The quit rate in the leisure and hospitality recently jumped by a percentage point, to 6.4% and according to the 2022 Hotelier Technology Sentiment Report, and 75% of respondents believe that contactless technology will become a long-term trend as staff sizes remain small. To compensate for staff shortages, hospitality and travel brands are weaving automation and contactless options into several of their operations to collect consumer data and meet guests’ high expectations for an excellent customer experience. From revenue management to housekeeping to guest messaging, the correct tools can allow brands to do more with less. To learn more about how hospitality brands can leverage automation, HT spoke with Justin Foxwood, Solution Engineer at TBI.
How can hospitality and travel brands leverage automation to compensate for staff shortages?
First, start by investing time and energy upfront to identify opportunities for guest self-service as well as areas or processes that consume the most staff time on a regular basis. This will help determine where the most overlap occurs. A hospitality business can then be strategic as to what automation solutions will cover the most ground as far as freeing up time for staff. For example, automated tools can assist with frequently asked questions, how guests check-in/check-out, common room service requests, physical security systems and environmental sensors.
In what ways can automation provide a better experience for both staff and guests?
Guests, especially of a younger demographic, seem to greatly prefer self-service options when available and the pandemic has sped up this trend. Offering automated systems allows the guests that like self-service to get what they need on demand while still allowing those that prefer to work with a human to do so. Giving guests this option streamlines processes so that staff are free to focus on other tasks. It’s a win/win.
How have guests’ expectations changed during the pandemic and how has this specifically impacted the hospitality industry?
For many people during the pandemic, vacation plans were largely put on hold indefinitely. After waiting patiently for their experience, guests want to feel catered to more than ever, but they also want to feel safe and that their health is valued. This provides a unique opportunity to implement technology solutions that check both boxes. By implementing self-service and automation solutions, guests can get what they need quicker and more safely, with the added bonus of freeing up staff to provide better hands-on service where it’s needed most.
Specifically what automation tools do hospitality and travel brands need to be implementing as the industry struggles to get back on its feet?
On the front end, implementing technologies such as an Interactive Virtual Assistant (IVA) or a full-blown Communications Platform as a Service solution (CPaaS), can provide frequently requested information or straight forward services. CPaaS specifically allows for automated, pro-active communication such as reservation confirmations/reminders/updates or anything marketing related that you’d like to push out to past and present guests. Pair this with a managed WiFi solution with built in analytics tools, that automate data collection and reporting on guest demographics and trends, to best understand who your clientele are and how you can best serve them.
There’s also the physical aspect of hospitality, where the world of IoT comes into play. Access management systems can keep guests out of restricted areas and automatically alert staff of trespassing. Smart cameras can also keep an accurate headcount within a facility, read and process license plates if parking is offered or detect things like whether masks are being worn or if someone has an elevated temperature. In addition, environmental sensors can be centrally managed and automatically alert staff or other authorities to things like fire, broken glass, gunfire, air quality changes or water pressure irregularities that can help find leaks before major damage can be done.
You can take this even further by implementing and integrating a robust e911 solution to streamline and automate emergency response. This allows emergency notifications to be sent to all guests and staff, notifies emergency services that help is needed and broadcasts proactive, real-time updates to all affected parties. It also helps coordinate first responders by providing wayfinding assistance within a building.
What are some examples of contactless options hotels and restaurants are offering?
Contactless check-in and room access via a mobile application, trackable room service/takeout fulfillment via an app or a CPaaS solution. Self service via a virtual assistant/chat bots/CPaaS can help answer common questions or fulfill standard requests.
With an increasing number of contactless options, how does security around customer data come into play?
It’s true that the more channels opened for gathering and transmitting customer data means more potential routes for a malicious party to maneuver. However, digitizing services has the added benefit of increased visibility into interactions that were blind spots from a cybersecurity standpoint. Not to mention, these services make it easier to gather and analyze user data to better spot suspicious behavior and establish a digital trail. This makes the cybersecurity team’s job easier as they’re able to pull in additional telemetry data to better support their efforts to spot a threat before it causes lasting damage.
What are your predictions for the future of hospitality in terms of the evolution of automation?
I can only see AI and ML getting exponentially more sophisticated as the use cases and data stores grow, and end users get more comfortable and trusting of our helpful virtual friends. Also, with the continued market expansion of 5G, and the near future roll out of next gen satellite internet services, we’re going to see a rapid land grab in the IoT/Edge Compute space to support businesses and entire communities deploying “smart” infrastructure.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Foxwood, Solution Engineer at TBI,has more than 12 years of industry experience, with the last seven as a sales engineer discovering and designing complex solutions for channel partners. Prior to TBI, Justin worked for technology distributor, WTG/AppSmart, and gained extensive experience designing cloud-based, digital voice, hosted infrastructure, and data networking solutions, often with an international footprint.