By Amy Jeffs
Airlines and hotels could soon be enjoying a boost in bookings heading into the holidays. The increase in guests brings great opportunities for the industry looking to recover the nearly $300 billion in losses that were incurred during the pandemic, however, it also causes concern for those serving the influx in guests.
After COVID forced the hospitality industry to shut down last year, many furloughed workers found new lines of work. This left a third of hospitality workers not returning to the industry. On top of this, hospitality workers quit their jobs in August at a rate of 6.8%, or more than double the record national average quit rate of 2.9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While businesses try to rebuild their teams, the skeleton crews are left to meet guest demands in the immediate future and guest expectations are greater than before.
Post peak pandemic guest satisfaction is becoming more difficult to achieve as the bar has been raised. Sanitation, timeliness and innovation are no longer added value perks to a stay. They are expected, and make the difference between a repeat stay and a damaging review. While these can be accomplished with time and energy, the extra effort can lead to the breaking point for workers. That’s why many hotels are turning to technology to lessen the load. In fact, technology has the capacity to overcome the industry’s largest barriers and time-consuming tasks through automating tasks. Because of this, the future of labor in the industry will be through both human and digital interaction. In the immediate, technology can support three large concerns: booking/check in, guest safety and communication.
There is a wide range of technologies that hotels can easily implement to better serve guests. Plus, successful implementation of technology can start at the front door. One of the easiest and most effective ways to limit direct contact between guests and staff is to offer the option of self-check-in. In fact, nearly 85% of guests would like to see hotels utilizing technology to reduce direct contact and expedite the check in process.
Guest check in can be one of the most intolerable parts of their stay. In fact, for guests from the United States, exceeding the “breaking point” of a 5-minute wait to check in results in a 47 percent decrease in guest satisfaction. Through kiosks in the lobby, guests can complete the check-in process on their own and obtain their room keys. Online apps and software can combat this by integrating booking information with check-in software and creating a seamless booking to check-in process that is quicker and requires little to no staff support.
After check-in, the second pain point for guests is their health and safety. COVID has had a large impact on guests’ perceptions of cleanliness. In fact, overall cleanliness and housekeeping procedures are ranked the most important attribute for hotel guests, surpassing both the price of the room and location. Technology can support housekeeping by assigning tasks and creating reminders that ensure rooms are clean on time. The processes that can be put in place via technology to save workers’ time and energy.
Kiosks can even check guests’ temperatures with the use of thermal imaging, offer a health questionnaire to assess COVID symptoms, and obtain vaccination verification if applicable. The data collected by this technology can instantly notify hotel staff to triage any health-related concerns while also creating space for healthy guests to go about their stay. For instance, wearable technology has gained popularity as it can monitor guest activity, manage contact tracing and help guests access various parts of the property without contact. In the case of an emergency, technology can pinpoint areas of concern and immediately notify guests of a threat in real-time.
Lastly, guests and staff value good communication. Guests expect a quick response when they need something and technology can give them that. With technology, answering a phone at the front desk can be eliminated from customer service. Technology can serve as a concierge to triage guest questions quickly. The technology can be mobile friendly, through an app, texting, a phone call, or an online or in-room portal and different types of communication can be sent to specific staff to increase timeliness while decreasing staff burnout. For instance, through an in-room portal, guests can access and select various room service requests such as “Fresh Towels,” “Place Food Order” and “Housekeeping.” Not only does this empower guests, but it sends a detailed alert to the appropriate staff member(s) of the request, streamlining communication,improving workflow and resulting in quicker service. With an automated alerting platform, guests and staff can trigger communications based on specific situations. Hotels can keep guests informed during their stay with triggered messages, as well as keep staff up-to-date with any pertinent information. For instance, in the case of an emergency, technology can pinpoint areas of concern and immediately notify guests of a threat in real-time.
Communication technology can have a large impact on worker satisfaction. One survey found that close to 50 percent of workers would consider quitting their jobs for better, safer workplace communication technology. And, approximately one in three respondents considered the need to upgrade workplace communications such a priority, they would contemplate leaving their current company immediately. Today, walkie-talkies are not enough. Staff value the investment for more comprehensive and supportive means of communication.
While guest requests remain at the top of staff to-do lists, maintaining the facility takes up a large amount of time as well. Environmental monitoring technology can support operational tasks and decrease worker loads by detecting abnormalities in systems and maintaining a running task list with assignments for workers to complete as necessary. A variety of wireless sensors exist for environmental monitoring that can check on the operational status and proper function of HVAC systems, power generators, and boilers; logging temperatures within refrigeration systems, and detecting water or humidity. These monitoring capabilities can prevent the loss of convenience/comfort, as well as valuable equipment.For example, if the the temperature is raising in a refrigerator, technology can detect the issue before food toges bad. Environmental monitoring paired with an automated alerting platform can detect areas that need attention in real-time and prioritize them in the workload. For example, if a door to a closed section of the hotel is opened or left ajar, an employee can receive an alert specifying which door has been opened so they can ensure the situation is properly dealt with. By monitoring these systems with technology, hotels can ease the burden on their staff and gain peace of mind knowing that malfunctions will be addressed without disrupting guests.
Technology’s role in the hospitality industry is just beginning. Within a decade, we will see technology evolve to meet more needs than ever. And, hotels that are early adopters now will reap the benefits.