Technology and its effect on hospitality staff roles
Automation has become a key trend in the hospitality industry. Before long, several of today’s emerging technologies will likely become mainstream too.
Many routine tasks, such as event bookings, hotel check-ins and email marketing campaigns, are often handled by AI already—and there’s plenty of room for growth.
For example, according to the 2018 Lodging and Restaurant Technology Studies, the range of potential uses for robots has expanded dramatically, and 25% of hotels consider robotics to be of special interest.
This technology is becoming more affordable too—in real terms, the average cost of robotics has fallen by half over the past three decades as production has increased.
As the use of automation and robotics becomes increasingly commonplace, what might hospitality staff roles of the future look like, and how can employers prepare for these changes?
Which tasks will technology take care of?
The variety of tasks that can be automated in a hospitality environment is increasing day by day.
To assist front-of-house staff, room service robots, cleaner robots, concierge robots and AI translators have been developed.
But examples of emerging smart technologies include social media tools for monitoring brand mentions, facial and voice recognition tools for identifying guests, and revenue management tools for making automatic demand-based adjustments to room prices.
In terms of customer satisfaction, new technologies are often well received.
According to a 2017 survey conducted in China, customers who interacted with robots in a hotel environment were predominantly satisfied with the experience. This is supported by the fact that 75% of Booking.com’s customers appreciate having access to self-service options.
So where does that leave hospitality employees?
It’s very unlikely that robots will completely replace human service representatives as human interactions are still at the heart of outstanding hospitality experiences. It’s more likely that hospitality staff roles will evolve alongside new technologies, with one complementing the other.
While automated tools can efficiently take care of an increasing amount of repetitive and time-consuming tasks, employees will have more time to focus on providing superior guest experiences.
Working side by side with technology
Greater automation in the workplace means that staff will increasingly work in tandem with technology.
In other words, machines could be streamlining and enhancing the service provided by human staff, allowing customers to have a best-of-both-worlds experience.
More time for individual assistance
One of the best advantages of a strong human-AI team is that it offers customers different options to suit their preferences.
For example, some people prefer to complete a check-in as fast as possible and with minimal interaction, while others prefer a personal welcome and a friendly smile.
With an automated process in place to look after the guests who are in a hurry, front-desk employees have far more time to focus fully on the guests who have questions or more complex needs, who require assistance using the technology, or who just enjoy a friendly greeting on arrival.
Another example of efficient human-AI teamwork is an automated virtual concierge which handles all the straightforward questions from guests.
If the chatbot is unable to provide assistance and a more sophisticated response is required, the enquiry can be directed to the human concierge desk.
With far fewer calls to answer, employees have more time to spend on resolving specific issues and are more likely to be able to address problems adequately the first time, preventing repeated back and forth and reducing guest frustration.
Another way in which AI can speed up a service without compromising on quality is by pre-filling answers to text-based enquiries, which the employees can approve or modify as needed before sending.
Making the most of data collected by AI
Automated tools can collect and analyse a vast range of valuable data about customer preferences and habits.
Broader trends and individual patterns alike can be used by hospitality employees to enhance and personalise guest experiences.
For example, AI can highlight relevant data during a booking call and prompt an employee to anticipate customer needs by offering them the type of room or ticket they have booked previously.
More developed, high-skilled roles
One result of an increased automation of menial tasks in the hospitality industry is that employee roles are centred more on adding value through superior customer service.
As a consequence, there will be a parallel shift in the optimal skill set that employers should look for when hiring and training their staff.
The most important skills
It’s anticipated that the skills that will be in particularly high demand in the next decade and beyond include technological know-how (both basic and specialised) as well as soft skills.
This includes emotional intelligence and empathy, communication skills, creativity, and an ability to handle unpredictable situations.
Since AI lacks these soft skills, investing in employees that are adept at building relationships with customers will be an important differentiator among hospitality businesses in the future.
Creation of new roles
Another possibility is that there will be demand for more specialised roles within the hospitality industry.
A greater number of roles could be built around looking after the needs of specific groups, such as elderly guests, who will make up an increasing portion of the customer base in the developed world.
Niche positions could also be created around specific high-demand interests, for example a concierge specialising in local cuisine.
Human attention as a selling point
It’s also possible that the increase in automation and use of robotics will drive a portion of the customer base to seek more old-fashioned, low-tech hospitality experiences, which offer more rather than less contact with human employees.
However, it’s important to conduct careful market research if considering going down this route to make sure that the option is likely to be sustainable in the long term.
As new and improved technological innovations enter the market, an increasing portion of tasks in the hospitality industry will be performed by AI.
This increase in automation will have a knock-on effect on employee roles, with a shift from performing a mix of low and high-skilled tasks to spending time on complex, customer-centred responsibilities.