“Economic fallout from the pandemic has created a widening gap between the high expectations of guests and the economic realities of hotels,” the Cloudbeds team observes in the book, More Reservations, Happier Guests. “Automation has the potential to fill that gap. The question is, how can hotels leverage automation to enhance the guest experience rather than detract from it?”
Here, we explore the growing trend of automation in the lodging business. In this time of labor shortages and tight operating budgets, which tasks can be automated, and which tasks are better performed by employees? What are the costs and benefits of automation, and how can hotels increase efficiency while providing an elevated level of guest service?
Digital transformation in hotels
During the pandemic, companies around the world accelerated the digitization of customer interactions and internal operations by three years on average, according to a survey from McKinsey & Company.
A similar trend occurred in the hospitality industry, as more operators turned to the latest technology to meet traveler demand for contactless services and offset staffing shortages. In fact, at the recent International Hospitality Investment Forum in Berlin, the hotel industry was lauded for turning from “technology laggard to innovator.”
In this snippet of The Turndown Podcast, Luka Berger, Founder and CEO of Flexkeeping, shares his opinion on why there is still resistance to adopting technology in the hospitality industry. Luka believes that the industry is changing but at a very low pace.
What is hotel automation?
Hotel automation is the use of machines and computers to perform tasks typically performed manually by employees in order to increase productivity and reduce operating costs.
While machine automation has been used in hotels for many decades – think of washing machines, dishwashers, and even elevators – computer automation can be traced back to the introduction of the hotel property management system (PMS) in the 1980s. Today, automation technology is used throughout hotels to perform or augment an increasing number of tasks from check-in to check-out.
8 benefits of automation in the hospitality industry
Automation isn’t just for large, chain hotels with complex operations. Today, automation and easy-to-access software solutions for B&Bs, inns, hostels, guest houses, vacation rentals, and other types of independent properties, can bring a host of benefits, including:
- Greater efficiency and productivity
- Faster, more consistent guest service
- More contact-free service options
- Savings in labor and operating costs
- Increased hotel revenue and profitability
- Fewer manual errors
- Better scalability with business flows
- Better data management, reporting, and performance tracking
The rise of automation in 2023
One question that is often top of mind is, how can hotels embrace automation without losing the human touch? The answer depends on the type of property you operate and your guests’ expectations. Many short-term rentals and apartment hotels are already fully automated. Guests can make a reservation online using a booking engine, check-in, pay the bill, and check out without ever seeing the property’s host.
While guests of luxury hotels may expect more direct contact with hotel staff, today’s travelers prize speed, convenience, and greater control over their trip experience. Moreover, the desire for human contact isn’t what it used to be. In a recent global survey from Tripadvisor, a majority of travelers said they would like to see safety measures in place at hospitality businesses even after Covid-19 cases have dropped worldwide.
In the back office, automation technology is also on the rise. Whereas self-service automation is about guests helping themselves, employee-facing automation is about computers helping employees. It’s happening in every department, from the front office to accounting, marketing, revenue management, and food & beverage.
What tasks should hotels automate?
Think about the guest’s perspective. When are speed and efficiency more important, and when are in-person service preferred? Automation can increase efficiency with simple transactions like online reservations, check-in, check-out, payments, and messaging. When hotel guests’ needs are more complex and require problem-solving, for example, if they have a complaint or special request, employees can step in to provide personalized service.
When it comes to employee-facing technology, staff members and computer applications work in tandem. Automation handles simple, repetitive tasks like data processing, workflows, and reporting so employees can have time to perform more complex tasks.
At Passport 2023, Cloudbeds’ Jacqueline Maloney and Chris Hovanessian discussed the different levels of automation hotels should implement and how to balance automation with human touch.
The cost of hotel automation in 2023
While the benefits of automation should far exceed the costs over time, initial investments of time and money can be a deterrent. Hoteliers should carefully weigh the costs and benefits along with the risks of being held back by manual systems and outdated legacy technology. Software-as-as-service (SaaS) solutions allow costs to be spread over months and years rather than paid upfront in large sums.
There are also the potential costs to guest satisfaction to consider. If technology is difficult to use or breaks down frequently, such as a lobby kiosk that is often out of service or text notifications that go unanswered by staff, it will only lead to frustration. To ensure successful implementation and transition to automated hotel services, hotels should survey guest preferences in advance, carefully vet technology partners, train employees to test systems thoroughly, and keep an employee on hand to assist guests when help is needed.
4 examples of hotel automation
Below are a few examples of how automation is used in a variety of hotel departments. If you have a cloud-based hotel management platform with an open API, you can easily integrate with the automation apps, tools, and services that are right for your business. Check out Cloudbeds’ Marketplace for an idea of which services are readily available to lodging businesses today.
1. Hotel operations automation
These days, most hotels – and an increasing number of inns, hostels, B&Bs, and vacation rental properties – use hotel management software. At the heart of front desk operations is the PMS, which facilitates reservations, check-in, room assignments, and other tasks, as well as acts as the central hub for other applications. Other functions can help streamline housekeeping and maintenance processes, digitize task management checklists, and automate alerts to ensure tasks are completed on time. Integrated payment processing enables properties to offer contactless payments while facilitating tasks like payments reconciliation and reducing late charges and chargebacks.
2. Guest experience automation
Powering improvements to the guest experience are tools that enhance guest engagement and self-service, like automated email confirmations and pre-arrival messages, upsell tools, and mobile check-in applications. With a guest engagement tool, hoteliers and hosts can send and reply to guests’ messages using the guest’s preferred mode of communication, including SMS, Whatsapp, Messenger, WeChat, and more. Hoteliers can also automate certain types of guest messaging, such as answering frequently asked questions in real-time using auto-replies and chatbots. After the stay, automated email requests for a survey or online review can help generate valuable feedback.
3. Guestroom automation
While we’re probably a long way off before robots can clean hotel rooms as well as a human can, today, a variety of automation solutions are enhancing the guestroom experience. For example, hoteliers and hosts can cut energy costs by using energy efficiency solutions that allow you to control HVAC appliances, like air conditioning, via a mobile app. There are also automation tools that provide mobile concierge services to facilitate the fulfillment of guest requests.
4. Hotel marketing automation
While computers have yet to crack the creative aspects of marketing, a number of technology solutions are available today to automate day-to-day marketing tasks. This includes email marketing and CRM solutions that send targeted promotional emails to guests to online reputation management software that helps hotels monitor and respond to reviews and boost ratings on review sites. If you want to completely automated your hotel marketing, you can even use a done-for-you marketing service like Cloudbeds Amplify to create a conversion-focused website, run your metasearch and search engine marketing efforts, and manage all your business listings.
How Cloudbeds can help automate your hospitality business
One of the biggest challenges of automation for hoteliers is dealing with multiple products and vendors. The Cloudbeds Hospitality Platform provides everything hoteliers and hosts need in one centralized and fully integrated platform.
Here are just a few of the automation features provided by the Cloudbeds platform:
- Automatically update your rates and inventory across all your channels using the Cloudbeds channel manager.
- Receive bookings on your website 24/7 with an online booking engine so you never miss an opportunity to maximize your occupancy and earnings.
- Automate competitor rate shopping so you can make better pricing decisions with the pricing intelligence engine.
- Automate your marketing efforts by using Cloudbeds Amplify – a done-for-you digital marketing service.
Hotel automation: it’s only just beginning
As automation technology becomes better integrated, more cloud-based, and more guest-friendly, an increasing number of hotel tasks will become automated. Now is the time to embrace automation to ensure your property isn’t left behind.