With a labor shortage impacting many global markets and pressure mounting on hoteliers to do more with less, one of the most pressing questions for hospitality was raised at the Arabian Travel Market conference just held in Dubai:
How far will the digitization of the guest experience go?
Asked by Alex Alt, Oracle Hospitality’s senior vice president and general manager, the question framed the conversation for an ATM panel discussion that he moderated. The session featured industry executives Judith Cartwright, founder and managing director, Black Coral Consulting; Christopher Hartley, CEO, Global Hotel Alliance; and Dimitris Manikis, president EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.
The session’s central theme prompted panelists to define technology’s critical role going forward: Use it not to dehumanize hospitality but to recruit talent and empower hotel associates to work more creatively and efficiently to best serve guests.
Tech’s role is to serve as an enabler
Indeed, Manikis cautioned industry leaders that failing to properly explain technology’s use in hospitality could undermine efforts to attract employees.
“Every conference I’ve been to in the last six months, everybody talks about the war of talent or the lack of talent and people leaving the hospitality industry,” he said. “When we talk about tech eliminating human interaction it pushes people outside of our industry; it makes people think, ‘Oh, hospitality is really not for me. I’m going to become a van driver for Amazon.’”
“We always need to remember that the basic reason why we all travel is for human interaction,” Manikis added. “We need to embrace technology, but its purpose is to be an enabler.”
New Oracle Hospitality-Skift report examines industry’s future
Much of the session’s discussion was fueled by a preview of new research findings – soon to be released as part of a major global study from Oracle Hospitality and Skift Research. The upcoming report, which surveyed 5,000 consumers and 600 hoteliers, reveals the key trends and consumer behaviors shaping the hotel experience in the coming years.
Alt highlighted several findings from the new study that were relevant to the session’s discussion. Among them:
- 54 percent of hoteliers are prioritizing mobile technology that either improves or eliminates the need for the front-desk experience.
- 29 percent of consumers prefer text and chat to communicate their needs to a hotel.
- 82 percent of hoteliers expect their service model will change significantly over the next three years. However, 80 percent of hoteliers also don’t expect staffing levels to materially change over the same period.
Referring to that last statistic, Alt said, “That tells me the ambition is to have technology replace menial or repetitive things that people are doing today and to redeploy those people into other more impactful roles on property.”
Though human interaction will remain essential, especially at upscale hotels, Hartley said he envisions it to take a backseat to technology during the pre-arrival experience.
“Where I really see technology providing value at all levels of the customer experience is pre-arrival,” he said. “What you’re seeing more and more now is, customers wanting to from the minute they start searching for a hotel [is to experience self-service]. Hartley added it’s important to offer “technologies that are able to recognize the customer, that are able to help them build a reservation based on their preferences or pre-book some services.”
Apps take center stage as a communications medium
Simplifying communication also likely will pave the way to relieve hotel staff of some mundane tasks and help guests receive the information they want faster.
“People don’t call each other anymore,” Hartley said. “I think embedding communications technology within an app is the way forward.” Manikis agreed, saying, “At Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, our app is the latest state of technology. Our app does everything that our guests need.”
A new level of efficiency is desperately needed, because the labor shortage “in many geographies, on the back end of the pandemic, is a major challenge,” Alt said. “There are over one million job openings in the hospitality industry in the United States. What that means is there are fewer people doing more jobs, and new people to the industry need learning tools and technologies.”
Tech redefines hospitality careers
Such marketplace factors not only are leading to a greater reliance on technology but creating executives whose tech knowledge will allow them to play a more prominent role in determining their hotel’s success. Such transformation is already occurring in the field of revenue management, which is highly dependent on tech solutions, Cartwright said.
“I believe that revenue managers in three years time will be commercial leaders,” she said. “They’re not just going to be typical revenue managers, because revenue management is the gatekeeper of strategies. They make sure the business is profitable, and they interface with all parts of the business – whether its sales, marketing, PR, operations or finance. And that’s where it comes back to technology. You need a dual approach: You have to have a commercial mindset, but you also need the analytical and technical mindset for success.”
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