in the hospitality industry?
This World Panel Viewpoint is sponsored by Cloudbeds
A lot of the debate around automation involves discussion around 'losing the human touch', or 'doing more with less'.
However, to my mind, the only question worth asking is 'is this a better way to do things?'. If it is, guests (and staff) will simply demand it.
From the guest's point of view, doing away with form filling and queuing, and getting faster replies to their queries and better service will only improve their stay. How the hotel makes that happen is irrelevant.
However, we are not there yet. To truly achieve a frictionless, tailor-made experience for guests, you essentially need to make technology disappear.
Right now, that's simply not possible. Even properties with a future-forward 'contactless customer journey' need guests to fill out forms, download apps, create accounts and passwords, scan ID's and credit cards and generally do all manner of work just to check-in online and get a digital key. And at the end of all this additional work, the current mobile key experience is arguably inferior to that of an old fashioned RFID card.
And I've only discussed the check-in...
Guest communication is a whole other next-level mess. Even before you add a thing to the hotel's tech stack, there are already a bewildering number of channels that a guest might use to contact the hotel; OTA platform messages, email, sms, live chat, social media messages, etc, etc. Hotels already have to monitor multiple siloed communication channels, even before they add a thing to their tech stack.
In an ideal world, all guest and staff communication channels would be dealt with from one centralised place, with routine queries and requests being automatically replied to and urgent messages flagged and brought to the top of the queue. However, unless and until all OTA's allow the unified inbox solutions access to their api's, hotels are stuck with having to jump between numerous systems just to be able to communicate with their guests.
Introducing new technologies is time consuming and complicated and brings a level of risk. The only way to truly understand how a tech stack will work is to be able to test out and experience the full guest journey using the various technologies together, which often is not possible. Even technologies that have a demo environment don't necessarily allow you to fully demo all of their features, leaving you with an incomplete understanding of how they will function in the real world. Also, given that so many vendors have overlapping offerings, it can become challenging to keep track of who does what, or, more pertinently, who might best do what.
I don't think it's hard for hotels to grasp the opportunities that automation offers - I think it's hard for them to have confidence that the technologies they select for their tech stack will work together the way they expect, and not create more problems than they solve. 'If it 'ain't broke, don't fix it', is a truism for a reason.
However, despite all of these challenges, I do think the industry is on the cusp of achieving meaningful progress. In particular I believe that two thing will transform the guest experience.
- Decentralised Identity (which will allow allow guests to securely verify and share their identity, credit card and contact details with a single click of a button).
- Being able to store a Mobile Key in your Apple or Google Wallet.
They just can't come fast enough.
For me personally, there is no dilemma and the answer is self-evident: automate the dirty, dull, dangerous and repetitive tasks and leave the creative tasks to human employees!
Let's start first with the back-of-house operations, which are invisible to the guests, but make a huge contribution to service quality, efficiency and profitability. Many tasks in accounting, revenue management, inventory management, and marketing are automatable with intelligent automation software. Processing documents, extracting information from email and inputting it in a respective desktop/cloud application, communicating with customers through chatbots, booking forecasts and inventory planning based on them, pricing, social media posts, and numerous other tasks can be automated with respective software solutions. Robotic vacuum cleaners, robots for cleaning windows and swimming pools, and robotic housekeeping carts could improve the efficiency of housekeepers.
The front-of-house operations provide vast opportunities for automating processes, that would facilitate and complement the "human touch" of the receptionists, e.g. self-check-in/out through kiosk or mobile app; provision of information through digital displays or virtual concierges (in an app, or kiosk). Room service delivery robots can not only make the service more efficient but add an entertaining element to it as well.
In short, by liberating employees from dirty, dull, dangerous and repetitive tasks, automation technologies allow them to pay more attention to the guests. Therefore, there might be no conflict between automation and hospitality - automation technologies may help hospitality companies focus on the core of their business - the hospitality.
In Automation We Trust!
I am in favour of RPA - Robotic Process Automation. Less so in physical robots that tend to be launched just for PR purposes. The Hospitality industry has many legacy IT systems that were never designed to talk together so tools like UiPath, Workato etc. can reduce effort in hard-pressed teams like Finance, Ops, Legal, HR by moving data between systems, checking records, spotting mismatches etc. Would I ever buy my latte from a machine? Yes, they are called vending machines, but I would prefer to buy from a human barista. Checkin kiosks for hotels (all levels incl. 5 star) are fine as checkin transactions are functional and offer little added value, but there needs to be a human on hand to handle exceptions, or to give advice eg things to do nearby. Make the tech work well so exceptions are rare, but give the guest choice.
I believe by automation in hospitality, we have to understand and include all of the technology applications and devices that are augmenting and replacing human-provided services: mobility, contactless experience, AI, robotics, etc. Using AI, mobility, cloud, robots and cobots, IoT and other next gen technologies the hotel, especially 4- and 5- star properties, can still keep a "human guest-facing facade" but automate all of the back-end operations, enable smart guest communications, and automate and personalize every touch point with the customer. Yes, and add humans with a warm smile into the mix.
Whether we like it or not, labor shortages in hospitality will be a permanent fixture in the future. At the current level of 1.5 million open positions in U.S. hospitality and leisure and a very low 3.6% unemployment rate, much needed help is not coming anytime soon, if at all. Sign-up bonuses, $20-$30/hour wages will bring only so many employees back to the industry since many other industries are experiencing exactly the same labor issues and are paying even more.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unfilled positions in the U.S. reached 11 million last month. As we see, labor shortages are not a hospitality-native problem. Professional services, retail, transportation, manufacturing, construction and other industries are equally affected.
So what is the solution? Operate with fewer well-paid, well-trained, well-motivated employees and invest adequately in DYI processes and solutions, automation, mobile and contactless applications, AI and IoT applications and devices, and robotics. I believe within the next t 3 years, on average, hoteliers will operate at 50% the staffing levels they had back in 2019 and will be investing 3x-4x more in technology, compared to the pre pandemic era.
I see the following technology solutions which, as a priority, will augment or rep,ace tge need for human-provided services in hospitality:
- Mobile check-in and contactless experience
- Housekeeping management applications and housekeeping-on-demand programs
- Guest messaging and issue resolution technologies
- CRM and CDP technologies and programs
- In-room automation and IoT devices
Example: You can reduce your front desk staff by 50% or more by introducing mobile check-in and mobile keys, self-check in kiosks, chatbot on the website to handle service and information requests, email reservation assistant app to handle email booking requests, an issue resolution technology applications and voice assistants in the rooms to handle customer service requests by stay-in guests. All of this at fraction of the payroll expenses.
Or you can cut your housekeeping needs by half if you introduce housekeeping-on-demand as one of the steps during the mobile check-in or when checking in via the self-service kiosk in the lobby. The arriving guest should be able to choose in advance the type of housekeeping they are comfortable with during their stay: daily, once every 3 days, weekly, etc. or no housekeeping, just leave fresh towels by the door. This allows better planning, scheduling and utilization of your housekeeping staff and results in significant reduction in labor costs.
Or rooms equipped with Internet of Things (IoT) devices can sense when the guest is or isn't in the room and automatically adjust lighting and temperature thus saving utility costs; alert housekeeping when room is empty or vacated, signal engineering when something needs fixing, etc. This automation saves serous labor costs from reduced maintenance, housekeeping, human monitoring, etc.
Or you can increase significantly repeat business by adopting a CRM technology and program. Only a meaningful CRM technology application - as part of your hotel tech stack - can ensure deep engagement with your past, current and future guests. CRM tech not only provides automated pre-, during- and post-stay communications, guest satisfaction surveys, guest retention marketing automation and drip marketing campaigns, but takes it a step further via guest recognition program management and loyalty marketing. All of these fully automated CRM initiatives keep "the conversation going" with your upcoming, current and past guests, keeps them engaged and steers them in the right direction: to book your hotel when it's time for them to visit your destination again. In addition, you can use your CRM first party data about your best guests to launch similar audiences marketing on Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc. to target potential customers with similar characteristics as your best guests. CRM initiatives in combination with ORM (Online Reputation Management) tech can turn your happy guests into brand ambassadors and avid social media influencers.
Or, you can reduce by half your kitchen staff if your hotel has F&B or create a new revenue stream at your budget or economy hotel:
- Robots like Flippy by Miso Robotics are flipping burgers at CaliBurger and White Castle Restaurants to the delight of their customers, while the salad-making robot Sally by Chowbotics prepares signature salads at quadruple the human pace.
- Creator, San Francisco's automated burger restaurant, features a 14-foot burger machine with more than 350 sensors that is capable of making 130 premium quality custom burgers an hour, plus a window for takeout orders.
- Piestro, an innovative robotic pizza shop, can deliver high-quality artisanal pizzas within 3 minutes. Their fully-automated machines are being designed with the aim of allowing for zero contact food preparation, zero food waste, consistent quality, and a much lower cost of operation.
The list goes on and on. Technologies that exist today can and will significantly reduce staffing needs and labor costs in all stages of service delivery, from pre-arrival customer engagements to on-property guest services and post-stay customer retention.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced many hotels to jump ten years ahead in technological adoption. We (eventually) understood we are not only a "people industry" but a "tech industry" too. Even a small independent hotel cannot operate successfully without half a dozen software.
We have a double standard when it comes to technology in our industry. When we think of AI and robotics being used in the medical field to detect and cure cancer, we applaud it, yet when we consider using AI, RPA, or physical robots to aid us in hospitality, we get nervous. The misunderstanding is that we will lose the human touch when tech is introduced. Yet the human touch itself often creates problems and inefficiencies in the guests' experience. Check-in, check-out, luggage deposits... These are "logistics." The human touch does not make much difference to most people in most situations. Furthermore, robots will likely not take our jobs. The real tech of the future will work in the background, supporting, not stealing, our careers.
And the more you invest in technology, the more human that technology becomes. If you can eliminate the need to scan passports at check-in or other tedious, repetitive jobs, you can focus on the human side while tech takes care of the rest. The fact that it's a machine or a person entering a guest's data into the PMS simply doesn't change the guest experience. So we need to let go of our fear of tech.
Let computers do what they do best, and humans do what humans do best.
As a general rule the adoption of automation is intended to improve the status quo in any area of a business. Simplified, to be able to do things at the 'speed of data' as compared to the speed of people.
Therefore, the best application for automation in our industry is in any place that technology has reached a stage where it can augment or supersede the capability of standing manual processes.
The secondary, but equally important consideration is that through the adoption of automation the byproduct is historical and behavioural information. This information, normally not previously existing prior to automation is then able to be stored, shared, analysed and used to improve the aspect of the business that the data supports.
I often state to my clients that it is not absolutely necessary to automate anything in the hospitality business. We come from a long line of tried and true manual processes that allow us at a minimum to provide a basic hospitality experience.
However, the considerations therefore become;
- Are you willing to continue to conduct a task or process manually that could be augmented by a technical solution?
- Do you see no future value in the empirical information that can be gleaned from the automation of the process?
- Would this information help you run your business more effectively in the area of automation?
- Would you like to be able to share the inputs and outputs of a process, which is enabled by automation for immediate and long term benefit?
If the answer to these questions is generally in the negative, then perhaps there is not a strong driver for automation.
At TRAVHOTECH we track over 150 business functions that deliver the hospitality experience. That is, the processes and tasks that must be carried out every day, regardless of whether they are supported by technology.
In our view the opportunity for automation and the byproduct of information is extraordinary for the hospitality industry in every area of industry operation.
Automation will be the No. 1 focus for owners and operators moving forward as they look to reduce labor costs and meet new guest expectations. The self-service movement has taken off in other traveler verticals, such as air travel and ground transportation, and hoteliers will be best served by relying on digital tools to allow guests to perform many functions on their own devices, such as check-in, in-room dining, lobby purchases, etc. In the back of the house, hoteliers will rely on automation as a way to reduce manual data entry and instead focus their efforts on more impactful strategies. Specifically in the marketing department, we're seeing tremendous progress with the automation of personalized marketing campaigns that drive engagement, conversion and ultimately guest satisfaction.
The slow adoption of automation in various processes is hurting hotel groups and independent operators heavily, especially during these difficult times.
There are many good reasons for the industry to move quickly in changing this, and I would distinguish two different areas where automation can add tremendous value.
Any back office procedure which is manual today should be reviewed for automation potential. It is still shocking how many things depend on human intervention. Whether it is about posting items to guest folios, performing credit card payments or refunds, trying to get data out of the old PMS into 3rd party tools, or consolidating data within a hotel group, manual work could be avoided.
Getting rid of those through modern technology is easier than many would think. All of this change is driven today by the shortage of staff and the pressure to become more efficient in hotel operations.
The second area is to provide a great customer experience which the vast majority of hotel guests are expecting today, regardless of whether it is a budget or a 5-star property. Consumers in today's world just want to do the same things online throughout their entire journey as they know it from many other industries. And it is not about offering this in parts as the full experience can easily be offered by hotels to their guests. It starts with online bookings via a web app or hotel website, paying upfront online from any device in a secure way, having access to the hotel and their rooms with a mobile keycard and receiving the invoice before the stay or after guests leave the hotel.
Even things such as booking items to their rooms while they are at the property and paying them immediately, or enhancing their stay are becoming more common.
When you look at accommodation providers which are operating without staff at the property level, the guest journey has to work 100% reliably in a digital and automated way.
For good reasons, many hotels still want to have a front desk and people that interact with their guests to provide a personal touch. But even for these hotels, there is no reason not to provide a full self-service journey in addition. Travellers hate to just stand in another line when they arrive or depart from hotels, and in almost all hotels this is still the case today.
One could argue that full-service or 5-star hotels always want to have human interaction with guests as this is part of their high requirements for personal service. However, the younger generation of travellers with lots of funds available to stay at these properties still wants to be in a position to do anything online from their mobile devices.
In summary, there is a huge requirement to automate all back office procedures and at the same time offer the greatest mobile guest journey experience.
The concern is that based upon the traditional on-premise or cloud PMS environment this goal is nearly impossible to achieve and the investment is far too heavy. Modern platforms do provide an alternative to this legacy.
Automation is a big thing and can provide a very personal and individual guest experience. BUT there is a prerequisite to it. Before thinking about automation hotels have to adjust their IT strategy first. The conversion from a process oriented to a guest oriented IT strategy is necessary to deliver qualitative results. This means the Central Guest Profile is the key to success also for automation.
Just take a Pre-Stay communication for example. From a stand alone CRM or PMS it is a basic mass communication based on the transaction information. Using the knowledge from the Golden Record, the Central Guest Profile, the complete communication could be a totally different story, meaning a real 1:1 individual communication experience.
Or another example: the hotel newsletter. Todays hotel newsletter provide no individuality, which means everyone gets the same message at the same time, no matter what. Using e.g. the dailypoint Content Bot based on a Central Guest Profile, the system can create fully automatically individual emails for each recipient based on a pool of content. The system pics the right articles and sorts them in the right sequence to deliver a complete individualized communication experience.
Automation is great but hotels have to do it right. No silo thinking, no stand alone solutions. Like many other things, the Central Profile should come first managed by a CDM (Central Data Management) platform and then the rest.
The pandemic underscored the need for hospitality providers to have flexible systems that can be adapted quickly to exceed changing guest expectations. Automation, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), will be a key driver for hotel profitability, and a growing number of innovative hoteliers are offering unique new experiences leveraging AI-based initiatives. Automation can assist hoteliers struggling to fill staffing vacancies and allow staff to focus on delivering customer service rather than dealing with operational admin. Oracle Hospitality is focused on several areas where we know automation can address immediate deficiencies in hospitality.
One of the most business-critical areas where automation can assist hotels is with revenue management, whether collecting and analyzing data, or selecting, pricing, and presenting room, attribute, or non-room products. Automation can help generate incremental revenue specifically focused on the guest life cycle, making upsell offers to guests from booking to on-property, including optimizing room assignment. Machine learning, a type of AI, can target offers to guests without the need for staff manually determining who should be offered an upgrade, and real-time integration to the PMS can automate fulfilment. This is one of the most compelling examples of machine learning-based automation in our industry, driving revenue, streamlining operations, and engaging guests.
Secondly, guest service may be improved via AI-based automation, particularly with chatbots that help address guest needs while providing employees the most valuable thing: TIME. With the industry suffering labor issues, chatbots instantly answer and address many guest requests allowing staff to focus on other duties. We've seen hotels use chatbots to answer simple questions, manage reservation updates, and offer other hotel services based on the guest interaction. Today's travelers are motivated to purchase by factors including health and safety, ease, and convenience. Chatbots and other human-like tech meet those criteria, for both guests and staff.
Thirdly is transforming day-to-day hotel operations – the areas that are historically admin heavy. For example, Housekeeping can utilize automation in daily attendant task assignments and to create a rolling out-of-order schedule to optimize room utilization. Communication between departments is paramount and business rule-based automation can trigger alerts or actions to users when an event occurs related to a booking change or occupancy level change. Similarly, automation can be used to assist finance with the daily audit by auto balancing the transactions and calling out any discrepancies or imbalances proactively.
Automation powered by AI was once considered a "nice to have" in the hospitality industry, but is now increasingly important. With automation, hotel owners can save and generate significant revenue, reduce human error, and deliver superior service. AI never stops learning from analysis of guest and staff behavior, and because of that, it has the capacity to significantly transform hospitality.
Automation, or not, has been the hospitality industry's biggest question for many years. I strongly believe that Technology will not take away the personalised human touch hotels need to offer as it's not about replacing guest service. In fact, it is a solution to what most hospitality workforces often ask themselves "Which of my duties are compulsory, which are optional"; "Which are tactical, which are strategic?".
The search for skilled workers has always been a need since post-pandemic. However, automation and Technology have not been able to replace duties 100% as it only facilitates streamlining and standardising hotel operations and processes. Nevertheless, ideal enterprise cloud-based solutions have helped hoteliers to monitor and perform tasks from multiple geographies.
The most valuable applications of automation in hospitality are those that support the three pillars of increased guest experience, increased revenues and reduced costs. This would include hotel tasks management, check-in check-out process with DIY options, guest room automation, guest messaging, upselling and revenue management. The right investment in an ideal property management solution will reap great benefits and reduce the risk for hoteliers in this changing environment. In fact, statistics show that one of our clients - Kokopo Village Resort in New Guinea, identified an increase of 18% in productivity and an increase of 18.5% in gross margins in the F&B department.
However, most hotels make huge mistakes by creating an "insensitive automation" environment without considering their guests preferences and needs.
Automation is situational and must be customised to the preference of a hotels guest profiles. For instance, vacationing pensioners often prefer to be greeted by people over a robot. They may also find it inconvenient to use mobile key technologies or other DIY options. A resort that caters predominantly to such guests should keep these points in mind while planning their automation strategy. On the other hand, hotels that cater to the millennials must facilitate DIY options like self check-in and check-out. Hotels that cater to Gen Z may find their guests are ecstatic to see a robot greet them! Moreover, business travellers and delegates require speedy services with excellent technological infrastructures.
Automation strategies should be well planned to be sensitive to the guests. Statistics from Stratos Jet Charters INC prove that while 36% of Millenniums approve of automation and online check-in, 84% are already using technology to make their decisions, compared to 19% from the previous generation.
End of the day, it is not a question of automating or not automating anymore, however, it is about how well you will automate your hotel operations while understanding the guests needs and profile. The post-pandemic has led hoteliers to re-think differently and do more with less whilst delivering remarkable guest experiences simultaneously. For what it is worth, automation can provide great flexibility and let your business remain sustainable and competitive in the industry.
The recent (May 2022) survey by Oracle / Skift stated that 73% of travellers want to use their own mobile device to mange their hotel experience. Conclusive evidence that widespread adoption of personal tech solutions - which have revolutionised our lives (shopping, banking, social interaction etc etc) - and are taken for granted in everyday life are now expected as part of the hospitality package. This growing preference to use technology that provides an intuitive interface and consistent service levels is applicable to all property echelons and fast becoming a welcome alternative to the erratic "human touch" still offered by the luxury sector.
Hospitality is no stranger to automation, although innovations can take time to reach scale.
Occupancy sensors, for example, were invented during World War II. Around thirty years later their use became widespread in the bedrooms and corridors of large hotels. Today, sensors are low-cost, standard practice, and they do a great job at managing energy costs.
In a similar timeframe, the very first text message was sent thirty years ago. Now, messaging has evolved to play a vital role in our daily lives, and increasingly, it will become indispensable for businesses to communicate in this way.
Once hotels adopt digital channels, the possibilities for automation are endless. Take the requests that come into a concierge. Typically a third will be restaurant bookings and the vast majority (90%+) do not require the concierge's magic touch to get that table with the view. These are classic examples that should be automated, particularly with the wide level of adoption for Table Management Systems. The same applies to transportation bookings.
In the past, there has been resistance to automation in the Guest Experience, particularly in the luxury hotel sector where the historic answer has been to increase the number of staff, but in today's market that is no longer as easy.
If done correctly, automation can significantly increase customer satisfaction even in the luxury sector. Reminders about items on a guests itinerary, answers to frequently asked questions like "what floor is the pool on" should be answered instantly and this can be done through automation.
Chatbots have been given a bad name from poor implementations, where they are not tuned properly and are not seamlessly integrated with staff. Done well and responding only when a very high level of confidence is achieved, chatbots have a place in the most luxurious of properties.
There's a careful balance to strike to create on-brand automations. We believe that the Customer Experience should not be dictated by technology, it should be enabled by it. Hotels should have the ability to tailor their unique experience based on a number of triggers, like new bookings, sending transport reminders at the perfect time etc, with personalised templates to deliver a unique experience for each guest.
While many hotel managers pride their staff's personal service, to the best of my knowledge, nobody books a particular hotel because of a great and personal check-in experience. Interestingly, most hotel managers think that, during this check-in experience, their front desk staff is selling the arriving guest a room upgrade at a cost. Reality check! I stay in many hotels and rarely do I get offered an upgrade. Plus, when I arrive early, the room is typically given for free to me.
So, to answer the question on where the most valuable application for automations are: definitely the check-in experience! Why would a guest want to wait while the desk clerk is banging on a keyboard, entering data that the guest would have happily done him/herself. Enabling mobile or self-service check in is a huge immediate gain for both hotel and guest!
Automating upsell, is the second obvious choice for automation. Front desk agents are humans and upselling is an extra task that they don't necessarily remember or like to do. Software ALWAYS upsells a guest. Convert your manual upsell process to a digital process and your hotel will increase revenue, period. Plus the rarely mentioned but important benefit: it automatically balances the house. No staff involvement, all done by the guest!
The magic of hospitality has always been the ability to delight guests and go above what they expect. When staff are busy with their heads down in the PMS or spending time on labor intensive tasks, this magic is nearly impossible to create. Automation stands to benefit everyone by removing the barriers (clunky systems, tasks, or processes) between hotel staff and guests. And nowhere are the benefits of automation more obvious than the front desk.
Today, thanks to automated workflows and smart phones, guests can complete check-in before they even get to the hotel. From an experience standpoint, they can quickly print a room key or use an app-based mobile key and go straight to their room. No more queueing in line for fifteen minutes to confirm their details – this was already done from the airport. Hotels stand to benefit even more. Front of house teams now have insights into arrival times, meaning they can assign rooms and manage staffing levels. When guests have the ability to communicate wants and needs in advance, brands are equipped to offer more personalized service. This ultimately enriches the data profiles of each unique customer and enhances the personalized, face-to-face service teams can provide.
The first thing that comes to mind when hoteliers think of automation is the on-property guest experience. The reality is that every aspect of hospitality can be improved through automation: the inspiration and research phase, the booking process, check-in, the experience during the stay, check-out, gathering feedback after leaving the hotel, etc. In fact, the area where there is the biggest opportunity to drive revenue thanks to automation is the online reservation side of things.
Machine learning techniques today make it possible to predict user behavior and effortlessly optimize campaigns for each and every online visitor. No need for manual intervention - algorithm-powered optimization of traffic acquisition ensures higher ROAS (Return On Ad Spend). More and more hotel brands are also successfully using Predictive Personalization to run value-targeted website campaigns that are automated and hyper-personalized, providing a significant uplift in direct conversions while reducing promotional costs. These changes are not small details - they can be transformative for a business and so any smart company in hospitality is probably already looking at how these new techniques could be applied to their brand.
The post-pandemic hospitality industry is simultaneously experiencing both a resurgence in travel demand and a persistent dearth of available labor. Both travelers and potential employees want something more for hotels: Travelers expect enhanced service levels and more personalization of the guest experience, while workers want more wages, benefits, career advancement, and flexibility. Fortunately, mobile automation offers hoteliers a way to satisfy both.
In the short to medium term, mobile automation gives hotels a way to get the most out of smaller teams. At its most basic level, automation can eliminate a lot of the repetitive busywork plaguing hotel employees and keeping them distracted from their guests. On a more strategic level, however, mobile communication can completely streamline the interactions between the front and back-of-the-house, with the front desk being able to quickly send custom maintenance and action requests, while instantly receiving automatic room status updates from housekeeping. A mobile PMS can even automate housekeeping task management according to employee workload, ensuring work is done efficiently (without employee burnout).
Hoteliers can essentially automate check-in by integrating a PMS with mobile check-in capabilities with a keyless entry system, a digital payment platform, and a mobile guest messaging system. The result is increased bandwidth for front desk staff and enhanced convenience and personalization for guests. Hotels can even automate ancillary revenue generation by sending targeted, automated offers for room upgrades, amenities, and monetized early check-in/ late check-out directly to guests' smartphones. This can be optimized even further by integrating with a CRM for more granular guest profiles, or an upgrade optimizer for more optimal pricing.
While it is commonly asserted that automation comes at the expense of high-touch service and employee appreciation, nothing could be further from the truth. A mobile PMS, for example, can free hotel staff from the front desk, and the less time they spend manually checking in travelers or performing rote administrative tasks, the more time they can spend more organically and authentically interacting with and serving their guests. Automated revenue optimization can also benefit hotel employees, providing the monetary basis for the wage and benefit increases needed to lift the labor shortage.
Though there have been some improvements in 2022, the ongoing weakness in the labor market has continued for well over a year now with no end in sight. Automation, workflow, and AI-based tools have proven themselves useful during the pandemic and must be rolled out continually to enhance service without simultaneously increasing the burden on staff or managers. When it comes to automation in other aspects of hospitality, why not enable hotel staff to offload mundane or routine tasks to technology and allow them to focus their time and energy on what got them excited about hospitality in the first place — taking care of guests?
Some hoteliers have been reluctant to allow travelers to do it all from their mobile devices — check-in, check-out, room keys, concierge, service requests and so on — because of the sentiment that it removes the human element from the service equation. At INTELITY, we believe by offering a fast, seamless mobile experience, hotels can give guests access to what they want right now, and not excluding human-led options. Then, with full support from GEMS® (INTELITY's proprietary Guest Experience Management System), service delivery improves dramatically through ticketing and our large stack of integrations and other back-of-house connections.
Perhaps one of the most valuable applications of automation in hospitality is in guest experience management technology. INTELITY's smart-room tablets and mobile apps automate guest services and enable seamless communication between guests and staff; be it a simple service request or a more complex activity like checking-in to a reservation and being assigned a room. Enabling personalized, frictionless service requests, restaurant reservations, and F&B orders, with the convenience of a few taps on a guest's mobile device or an in-room tablet, enhances guest engagement and creates a better experience overall.
This World Panel Viewpoint is sponsored by Cloudbeds