Automation in Hospitality: A Blessing or a Curse? (by Joanna Stanley)

In recent years the world has become increasingly automated.  Tasks that were once performed painstakingly and methodically by humans are beginning to be completed by robots, machines, and programs.  Some people see this as a blessing.  Others see it as a curse.  In reality, it can be either depending on how it is used, which is why hospitality professionals must be aware of the current technology in order to learn how to use it, but not abuse it.

Hospitality is a people-centered business.  It is also generally based on service, not products.  As a result, hospitality is one of the most labor-intensive industries in the world.  Many of the services the guests require cannot be duplicated by a machine or a robot—at least not in a satisfactory manner.  When a guest orders their food at a restaurant they want a server present to explain menu items, answer questions and make recommendations.  When a business traveler arrives a hotel after a long flight and meeting, they want to be greeted by someone who is warm, hospitable and sympathetic.  Computer programs and machines can perform the actual function of taking a customer’s order or checking them into their room, but the warmth and friendliness is lost.  It is difficult for an establishment to communicate that they care about their guests through a screen or over a web chat.  A robot cannot show a guest that they care, even if they are able to perform the function necessary to take care of the guest’s needs.

On the other hand, there are many tasks and functions in hospitality that can be performed just as well, or better, by a machine than by a human.  Keeping track of sales and marketing data is one very important way.  In order to meet the needs of guests, businesses must first be able to understand what it is that their guests want.  Discovering and documenting these wants and needs is something that can, and probably should be done automatically.  By using computer programs, statistics and automated surveys, among other methods, hospitality corporations will be better able to keep track of what methods, products, and services have been successful in the past, and what might need to be reevaluated for the future.  For example, computer programs can monitor whether or not reservations increase after a hotel implements a new advertising campaign, or a restaurant can easily keep track of how many people buy a certain menu item when a promotion on that product is offered.  Without programs and systems to keep track of this type of information, operations would not be able to run as efficiently.  It would be far more difficult and time-consuming for hotels, clubs, restaurants, casinos and other operations to analyze sales, advertising data, and guest information.  With modern technology keeping track of this type of information is far less challenging and allows for easier analysis, which can lead to more efficient business operations.

Finally, automation may give hospitality operations a competitive edge, especially if it involves the latest technology.  Though customers still expect and require personal service at most operations, online ordering systems and automatic check-out make things more convenient for guests.  Also, technology can be fun and fascinating for guests, as long as it serves a purpose and meets some of their needs.  Being assisted by a robot, creating your own pizza on an iPad, or other similar activities would be fun for many guests and would be thought of as a novelty or a luxury that would cause guests to want to return in order to relive an interesting experience.  If used in this way, with attention still given to the true wants and needs of a guest, technology can add something that is lacking the important aspect of guest experience.

As professionals in the hospitality industry we must understand and use the technology that is available to us in order to remain competitive, but we also must be sensitive to the needs and wants of guests.  There is no automated system in the world that can do that for us.  As we move towards the future, what are ways that we can ensure that we minimize costs while also allowing our guests to have the most pleasant experience possible?  What are ways in which automation will enhance the guest experience, and in what ways will it leave them feeling like no one cares about them?  So is automation a blessing or a curse?  Time will tell, but if used properly, it will be more likely to benefit than harm the hospitality operations of the future.

About the Author

Joanna Stanley is a senior studying Hospitality Management and Nutrition at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.  She has loved cooking and baking ever since she was a young girl, and has long dreamed of opening her own restaurant.  When she isn’t studying or cooking she spends her time running (she completed her second half marathon this year), listening to music, reading and writing, playing the piano, and going on day trips with her family to Los Angeles.  Both of her parents graduated from Cal Poly Pomona as well, and she is glad to carry on the family tradition!


* The picture was downloaded from The Fiscal Times 

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