Technology has emerged as a pivotal force in hospitality, but can it save the hotel industry from the labor crisis?
Americans are making up for lost vacation time and corporate travel has picked up at a rapid pace, with U.S. hotels surpassing pre-pandemic performance levels. Despite a rebound of travel, hotels are still facing a massive hurdle: they are struggling to hire and retain workers amidst an ongoing labor shortage. A recent survey found that half of former hospitality workers won’t return to their previous job, with a staggering one in three saying they won’t even consider reentering the industry.
Hoteliers must find ways to overcome these challenges and solve their labor shortage issues in order to rebound from the pandemic. Implementing innovative technology can help make hotels more efficient by freeing up staff for other tasks, and thereby allowing hotels to reduce their staffing needs.
Hotels have traditionally been quick to adopt new technology, and the pandemic has only accelerated hotel tech trends. Contactless services that were previously add-ons to the guest experience such as mobile keys, check-in automation, and even room service robots, are becoming the norm. The big difference is that, now, consumer expectation has shifted in regards to safety. Hotel technology shouldn’t leave guests feeling as though it was implemented simply to tick a box and meet a COVID mandate. Technology that has been thoughtfully chosen to improve the overall guest experience will leave guests feeling delighted, and go a long way towards building and nurturing those all-important guest relationships.
There’s also a significant shift happening towards adopting solutions that cater to the needs of staff. By leaning into technology, hoteliers can combat one of their biggest challenges—retaining and attracting a talented team.
Guest-driven technology allows guests to use their phones to do everything that currently requires floor staff and a POS terminal to do on-premise. Guests can use this technology to order items, split payments, tip, pay, and indicate how they’d like their order to get to them (for instance, whether they’d like their meal delivered to their hotel room or to their seat). A guest simply needs access to a QR code. From there, they can scan, view the menu, and select how and where they want their items delivered. Hotels can also choose to provide two different digital menus, such as an in-room menu for room service and a dining room menu.
Since the pandemic, one major shift for travelers is the hypersensitivity to their health and safety. Travelers paying premium rates expect the best experience—a difficult feat when hotels are operating at reduced staffing levels. Labor challenges should not impact the comforts of the guest experience, and hoteliers can embrace technology to provide a seamless stay for guests. When dining at an onsite hotel restaurant, pay-at-table technology allows guests to pay when they like without handling cash, providing a physical card, or touching a POS terminal. This helps to minimize social contacts and make the environment more COVID-safe for both staff and guests. And when guests are happy, they leave bigger tips, and everyone benefits.
The Role of Staff
In the face of labor shortages, hotels with onsite restaurants, bars, and cafes should focus on implementing technology that takes away burdensome touchpoints for floor staff, such as menu delivery, order-taking, and payments. Technology like this is incredibly flexible and alleviates over-reliance on staff, many of whom have been overworked during the pandemic.
At the same time, innovative hospitality technology can elevate front-of-house staff into more of a brand ambassador role. With customers taking more control, hotel restaurant, lounge, and bar staff can spend less time on logistics and more time building genuine relationships with their guests. This role transformation can create a more rewarding and satisfying environment for employees, and ultimately lead to a lower turnover rate and a reduction in the cost of hiring staff.
Not only can technology help to attract and maintain staff, but it can help boost sales and balance out rising labor costs. Digital menus foster an environment of increased guest impulse. For instance, a guest sitting at a hotel bar sipping on a cocktail may wish to order an appetizer, but with only one or two bartenders working at a time, their attention may be focused on other guests. With digital menus, guests can act on their impulses and order on a whim—and the average check size rises accordingly.
Venues that have implemented best-in-class technology have seen an increase in tips of up to 26%. When hotels are offering sign-on bonuses and free accommodation to lure in workers, an increase in tips is a great way to foster employee engagement and retain workers.
As hotels work to rebuild their workforce while providing exceptional service to record numbers of visitors, innovative hospitality technology that was once considered a bonus is now essential.
It’s increasingly clear that hotels are facing a profound shift in the labor market, and this is the new normal. Those that embrace technology to streamline operations will be able to do more with a leaner team. If hotels can provide a better experience for not only guests, but also staff, they will be in the best position to weather the labor crisis and thrive in the future.
Laurent May is the CEO of Ready, a fully integrated mobile self-ordering, payment and loyalty technology solution that’s defining the next generation of hospitality venues. He has over 20 years of product management expertise in the electronic payments space leading high performance teams.
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