RAM Service? How the digital age is shaping the hospitality sector

Back in the not so distant past, a hotel room was simply that - a room. From a tech point of view, a flat screen TV or a key card was as forward thinking as it might get. You called up, you booked, you were in.

Fast forward to 2018 however, and things are very different. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms and Point of Sale (POS) tools have already had a huge impact in an effort to reduce time in the hospitality industry. Big data now steers the way consumers make transactions, self check in and connect to their devices. Self-ordering and payment is the norm in many fast food outlets and hotels’ outsourced teams such as catering and laundry are now dominated by automation. Social media has seen a review culture develop that was previously unheard of, giving more power to the consumer.

From booking systems to service levels to reviews, the hospitality sector now relies on tech at every level.

This is the 4th industrial revolution - and it’s only the start. The growth of digital will continue to have a huge impact on the hospitality industry. Emerging technologies: artificial intelligence (AI) , robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing - are all combining to drive change in the way that water and steam, then electric power, then IT and electronics once did.

The changes bring with them huge potential - the UK government estimates that AI alone could add an additional £630bn to the UK economy by 2035. They will help us achieve massive gains in efficiency and performance across most industry sectors -but offer a whole new range of leadership challenges, as the status quo is unsettled and jobs are threatened.

For many, the whole point of hospitality is that it includes human interaction. Humans make it a service that is bespoke, personal - a treat. It therefore follows that tech should be used to enhance that, not replace it.

And at the same time - what should hospitality leaders be considering for their people?

Managers need to consider the extra things their teams can deliver with the time that might be saved by tech. What drives the consumer experience? What sets your business apart from the rest? What added touches can humans offer? What can you do to enrich your customer journey? How can you incorporate your values into meaningful experiences that touch on every interaction with your guests and customers and in turn create contemporary and deeper connected working cultures?

For your staff, retraining will be essential. We cannot avoid incorporating AI into our planning processes. As more robots use accurate 3D cameras, they can combine this with their ability to do a much larger range of tasks, so they will continue to increase and execute tactical tasks currently undertaken by humans. The aim will be to manage those transitions smoothly, and to be looking now, right now at new human capital strategy planning deployment models.

In the same way that consumers will have their human interaction reduced at certain touchpoints, this should be seen as an opportunity to increase it in other areas.  For your staff, those robots will still need a human to manage them. This is an opportunity and should be communicated as such.  Jobs can become richer and more diverse, meaning that this will free up our staff, moving away from the grind of task to connected customer experience, and more importantly giving them the time and flexibility to do so.

Humans are creative, adaptable, decisive forces. They can plan with emotion in a way that digital beings cannot. So the key for hospitality leaders is to plan using that creativity and emotion: to manage the advance of the digital age, so that it benefits both the customer, and the employees.

We need to be aware of the changes that are coming - and have vision and imagination with the tools and imagination to manage the moves.

Fiona McKay