Businesses across a wide variety of verticals have embraced automation to easily manage time-consuming, repetitive tasks. Yet many sectors haven’t fully taken advantage of these technological opportunities. One prime example is the hospitality industry. Although there has been some implementation of automation in hospitality, a closer look reveals countless opportunities where automation could benefit its day-to-day operations.
Bookings and Check-Ins
Most hotel brands utilize one kind of automated process: online bookings. Already, we take apps that display room availabilities, make bookings, and customize our stay without a human representative for granted. Automated emails could further support the industry by reminding customers about check-in times and dates closer to the booking.
Hospitality is now shifting towards automating the check-in experience itself. Hotels located everywhere from North America to Europe have check-in kiosks that supplement the front desk, enabling customers to access their room. Beyond hotel arrivals, kiosks also allow guests to print new room keys if they lose the original.
Eventually, automation may render check-ins obsolete. Some hotels have started experimenting with keyless entry options where customers access their room using an authenticated mobile device. These digital room keys are available at seventeen Marriott Hotel branches and within the Expedia app. If this trend continues, we could soon see hospitality smartphone apps serve as room keys for standard hotel visits.
Enhanced Guest Room Experience
After checking in, guests can take advantage of automated experiences from their room. The Shangri-La Hotel in Abu Dhabi offers “Guest Automation Systems” that regulate lighting and temperature from a central station. These platforms detect when someone enters the room and adjusts the settings to comfortable levels. Once the guest leaves the room or steps out onto a balcony, the sensors switch to standby mode. These settings are both a convenience for the guest and an energy-saving measure for hospitality companies.
Guests can also control automated hospitality services. Mobile devices or room key activated tablets grant users control of temperature settings, TV controls, or the ability to request concierge orders, which is normally processed by telephone. For guests who prefer to be hands-free, voice activated technology similar to Alexa or Siri is an alternative interface.
Unlike the previous examples, many automated hospitality services aren’t customer-facing at all. Several tasks require coordination between reception and housekeeping, and automation streamlines the responsibilities.
Reception and housekeeping staff must constantly update each other to monitor room availability, guest checkouts, and overall cleaning progress. Traditionally, this communication took place via walkie-talkie, but automated services can better track progress by updating a central database that staff can review via smartphone app. The Mews PMS activity report does exactly that, providing hospitality staff with an overview of each room and minimizing the risk of miscommunication.
When most people imagine automation, they usually picture robots completing tasks typically handled by humans. While the automation examples mentioned so far are software based, there are examples of actual humanoid robots used in the hospitality industry.
Most notably, hotels in Singapore have embraced the technology to the point that guests could share an elevator with a concierge robot! Their designs and responsibilities vary depending on the hotel, but they can handle a variety of basic tasks. Some clean rooms to prepare for a new guest, while others deliver food or toiletries. Even hotel breakfasts are automated in Singapore, where robots prepare meals without the need for a full kitchen.
This level of automation is rare in hospitality so far, but it can be effective, especially in countries where the workforce is in decline. Even where employment rates are strong, housekeeping labor has a high risk of musculoskeletal damage, with 40% of injuries related to back pain. Despite these benefits, robotic hospitality technology is far from perfect; some reports noted that bots were at times confused about directions. Yet, we can expect the technology to improve and that other hotels will follow in Singapore’s footsteps.
What Automation Can’t Yet Do
For all its benefits, automation cannot be applied to every single aspect of hotel operations. Companies like Yotel have tried full robotic implementation with mixed results, often coming off as out-of-touch or impersonal. In an industry that hinges on providing comfort, that’s something businesses cannot afford.
Any technology will have mishaps – such as the guest whose automated lights turned off while he was still in the room – but most systems will improve over time. It’s important not to forget the personality behind your service, which can require a human touch. Real-life employees can also address situations that software cannot, such as special cultural needs or unforeseen scenarios. Most importantly, hospitality should never overlook the fact that many guests often welcome face-to-face interactions as part of the experience.
The ultimate goal of hospitality is to offer a positive experience for guests. By association, automation succeeds when fully aligned with high-quality services, from smooth check-ins to optimized daily operations. Keeping this principle in mind is the highest priority for any business looking to add automated systems to their guest relations processes.