Opinion: Automation is the secret to personalisation in hotels

Robot assistant on modern hotel / office reception.

We couldn’t find a robot who was willing to write this article for us, so we enlisted the help of Amadeus’ Ahmed Youssef instead. Here’s what he had to say…

Technology is a divisive topic. On one hand, it’s seen as a silver bullet solving any number of challenges. On the other, it’s the necessary evil taking people’s jobs and creating a cold, impersonal guest experience.

It’s almost impossible to predict the ramifications of replacing humans with technology until it actually happens. However, in an industry where personal touches matter a great deal, we are treading a fine line between innovation and over-kill. We can’t call ourselves the hospitality industry without people.

Technology hasn’t (and never will) change the needs of our guests – a clean room, discreet service, a quick and seamless check-in/check-out. However, guest expectations have increased over time and will continue to do so as personalisation becomes the next new norm.

To stand out, a hotel needs to deliver personalised services with speed and accuracy.

Technology is the enabler in this new ‘race of service’, but it’s important to remember that guests do not specifically seek automated or self-service over human service. In fact, our research shows that almost two in every three guests (63 per cent) prefer interacting with hotel staff than self-service technology.

However, guests do desire experiences that are memorable, shareable and surprising. Technology is the key to empowering hotel staff so they can have more meaningful and personal interactions with guests. For example, Carnival Cruises’ give their guests a wearable called an Ocean Medallion to wear during their trip. The medallion identifies guests to the onboard crew and provides them with the passenger’s information so they can understand their preferences without needing to ask.

The future of the industry will be driven by a complex set of interactions between guests, technology and staff. The important decision is choosing where and how to integrate technology into the business. Where do you automate, where do you keep services human, and how can you blend the two together to deliver an enhanced experience?

In evaluating these options, hotels should first ask whether the technology adds value to the customer’s experience, or if it empowers staff to deliver service levels above and beyond previous norms? If the answer is no, then you are likely installing technology for innovation’s sake, which may end up being expensive and counter-productive.

However, when implemented correctly, technology can empower staff to make insight-driven decisions that benefit the business and enrich guest experiences.

To realise this, the industry first needs to focus on upgrading its legacy technology to move away from fragmented systems, so that different technologies can connect seamlessly. Bringing data from multiple systems under one umbrella is key. From there, artificial intelligence (AI) can analyse the myriad of data collected and can provide staff with insights to help them work more productively.

For example, daily decision-making, such as room assignments and turnover schedule scan be automated by a system that draws on data such as guest preferences and personalised check-in and check-out times. Possibilities for human error are reduced and occupancy is maximised. Staff are highly responsive and can access real-time insight at any time to solve tasks, whether they are checking room occupancy, event operations or stock.

In-depth guest profiles are created from aggregating multiple data streams. Staff are highly trained in using these profiles to identify “micro-moments” in which to engage guests, both before and during their stay, delivering a positive, memorable experience.

Many of these examples show that technology delivers most benefit when it is used by attentive, well-trained staff. That is why one of the biggest challenges facing our industry is the crusade for talent. For the industry to grow, we need to attract and grow the best talent, especially younger generations.

Leanne Harwood, the Managing Director of Australasia and Japan at IHG says to do this, we need to change the image of the industry.

“To start, we need to stop using the term ‘service industry’ and refer to ourselves as hospitality,” she said.

“To avoid alienating the next generation with the idea of servitude. Let’s show millennials, who focus increasingly on experiences over things, how they can bring life’s best experiences alive through true hospitality.”

Technology plays a big role in attracting millennial talent, who are digital natives. When they enter a workplace, they expect to be able to have the same digital tools they have grown up with to do their job. Therefore, it is important to provide hotel technology that looks and feels like the technology they use in their daily lives.

Tech augmented hospitality – where humans and technology collaborate together – will be the service model of the future. The right technology, deployed in the right context, can deliver real competitive advantage. However, knowing when not to automate a solution is just as important.

For more information on the tech-augmented hospitality service model, please read our whitepaper Drivers of Change in Hospitality.

Ahmed Youssef (Joe) is the EVP of corporate development and marketing for hospitality at Amadeus.

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