Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in the hospitality sector have been actively seeking innovative and creative ways to gain an all-important edge in the intensely competitive service industry.
This has driven many hoteliers to seek new technologies that can simplify several mission-critical yet mundane, routine operational and managerial processes and enable them to provide quality service and improve efficiency, customer satisfaction, loyalty, and profits.
Hotel automation is setting the standard for hotel tech today. It offers an array of new opportunities and services to enrich the hotel guest’s in-room experience, starting from keyless entry services, automated check-in, and check-out services, digital concierge, to the elimination of energy wastage in rooms, without dealing with humans.
There can be several distinct advantages of using hotel automation software.
Benefits of hotel automation?
- Streamlined administrative processes – Automating routine operational and administrative tasks is an immediate time and resource saver. Not only does it free up your staff to perform those tasks that require a human touch, but it also reduces risks of tasks being forgotten or delayed in the rush of a busy day or week. Hotel automation software can take care of distribution tasks, generating financial reports, checking in and checking out guests, managing hotel reviews, and even running your digital marketing channels with hotel marketing automation tools.
- Reduced running costs – Where you’d need a team of staff members to manage all these processes, you can now use a single, integrated software solution instead. While the software itself has its costs, these are significantly less than the costs of employment. Besides, your staff is significantly freed up for more productive tasks that support your hotel’s bottom line.
- Effective channel management – Hotels need to manage their inventory on multiple channels, including OTAs (online travel agencies), GDSs (global distribution systems), retail travel agents, vacation rental portals, and more. Automation software manages this inventory efficiently, fetching reservations, and updating the system in real-time as availability changes.
- Increased revenue – Hotel automation software can benefit your top-line revenue growth in several ways. For example, these systems can assist you by optimizing pricing and distribution, analyzing past data and industry to predict future demand, creating custom offers, helping to determine who your target market is and what they respond to, and increasing your brand visibility across multiple online channels.
- Improved customer experience – Ultimately, customer experience is what makes or breaks any hospitality business. Excellent customer service turns a one-time guest into a loyal customer and makes a stay in your hotel, something truly exceptional. In this digital age, being known for great customer service is a key driver for bookings. Hotel automation software can contribute to your customer service levels through offerings such as instant responses to guests and clients, mobile check-in/check-out systems, smart environmental control systems, simple and integrated payment systems, personalized marketing, and much more.
Common hotel automation challenges
Now that we’ve covered the benefits, it’s also important to look at the other side of the coin – hotel automation challenges. The good news is that these challenges don’t come close to outweighing the benefits of automation, and they tend to be easy to address. Here’s some insight into typical issues and detail of how to address these automation challenges.
Challenge #1 – Multiple Vendors
As with any industry product, you’re going to meet with multiple vendors offering different solutions to different aspects of hotel automation, from marketing solutions and revenue management solutions to distribution automation software, CRM software, and reputation management solutions. This can make vendor management tricky (even if you find a solution that automates that!), including multiple contracts, support systems, payments, communications, etc. It may also result in a lack of centralized data storage for your hotel’s systems, creating problems of its own.
To prevent a situation where you are spending more time managing vendor relationships than guest relationships, keep an eye out for all-in-one automation platforms that take care of different aspects of hotel automation in one solution – with one vendor.
Challenge #2 – Installation and Integration
The first of the hotel automation challenges you are likely to come across is the sheer number of software solutions for the industry, each offering hundreds of different features and capabilities that all look essential for your business. Many of these solutions lack integration capabilities, and therefore communication between the different software solutions could become a source of real frustration.
To realize the benefits of these solutions, it is essential that all modules and systems are fully integrated, ensuring they can share data and function as a single solution in real-time. This is a very common issue with legacy software systems, where hotels are trapped by outdated functionality where the cost of integration is exorbitant.
Solving this challenge means focusing on comprehensive or all-in-one software solutions, where integration is achieved through a blend of centralized data integration, publicly available application programming interface (open API), and customization features as well as the ability to perform quick updates system-wide.
Challenge #3 – Ongoing Support
As every tech-savvy business knows, installing a software solution is only the first step. Although these systems are all about freeing up your time and making routine processes easy, this doesn’t mean they can be installed and then ignored. Businesses that choose solutions that don’t offer support as part of the package, or who are from small vendors who may not be around or capable of supplying the support your business needs, are setting themselves up for costly future problems.
Like any tech solution, high-tech automation software will benefit from quality support – and it is critical to choose a provider that offers exceptional after-sales service, who is established in your area (including through third-party support providers) and who will be around for years to come. Staff will likely need to be trained in using the software, and hardware may need to be upgraded to run these solutions so that these systems can require ongoing maintenance and upgrades. You need to be able to rely on an established partner who can provide everything from troubleshooting expertise to data security and everything in between.
Challenge #4 – Holding on to Legacy Systems
This is less of a hotel automation software challenge than it is a hotel business management challenge. If your business invested in a costly software solution 10 or 15 years ago, it could be hard to give it up. As a result, many hotels seek hotel automation software that can work alongside legacy systems (for example, outdated accounting software). This is an understandable concern for a hotel, but it can mitigate the benefits of these solutions, creating half-baked systems or ongoing tech issues.
To solve this challenge, it’s important to consider these investments in a very different light and change the approach towards procuring and implementing digital and automation systems. Hotel automation isn’t a gimmick or a nice-to-have – they need to be considered necessary capital expenses and should be treated as such during the procurement process. Create a strategy in advance, budget appropriately, and then execute.
Challenge #5 – Shiny Object Syndrome
This is a critical issue in the tech sector, and it’s one we all get caught up in from time to time. We’re living in a culture of instant gratification, where value is often equated with what’s new rather than what works, and where it’s easy to fall for the dazzle of a new product or solution before you’re even fully sure if it’s actually the best solution for you.
The best way to address this is to have a trusted partner who can technically evaluate your current solutions and systems, make recommendations based on delivering functional and meaningful results, and work from the foundation of your hotel automation process outwards to implement the less exciting but functional essentials first, before looking at any add-ons.
Let’s sum up. Obviously, hotel automation software is here to stay, and it’s easy to see why. The advantages are considerable and essential in an industry that is not only competitive but also driven to improve customer engagement and experience continually. Hotel automation challenges are a reality – but they can be overcome by evaluating solutions carefully, by finding a partner that offers an integrated, efficient solution as well as support, and by staying away from solutions that don’t fit your business or consumer needs. The upsides are there are all to see, and the challenges are addressable. Automation is undoubtedly the future, so the sooner you commit to it, the sooner your business can reap the rewards.
About the author: Colin Hannan runs Proven Partners, a boutique hotel advisory, with his brother Ronan. Together, they’ve created, owned, and operated a variety of hotel and real estate projects across three different continents. Today, they help hotel owners and developers adapt to the new normal.