The use of technology was accelerated in hotel operations during the pandemic and now, with myriad challenges still facing the industry, the implementation of new tech to fill the labour gaps and increase guest satisfaction shows no sign of slowing.

But introducing this technology presents its own unique set of challenges.

“The independent hotel industry is often accused of being slow to adopt technology,” says Tymen van Dyl, founder and CEO of hotel-management software provider RoomRaccoon. “Afterall, we’re talking about a high-touch industry that revolves around optimizing the human experience.”

van Dyl says if there is a silver lining from the pandemic, “it’s that it catalysed the adoption of technology among independent hotels that needed to streamline their operations and offer a contactless guest journey to remain competitive.”

That said, the industry as a whole still shows some resistance to digital acceleration, so one of the key factors in designing high-tech for a low-tech industry such as hospitality is making sure it’s intuitive and easy-to-use. “What’s more, an all-in-one solution makes it much easier to onboard new staff as they only need to learn one system,” says van Dyl.

“Introducing new technologies means adapting and changing the way things are done,” says Francis Léonard, CEO, Tip & Go. “At first, employees are generally averse to change. To move to new methods requires changing employees’ mindset and providing training.”

He cautions that new technologies must also be user friendly if hoteliers want clients, especially older generations, to adopt them. “For instance, with Tip&Go (mobile tipping) there is no need to download an app. The client simply scans the QR code with his device to directly tip the employee.”

Employee pushback is another challenge to implementing technology in hotels says Greg Staley, general manager, E-Pro Bot Inc.

“With any technology, there to at times pushback for fear of losing one’s position. Servers, until trained, are nervous of food-moving robots in a hotel restaurant. However, they quickly learn they are less sore as they are not carrying so much weight at such a distance, they have bigger table bills as a result of better guest attention and upselling, with better service, they also can expect better tips.  So, the unknown is scary in the first days, but the staff quickly learn that the robot helps them make even more money for the hotel and for themselves.”

On the guest-facing front, Staley says robots are a hit wherever they’re put into service. “Kids love to see them; most seniors are just fascinated — 78 per cent of the people that see robots are just fascinated, 18 per cent are neutral and four per cent are negative.”

Andrew Rees, corporate account manager, Global Lodging Canada at Ecolab agrees the key challenge hotels face when introducing innovation is training their staff. However, another challenge, he points out, can be a psychological one “where staff may love a new technology that helps them save time, but they get nervous that this technology may potentially replace real people. There are also guests that prefer to deal with a person, regardless of technologies.”

But van Dyl feels the hotel industry is capable of great innovation. “We’ve come leaps and bounds in the last decade, but still have plenty of runway ahead of us.”

He says a growing trend that hotels should have on their radar is automated payments. “Consumers are becoming increasingly reliant on their mobile devices and have come to expect frictionless payment experiences woven into their stay. Hotels that can deliver this are in line to receive big rewards,” he says. “Imagine being able to skip the front desk and settle your bill from the comfort of your room on your mobile device. That’s what we’ve introduced with online check-out. Offering your guests this kind of convenience is key to future-proofing your property and securing repeat business.”

The following Technology Roundtable focuses on digital transformation within hotels — from enhanced cleaning products to robotics — and offers expert insights from tech providers into how your hotel can embrace new technology without losing the human touch.

Amy Bostock: What are the most popular technology trends you’re seeing in the hotel space?

Francis Léonard: Contactless guest experiences. Hotels are increasingly adopting mobile check-in/check-out, digital key cards, and contactless payment methods to improve safety and convenience for their guests. AI-powered chatbots and virtual concierges offer personalized guest services and help hotels cater to guests’ needs more efficiently, while Internet of Things (IoT) integration allows smart-room experiences and enhanced energy efficiency to become the norm as hotels integrate IoT devices into their operations.

On the robotics side, housekeeping, room service and luggage handling are being automated with the help of robotic solutions. Data remains a top priority as hotels leverage it to optimize targeted marketing, personalization, and revenue management.

Andrew Rees: Technology has always played a key part in shaping the lodging industry, specifically when it faces challenges. Now, with the labour challenges that the industry faces and the heightened cleaning requirements, technology is there to help. A good example is the kiosk self check-in. Another one is the electrostatic-sprayer technology that helps disinfect large spaces in a very short time.

Greg Staley: Hotels are moving towards smart solutions. Rooms are becoming smart, more interactive, and this trend will continue. Clearly, we will have guests that could care less about a QR code in their room to order food or a TV-based menu. Some have not kept up with technology, and their review would be around customer service. However, we are at a place in time now where most guests use and expect technology to be available where they stay. Innovation creates excitement that guests cannot wait to share with others. I was in British Columbia, and my hotel bathroom mirror turned into a TV with just a click of a button. I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen; while this was many years ago, I still tell people about it to this day.

AB: What are your hotel clients’ top asks when in comes to technology?

AR: Lodging clients always look for technologies and innovations that help them improve their operations. A major innovation that clients look for are programs that offer water and energy savings, as such programs help the hotel save money while they achieve their sustainability goals. Another example are products with multiple applications such as all-purpose cleaner disinfectant and glass cleaner (three-in-one solution) that help save time and reduce labour.

FL: According to a recent study by Hotel Technology, 73 per cent of guests surveyed are likely to return to a hotel that meets their technology needs, highlighting the significance of technology in guest satisfaction. Clients seek technology that works effortlessly with their current operations while enhancing guest and employee experiences (i.e., no integration with existing systems is needed) and their guests expect tailored services and smooth, hassle-free stays. Other asks include intelligent TV driven by personal devices along with guest apps and in-room tech, virtual concierge, guest messaging and chatbots, digital check-ins and kiosks, and keyless entry. High-speed Wi-Fi is, of course, a must. When it comes to data privacy and security, ensuring compliance with data protection regulations and safeguarding guest information are top concerns for clients.

GS: Guest experience and ROI. How can we improve the guest experience, while also driving our ROI on any new innovation? When E-Pro Bot team members are able to speak with hotel management, we are able to show them how they can generate substantially more income. Simple tasks they miss, also means potentially massive missed revenue. When I show a hotel general manager or owner how they are missing revenue, they are always shocked.

Tymen van Dyl: We specialize in creating hotel-management software for small to medium-sized properties. So. as you can imagine, their needs differ from large chains. Self-service technology, such as smart-lock solutions, is becoming increasingly popular among small to medium-sized properties operating with smaller teams. With this solution, properties can fast-track guests to their rooms without needing a dedicated staff member to manage the front desk, saving hoteliers valuable time and helping create a frictionless experience for guests. This category will become even more popular as guests demand greater control over their stay and

AB: How is your company addressing these demands (i.e. new products brought to the table)?

AR: At Ecolab we help customers reduce utility consumption, optimize labour and improve the life and efficiency of their entire operation. We offer water, hygiene and infection-prevention solutions and services that protect people and the resources vital to life. We deliver comprehensive science-based solutions, data-driven insights and world-class service to advance food safety, hospitality, long-term care, facilities and on-premise laundry businesses.

FL: Tip&Go has developed cutting-edge products which require no integration to hotel systems, offering scalable and customizable solutions to cater to hotels of all sizes and their housekeepers, concierge and valets. We also prioritize customer support and ensuring compliance with data-protection regulations.

GS: We have hotel restaurant open-shelf or closed-door delivery robots that can bring food from a kitchen to a table or serving area near to a table. This saves servers approximately 50 per cent of their time that is spent just walking to and from the kitchen. In one hotel, the server had a 30 second walk to the kitchen, plus a two-three-minute wait for the food. This means that with 10 tables, that server is off the serving floor for 30 to 40 minutes, plus another 15 minutes to take dirty dishes back to the wash station. Rather than having a server off the floor, let the kitchen send the food to the server. With the walking time eliminated, the server can now focus on guest satisfaction and upselling. If they can sell 15 more drinks, appetizers, or desserts per shift, that’s $120 per day at average prices and $43,800
on the year.

We also have sanitizing robots to disinfect rooms or activity areas. These robots can move autonomously late at night, disinfecting by fogging common areas, or even be put into areas that are closed to engage their UV sanitizing light system. When guests see these robots in action, have a positive feeling that the hotels have high cleanliness standards.

TV: The hotel tech industry remains highly fragmented. This can be intimidating for operators and, more often than not, keeps them from innovating. At RoomRaccoon, we strive to offer an intuitive, out-the-box solution that provides everything hotels need to thrive. That means we’re constantly innovating. In the last year, we have launched a number of new native tools such as our advanced housekeeping-management module, online check-out and digital ID scanner that help hotels automate reoccurring tasks to alleviate the workload on staff, and ultimately allow more time to improve the guest experience.

We also offer an integration marketplace where hotels can customize their tech stack with their favourite tools, and run them from one interface. This marketplace is constantly growing. Take smart locks, for example. To cater to the growing demand, we have enabled our system to integrate with popular solutions like FLEXIPASS, Salto, Assa Abloy, NUKI and more.

AB: What are the top two technology solutions you think hotel operators should be focus on?

GS: Service is very important in the hotel industry. Some hotel guests still oppose human contact, and robot use is a comfort to them. A guest must enjoy their stay and will remember and tell others about a bad experience, a positive experience or a neat experience. Our robots create a fun experience and many of your guests will take photos or video with or of our robots. If only 15 guests per day take and then post a video on their social media, and if they have only 100 followers, that is 1,500 geo-located video impressions of your facility a day.  Every day if this happens, that would be half a million videos per year or, as we say, the side benefit of free marketing for your facility.

AR: Hotel operators should focus more on their customer’s satisfaction, so need technologies that can help them optimize their internal operations, that reduce labour, save water and energy and improve their guest’s experience.

FL: Hotel operators should focus on implementing contactless and mobile technologies that enable guests to check-in, access their rooms, order services, make payments, and tip without physical contact with staff or shared surfaces. This can enhance safety, convenience, and efficiency while reducing costs and enhancing guest and employee satisfaction.

They also need to leverage data analytics and business-intelligence tools to gather, analyze, and act on data from various sources such as guest feedback, social media, booking patterns, client satisfaction and operational metrics. This can help operators to identify trends, opportunities, and areas for improvement, optimize pricing and revenue, and enhance the overall guest experience.

TV: Implementing a dynamic pricing strategy can be super time-consuming and complex without the right technology. The truth is, demand in the hospitality industry constantly fluctuates. So, selling time-limited inventory such as hotel rooms at a fixed price year-round is a common mistake that costs hotel operators thousands in lost revenue. This is something that hotels simply cannot afford in today’s economic climate. Luckily, there are several accessible solutions on the market that simplify this process [by providing] automatic rate updates that maximize revenue according to demand.

AB: How does your technology help address the ongoing labour challenge in hotels?

FL: The hotel industry is currently experiencing serious staff shortages. Knowing that a third of hotel workers won’t be returning to the industry because they want higher pay and that a mobile-payment option increases tips significantly (by 30 per cent or more), then it flows that offering a tipping solution makes a lot of sense.

In addition, technology can help address the labour challenge in hotels by automating routine and repetitive tasks, freeing up staff time for higher-value activities such as guest engagement, problem-solving, and creativity. As well, technology can help to bridge skills gaps and enable staff to access training and development opportunities through online platforms and virtual-reality simulations.

GS: There are a couple of measurable ways to look at this. Some hotels have stopped room service as a result of COVID. We can bring room service back in those locations with our room-service robots. Some places have a major issue with staff. If short-staffed in a hotel restaurant, the remaining staff can handle more tasks if we are able to take away 50 per cent of the walking part of their jobs. If staff is not an issue, all staff have more time to focus on the guest and drive revenue through upselling. If the staff challenge is porters or the ability to deliver to room, our room-service robot can fill in the void — especially during slow times when it is difficult to balance too much staff versus not enough with a sudden unexpected spike. Robots can be used throughout the hotel, from restaurant, to room, to moving laundry to specific banquet service.

AR: Technology can allow hotel staff to do more with less time. An example is the innovative disinfectants that have shorter contact time, which can help the housekeeper clean a room faster, hence cleaning more rooms per hour. Another example is disinfectants that can use the electrostatic spraying technology, where a housekeeper can disinfect a large room in seconds.

TV: One of the lingering impacts of the pandemic is certainly the industry-wide staff shortages. Although this wreaked havoc on the industry, it did encourage hotels operating on skeleton staff to re-think how they could increase efficiency by using technology to automate time-consuming tasks. The future of hospitality will see a stronger synergy between technology and people. As intuitive technology becomes more accessible, hoteliers will be more comfortable with running predictable, repetitive, obvious operations on autopilot, while freeing up hotel staff to pamper guests and deliver a five-star experience.

AB: What advice would you give hoteliers to help them navigate the digital transfor-mation of their operations?

GS: My favourite quote is “if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you always got, until somebody takes it from you.”  This just means if you do not evolve, others will.  If the industry is moving towards smart rooms, technology and now autonomous robots and you do not, guests will follow the technology as it creates excitement and comfort.

AR: Do your research, but don’t get left behind. Technology is now looping itself every three-to-six months with newer applications and updates.

FL: Focus on the specific needs and preferences of guests, staff, and business objectives. This includes conducting thorough research, developing a clear strategy, and prioritizing investments based on Return on Investment (ROI) and guest-experience impact. Additionally, it is essential to ensure that any new technology is user-friendly, integration friendly, and secure, with a clear plan for staff training and support.

TV: It’s important to partner with a supplier that guides you through the complexities of adopting new technology.



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