By Warren Dehan
Hoteliers need a hand. As the ongoing labor shortage continues to limit hoteliers’ ability to operate at a high level, many of them have turned to technology to fill operational gaps. Technology’s ultimate purpose is to simplify complicated, time consuming processes or activities and present needed information quickly and accurately. Independent operators especially owe it to themselves to take stock of their technology stack and use it to simplify operations as much as possible to support their operations until economic conditions improve and staffing levels rebound. But where do they start?
Much of hotel operators’ time is spent directly interacting with guests to provide a positive stay experience. Some of these interactions are crucially important, such as when a guest has a complicated issue. However, many interactions can be diverted to automation or digital communications, saving operators time while improving communication overall. By using technology to simplify the guest experience, hotels can continue serving guests at a high level without expending additional time or resources.
One of the simplest ways technology can aid hotel labor is to automate or streamline the check-in process. Whether a hotel has implemented mobile keys and electronic door locks equipped with Bluetooth card readers or uses magnetic/RFID door locks, a guests’ ability to check in on their own personal device is perfect for this application. Similar benefits can be seen with mobile check out, allowing the guest to settle their account from their mobile device, freeing up the front desk while also alerting housekeeping that the guestroom is vacant and ready to clean.
Hotels and resorts can find success and time savings using other applications provided directly through the hotel’s property-management system. For example, through the PMS, hoteliers can manually prepare magnetic guestroom keys in advance, quickly doling them out as guests arrive, whether at the front desk, curbside or at a guest service desk. Some systems can provide guests with a digital registration option, which can shorten the time at the front desk and enable guests to be quickly ushered through check-in after picking up their key. These capabilities can also be used in synchrony to provide guests with a variety of check-in options, resulting in fewer inquiries or congestion at the front desk. If opting for mobile keys, they can also be used to manage areas of a hotel beyond the guestroom, such as parking garages, pools, and other amenities.
The front desk is just one area of focus of hotel operations, but making improvements here frees up time for hotel associates to address pressing needs from guests who require a more hands-on approach.
Considering your IT reliance and time spent dealing with technology issues is another area which should be reviewed. Hosted or on premise browser-based solutions will simplify many of a properties local networking and software management obligations, reducing time spent dealing with technology issues in general. Higher reliability and less time dependent on IT teams will free staff to focus on guest service. With a little creativity, hotels are finding ways to reduce the load carried by employees.
Communication remains a major barrier to improved operations in independent hotels today. Today, more responsibility than ever falls on the shoulders of fewer and fewer employees, leaving front desk managers and GMs to flip rooms themselves in some cases. This amplifies the impact of missed information and leaves little room for error. For this reason, many hotels have turned to SMS communication to text directly with guests before, during, and after their stay.
Text communications provide several benefits to hotels, from creating a clear, easily referenced series of messages that can be addressed as they arrive and can be referenced or followed up on later as necessary. SMS is valuable for addressing guest concerns quickly, such as housekeeping or maintenance needs, without forcing guests to visit or phone the front desk. This benefits both travelers and hoteliers, particularly because it uses existing technology both parties are already familiar with.
Most of all, text-based communication cuts down on back-and-forth calls between different departments within a hotel. While the physical aspect of housekeeping, F&B, and front desk operations is not going away, improving the way each of these departments share information is invaluable, particularly while staffing remains limited. Hospitality should be looking to technology to reduce the number of people needed to address each guestroom in circulation, and communication is the key.
It Takes Two — Or More
It is increasingly necessary for hotels to invest in technology to automate and simplify several of these processes, because despite the reduction in staff and lower rates most hotels are continuing to offer, the business of hospitality is getting more complicated. It has never been more difficult for hotels to prepare the necessary rooms to fulfil bookings, manage guest complaints, and stay informed on current events and shifts in market conditions to maximize rates. All of this leaves precious little time for training and onboarding the new employees this industry desperately needs.
Hoteliers must find a way to retain the skilled workers who come their way, and it starts with not overwhelming them in the classroom. Enter technology. Automating areas of the check-in process, having sophistication in your systems that integrate interdepartmental needs such as between reservations, group sales, catering, spa and activities, as well as making common-sense changes to your internal communications strategy goes a long way toward reducing the training needed by new employees. For the skills that need to be taught, e-learning tools have proven effective for helping onboard new workers during their time away from the property, from programmable screens to help new clerks acclimate to your property’s PMS to lessons designed to refresh workers on the finer points of hospitality.
Hotels today are under-resourced, and workers are quickly facing an epidemic of burnout. By re-thinking your property’s approach to communications, interaction, and automation, hoteliers can create an environment that fosters cooperation and learning, as well as increased profitability as the economy recovers. To succeed today and remain successful a year from today, hotel operators need to consider a marriage of multiple technology solutions designed to make their lives easier — and it all starts with the PMS.
About the Author
Warren Dehan is the President of Maestro, the preferred cloud and on-premises PMS solution for independent hotels, luxury resorts, conference centers, vacation rentals, and multi-property groups. Maestro was first to market with a fully integrated Windows PMS and Sales & Catering solution and is continuing that trend with leading edge web and mobile based solutions. Platform and deployment independence present Maestro as an investment that will continue to grow and adapt as new technologies emerge.