This year’s HITEC — perhaps the world’s foremost hospitality-technology tradeshow — marked its first full return since the cancelled 2020 outing and the scaled-back exhibition in Dallas last September. A whirlwind of a show, the light at the end of the tunnel for hotels across Canada is that every technology vendor was keenly focused on helping the industry solve our labour issues.
And while the exhibition, — this year, held in Orlando, Fla. — may already be several months in the rearview mirror, the industry’s current challenges are not, so it serves as a reminder on the importance of tech to support hotel operations and evolve the brand with new service offerings.
Key to helping with labour is automation, automation and more automation. But there still seems to be a stigma around this word because of the implied creative destruction underpinning it — an assumed organizational downsizing. The opposite is, in fact, true.
The automation of hotel operations is actually about using software, and perhaps a few ounces of machine learning and behavioural science, to handle the repetitive tasks that some associates would have to carry out manually in order to keep things running smoothly. Now, with those basic functions digitized then digitalized, your teams have more time to focus on complex tasks — the work that gives their jobs meaning — be it direct contact with guests, finalizing a big sales deal, developing a new brand initiative or anything else that gives a staffer or manager a sense of accomplishment.
Even a platform that helps reduce e-mail notification volume will do wonders to lessen the interruptive work that blocks managers from devoting large chunks of time to a singular project and produce quality results. E-mail can be a silent stressor of nearly any modern workplace, so aiming for the Holy Grail of ‘inbox zero’ via a slate of automation tools will have a profound ripple effect on the happiness of your teams.
To paraphrase one of the smartest technologists in the hotel industry, this ‘no touch’ automation enables the ‘high touch’ of hospitality.
So, how exactly is tech helping hotels address their labour challenges through automation? This would take more than a 100 pages to properly demonstrate all the neat features that specific vendors have rolled out. Instead, we can summarize the solutions presented at HITEC and a general approach to hotel technology in five broad principles.
- Develop a process for continuous success. Deploying anything new is hard. From evaluation and implementation, through to team training and ensuring ongoing ‘daily active usage,’ technology needs to be hardcoded into your culture through SOPs, rich data integrations and, above all, a tacit ‘why’ that every member of the team understands. With so many vendors, a hotel stack can easily become convoluted to the point where incremental improvements to the guest experience are stymied by incompatibilities or ‘zombie platforms’ that no one really uses.
- Protect your human stack. Regardless of the hardware and software deployed, ultimately everything in a hotel comes down to the people you have who find the best solutions, develop the platform interfaces and maintain all the systems. The more the world of hotels becomes entangled with technology, the more central your IT team becomes and, at the same time, the more paramount it is that everyone in every department have a firm grasp of how it all works. Nurture your people that make this happen by embracing technology on the cultural level and supporting this process through continuing professional development.
- Simplify before you expand. The whole notion of ‘zombie platforms’ implies many disparate silos of data co-existing and overlapping. Look to simplify by finding partners that can deploy versatile solutions. Quite often, the best solution is to first deepen your relationship with existing vendors rather than deploy a new one to fit a narrow range of functionality. Again, part of the process must be to continually upgrade your human stack by ensuring team members are trained on all current systems and have time to keep up-to-date with all the latest technology news.
- Build rich data connections. Whether it’s an integration or interface, hotel tech stacks are gradually moving towards unified guest profiles and sophisticated customer personas at the centre, with onion-like layers of automation software extending outward to all departments. You will unavoidably need a field manual to understand the alphabet soup of hotel technology acronyms out there — PMS, CRS, POS, CRM, RMS, BI, WBE, CMS, PM, CDP and so on — but these pieces cannot exist in isolation. You need good IT professionals and a clear vision to build the data connections that will make all these tools actionable and improve the guest experience.
- There will always be more you can do. One of the most profound beauties of technology is that it never stops improving. Each vendor is hard at work developing new features to stay competitive, while companies outside the hotel industry will influence the direction of the guest experience, either directly through bespoke products and sales efforts or implicitly by influencing customer behaviour or traveller demands. Technology is as much a process of evolution as it is any given function, thus reaching a likewise mindset to ensure success.
With labour hard to find for the foreseeable future, automation is of critical importance for hospitality, starting with the process that will define the timetable of priorities for the year ahead. Then, luckily for you, HITEC next year takes place at the end of June 2023 in Toronto, offering all Canadians a great host city in which to learn and be inspired.
By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky are partners of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited. You can reach Larry at email@example.com or Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org