COVID-19 has shaken up our world, created seismic shifts in business patterns and demand and impacted how individual guests feel as they navigate the constantly changing landscape.

This new world demands bold decisions to manage costs and remain agile. Consultants at New York-based McKinsey & Company have looked back at the 2008 crisis for insights on how to manage our 2020 challenges and found the already top-performing businesses from 2007 were resilient, weathered the 2008 storms well and emerged with revenue performances 30-per-cent ahead of their less-strong peers. Closer analysis showed these resilient companies made bold decisions to build speed and agility into their operation and aggressively re-allocated resources to growth areas. So, while not every business can go into a crisis as a top performer, all can make decisions to make their operation more agile, operate from a lower cost base and allocate resources to support growth. And a bold approach means automation will be at least part of the answer.

While dystopian films used to show robots taking over from humans, we now have a more-sophisticated understanding of how man and machine work together. It’s not all about robots — it’s also about clever use of operational data to improve forecasting and planning to improve efficiency and minimise waste.

So, what can this all mean in practice?
We’ve spent many hours measuring how long activities take and how time is spent in all areas of hotels — from reception to restaurants to housekeeping. We suggest you start looking at the areas that take the most resources — housekeeping and reception.

In recent years, robots have been pitched to hotels as a novelty to welcome guests as they arrive, but the best use of robots is to help clean the miles of floors in a hotel. Robot vacuum cleaners are available for commercial use and can be left to finish up the room by the housekeeper when he or she moves on to the next room. They can also take care of public spaces. Robot vacuums save housekeepers time and do a high-quality job, too. They’ll clean under the bed every time and brush up the carpet whether it’s visibly dirty or not. Having helped a client time the difference in their operation when they deployed robot vacuums, we can share that guests didn’t mind the robots working the floors and housekeepers liked them so much they gave each one a name.

In the warehouse sector, “Cobots” are used alongside a human to do the heavy lifting of moving totes around as the human picks stock, making the entire operation much quicker. Adopting a similar approach to moving linens around the hotel could save time and prevent all those extra trips back to the linen store.

A viral pandemic has focussed minds on cleaning, both to make it quicker and to improve the quality. Innovations that shorten the cleaning time of a room can have a big impact on housekeeping times overall. Smart businesses have started to look at nano-technology to speed up cleaning by creating a stay-clean film on objects it’s applied to. Whether that’s to keep mirrors shiny, shower screens grime free or sinks and toilets squeaky clean, it reduces routine-cleaning times and eliminates the need for expensive cleaning agents to tackle tough stains. No need to spray and scrub, just wipe with a damp cloth and ozone water and the surface is as good as new and germ free.

You’ll need to apply the initial nano-technology film and renew it each month and many are finding the time saving and enhanced cleaning quality more than offsets the costs.

Historically, a lot of time is spent by staff in hotels checking which rooms are available, with housekeepers running between floors to find an available room to check a guest into. Also, there are a lot of paper trackers to tick off for completed rooms, which are then walked all the way back to reception. A system that gives your reception team an up-to-date view of room availability saves time for your team and makes for a smoother customer-experience.

Arriving to check in at your hotel is one of the customer experience moments of truth. It’s when you set out your welcome and any automation deployed needs to be wrapped in your unique brand experience. Self-check-in kiosks are something guests are well used to —whether checking in for a flight or doing banking, we all appreciate the convenience of self service and many prefer it to waiting in a long line. And, while a concierge can transform a stay with their local knowledge, with apps such as Trip Advisor, Foursquare and more, guests can all find the best places nearby and navigate the local bus and tram systems. Automation can help create a smooth and consistent experience for customers and help you manage the peaks and troughs in demand that can be inefficient for your operation.

The latest applications of technology allow us to examine how big data and AI can help reduce back-office efforts, whether in the hotel or the corporate head office. Attention is shifting to using business data to support better forecasting and ordering. For example, central functions are using AI to do sophisticated calculations to create accurate orders for consumables, such as linen and cleaning materials, and freeing up people to focus on innovation of the customer offer.

It goes back to the secrets of success Mckinsey shared from the businesses that thrived during the 2008 crisis — allocating resources to growth areas — yet most businesses still use the majority of their resources servicing business as usual. Today’s world requires bold leadership, a lower cost base and a focus on growth. Where will the possibilities of automation and big data take you?

Simon Hedaux is the founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity, a productivity partner that helps businesses to drive efficiency, boost productivity and optimise budgets. For more information, visit


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