Goodbye, bellboy. Robots will check you in and carry your luggage at smart hotels of the future
Source: CNBC / Kavita Chandran / 29 November 2018

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-Opinion-
 

Smart hotels: is automation good for the hospitality industry?

There is an old saying in the hospitality industry that goes something like “guests may forget what you’ve said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.” And this is certainly true. Time and time again, the research proves that customer service is one of the most critical factors impacting customer retention in the hospitality industry. So, with the advent of smart hotels meaning a greater focus on tech and less of a reliance on customer relations, are hotels still able to make guests feel happy and want to return to stay on their next visit?
 

Smart hotels defined

Traditionally, hotels rely on hiring employees with exceptional customer service skills to drive up guest retention rates. However, this heavy reliance on a human workforce is now being targeted as a ripe opportunity by those who advocate for technologizing the hotel industry. They argue that smart hotels not only save significant amounts on labour costs but also ensure a more pleasant stay for guests. But what are smart hotels? – I hear you ask.

Simply put, smart hotels use the latest technology, such as facial recognition, self-service apps, and even robots, to automate the usual work of human employees. And as the argument goes, smart hotels and automation are the way of the future within the hotel industry. Heck, it’s probably already here, if the robots at Singapore’s Hotel Jen are anything to go by.

But is automation good for the hotel industry?

The downsides of smart hotels

Sure, it might be novel the first time to have your face scanned, check yourself into your hotel, and let the robot carry your bags to your room. But what about elderly guests, or guests with special needs (like the vision or hearing impaired)? It’s important for them to know that a human won’t be far away should they require assistance throughout their stay. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t see VIP guests believing they are getting great value for the amount of money they spend at upscale hotels if they are checking themselves in!

Why some aspects of smart hotels make sense

I don’t mean to sound like a Luddite. That’s why I have to say that despite several drawbacks, there are some good things about smart hotels and automation within the hotel industry. Things that could end up ensuring the overall guest experience is optimised.

It all comes down to giving guests more choice.

If guests feel like they want to check themselves in using facial recognition or a smartphone app? Fine, go for it. Or they may feel like talking to someone about their expectations and requirements during their stay? Well then, it would be nice to have a human at the front desk for that.

Final thoughts

The use of smartphone apps to do everything from turning on the TV to setting the in-room climate controls is one aspect of smart hotels I would like to see expanded even further. Giving guests more power to interact and have choice and control over their hotel experience can only be a good thing.

Hotels that empower guests with localised and customized content via their app will reap the reward of enhancing their revenue through secondary purchases. For instance, a guest might book a local tour and dining experience or even tickets to an event through their hotel app. Ultimately, this kind of smart hotel service stands to make their guests' stay a more memorable one, not to mention capture a bigger percentage of their travel dollar!