At this year’s ITB, one of the world’s most important tourism trade shows, Shiji was lucky enough to host our popular Shiji Buzz series in person in front of a live audience of ITB attendees. The panel entitled, “Is Automation Killing Hospitality or Saving It?” was hosted and moderated by Founder or Reknown, Daniel Craig, and featured industry experts Lucas Höfer, Group Director at Ruby, Wolfgang Emperger, SVP for Europe, Africa, UK & Ireland at Shiji Group, and Mark Rademaker, Group Head of Hospitality at Adyen. Below we highlight some of the key discussion points and takeaways from the panel.
Is automation killing hospitality or saving it?
Wolfgang Emperger kicked off the discussion by categorically affirming that automation isn’t killing our industry, it is instead creating ways to enhance hospitality by giving us the choice between the “fully automated” and the “high-touch.” He cited his own experience as a guest with high-touch check-in and out processes assisted by automation, which benefited him by streamlining his check-in process as his details were saved into the hotel’s database.
Mark Rademaker was of a similar opinion, that automation is saving the industry, and said, “I believe that it’s inevitably giving us a lot of flexibility in the industry. Coming out of the pandemic it was necessary to employ some automation and I think a lot of that will stick.” He also emphasized that he believes automation creates the ability to future-proof different journeys and helps hotels be more nimble, especially when it comes to technology. Mark further stated that automation is going to be a key driver for success in the future, sharing an example of a super luxury client hotel that was apprehensive about the idea of installing mobile apps as they wanted to provide a high-touch experience. In the end, this client realized that it increased the take rate as well as the ability of the front desk to roam and be more hospitable to guests.
Do hotel guests really want automation or is this a myth propagated by technology companies?
Lucas Höfer took the position that automation is a means to an end and that it makes a difference in the high-value touch points throughout the guest journey, supporting “winning a moment of truth.” As an example, he mentioned how guests can feel seen as a person when they are greeted face to face by a host who asks about their journey and how to make their stay better, a process that must be supported and enabled by automation. “On the one hand, we’re aiming to free our staff from repetitive tasks through automation and therefore enabling focus on our guests and their emotional needs, while on the other hand, we want to give guests the Ruby experience, and it should never be difficult to buy things. Automation obviously supports that as well.” He finished by saying how important and relevant integrating and automating the sales process is, above all since it isn’t a low-effort process and involves communication with many different actors within the hotel before finalizing the sale– something that can be simplified by the use of automation.
Does automation enrich hotel jobs or make them redundant?
From Wolfgang’s perspective, it makes some jobs in budget or limited service operations redundant, and this is basically the selling point of tech providers, however more business services should put automation to good use. He referenced the database mentioned earlier that would have his name and information saved and ready to be used to make his stay experience, easier. “Being able to quickly get through the checkout process and have the front desk staff use their time to offer me something of more value left a good impression. I did not have such expectations as the property was a limited service one.” He also mentioned another example of being able to quickly order drinks when having a meeting at a secluded part of a hotel lobby due to the presence of order and payment automation that could be accessed from the table where he was. In that situation, it would probably not have been possible to get a server’s attention and the hotel would have lost that revenue and the satisfaction of a guest, so automation enriched jobs and enhanced guest experience. He said high-value guest contact should still be provided in person by human employees.
How does your company use automation?
Lucas explained that his company, Ruby, like many others, is very highly digitized and automated in some areas and less so in others. One area where such platforms are helping to drive an exceptional degree of automation is the finance department, by automatically reconciling payment data, and the result from this and other initiatives and integrations is an industry-leading financial department. “It’s a great example of technology taking away tedious transactions and tasks from our back office workers, as Wolfgang noted.” Additionally, Lucas shared how the sales department increased its sales volume significantly after implementing automation. Some solutions include reminder management which guides sales reps to hold conversations with clients, as well as defining criteria as to when leads are going cold so the system can intervene. Employing multiple other automated processes like these increases each rep’s productivity and sales results for the hotel.
What should hoteliers do to ensure automation is successful?
Mark shared that this issue is top of mind at his company Adyen, and offered some sage advice:
- Be more focused on the payment side of automation and ensure that proper piloting and testing happens before bringing a project live.
- Think about planning and project mapping– how you want to go to market, visualize where you want to be with the business, and then approach tech partners to achieve the goal rather than relying on legacy technology
- Lastly, future-proof automation and tech that you have in use. Think of whether it can be adapted for future challenges or to acquire know-how from other industries’ best practices down the line.
Mark borrowed a quote from Steve Jobs that says to always focus on the customer experience first, and then think about how technology can support it rather than the other way around. He advises hoteliers to have more foresight in ensuring they are really future-proofing the guest journey and experience when driving automation.
What role will automation play in hotels in the future?
The panelists all saw the future of automation as two-pronged, affecting both guests and employees.
Wolfgang emphasized his previous point that automation is here to stay and that it should represent a mix between high touch and high tech to elevate the guest experience and hotel processes, exemplifying how it is now possible to have a fully digital experience in some hotels, doing everything from your own mobile device or through other digital touchpoints without having to meet with a human employee even once.
Lucas pointed out how automation should fuse together with a hotel’s business and concept, and that we already work with automation now, be it boxed within solutions that we deploy such as a PMS, or by working with partners like Booking.com who utilize automation heavily to make their sales easier. To him, it is about which way it will support the creation of value for guests and within back-of-house processes. He summarized, “It is about the hotel’s business model, choosing automation together and deriving the right conclusions from it. That is the actual task for the future.” Concluding, Lucas said that, at Ruby, they want to have digitized processes and, ultimately, environments, as those are constantly changing and there’s a need to create a landscape of automation that is flexible and can cater to the changing environments.
Mark agreed that digitization will inevitably happen in the market and as a result, inspire more automation. However, he thinks automation should be used to gain efficiencies, but how these are placed will differ from brand to brand, property to property. He also believes we will see automation helping to improve upselling capabilities and drive demand for global automation partners and products, all while stimulating differentiation between brands and countries. To finish, Mark predicted, “If guests start resisting such automation and negative comments start piling up, then hotels will need to reverse course, but if everything’s a go and guests seem to be happy with having a choice, we could potentially see more and more hotels that are fully automated.”