Automation is the name of the game and especially as hotels look to set aside budget for new tech purchases in 2023. What we are proposing here is a bit more extreme in asking: what happens when entire departments are wholly automated so that one person can manage multiple departments or a single department across multiple properties?
This ‘what if’ pertains more to the select service, economy and midscale side of things as our sentiment is that luxury will always need that high-touch experience while other categories will opt to redeploy their limited labor to other tasks that can’t be automated or have more perceived value.
What we advocate is that this is all part of a multi-decade process. Remember when you had to dial up your modem to access the Internet? That got automated into an always-on WiFi router with seamless and invisible handshakes. It’s one example but we see the same trendline occurring for back-of-house systems that are being increasingly consolidated in full-service operations management systems (OMS) run from the cloud and basically a turnkey for any new hotel.
That’s the goal, but it will take another decade’s worth of innovation, acquisitions, integrations and perspiration from every pore to get us there. Alas, it’s still fun to ponder the future! So, let’s look at each department to see where automation and cost savings through tech will take us:
- Reservations: Besides using a seamless booking engine, intake can be fully outsourced to call centers or AI-based voice services along with integrated chatbots for SMS or social media. You won’t need a reservations time save for a front office manager who can also work out of a regional office to handle complaints or complex bookings for multiple properties.
- Property management: There’s no need to host on-prem and devote IT resources to maintaining your own servers. Cloud-everything is the way forward, especially for your PMS for which there are a plethora of secure options already on the market.
- Prearrival: Advances in CRMs, CDPs and open APIs allow for rich data integrations so that hotels know their guests before they arrive and offer bespoke, one-to-one upsells, with all of it automated through a robust PMS or communications platform of choice.
- Check-in and check-out: This can be wholly contactless to eliminate the front desk. Mobile keys will reside in a digital wallet (accessible via a phone, smartwatch or smart ring) as prompted by a prearrival check-in portal. Or, in the rare case that a guest doesn’t do this in advance, a kiosk will be available in the lobby.
- In-room: AI-based voice command speakers can act to address guest questions instead of a live agent at the front desk or concierge. Everything in the room will be IoT-controlled while casting to the TV to access a guest’s preferred streaming service will be made increasingly frictionless.
- Food & beverage: While onsite restaurants are critical for four stars and above, for midscale and economy hotels, online food ordering like Uber Eats, Grubhub and Doordash will suffice. Once you set up the drop-off rules for security, you can eliminate this entire department.
- Parking: It will all be self-park with automated ticketing and monitoring. Realistically, though, most people will be using Uber or Lyft to get around.
- Housekeeping: This can be only upon guest departure for short stays. Or, via integrations to the PMS, you can let the guest choose between no stayover cleans and leaving fresh towels at the door or daily cleaning for an extra charge. Using existing systems, room attendant routing can be optimized with cleaning schedules updated in real-time and pushed to a staffer’s phone.
- Accounting: No cash transactions will be allowed onsite with mobile payments becoming the norm. Moreover, new centralized payment operations platforms are emerging to expedite audits, workflows, reporting, clearing and reconciliation so that, much like other departments, accounting can be moved to a regional office with one controller for multiple properties.
- Recruitment: Networked on-demand labor platforms are emerging that verify and onboard staff members, giving HR quick access to a large pool of potential hires with little extra work.
To conclude by putting this is economic terminology, all this gradual automation and creative destruction is eliminating the mid-skill jobs at hotels. We will always need low-skill, high-touch jobs (housekeepers, maintenance workers, security personnel) while we will see an upward creep of high-skill jobs like a tech-fluent revenue director who manages rate strategies for multiple properties based on AI recommendations from the RMS and BI platforms. Change is scary; it’s also exciting.