- By Keith Kirkpatrick
- June 28, 2021
One of the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 shutdowns was the hospitality industry, as lockdowns and travel restrictions severely curtailed both business and leisure spending. While many parts of the world have now largely returned to normal, the hospitality industry is now struggling with another major issue—labor shortages.
Labor availability (75%) and labor costs (55%) were two of the three factors most concerning to respondents of the Hospitality Asset Managers Association (HAMA) bi-annual survey released in May 2021. Many employees left the labor force due to the shutdowns (to find employment in other fields), while others had concerns regarding health and safety due to COVID-19. Still others were receiving enhanced unemployment benefits, particularly in the United States, discouraging their return to the workforce.
In a May 5, 2021 earnings conference call, Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, noted that “it
is very difficult particularly here in the US to get labor, and it is constraining recovery, at certain times, because you just can’t get enough people to service the properties.”
The lack of labor, particularly in the hospitality industry, can have a potentially negative impact on customer service. Across various segments, the physical appearance and amenities of hotel and motel properties may be similar; it is often the level and quality of service that create a differentiated and better customer experience. When labor shortages occur, sometimes there are simply not enough bodies to handle all of the tasks that must be completed to ensure a positive customer or guest experience.
That is where technology can be used to make hotels and motels more efficient, by freeing up staff for higher-value tasks that can measurably impact guests’ experiences. It can also be used to optimize back-of-house processes that can make more staff available to interface with guests.
For example, automated check-in kiosks can be used to augment human staff during peak check-in times. In addition to allowing the guest to confirm the details of their stay, this provides an opportunity for the hotel to offer additional services or upgrades, generating additional revenue without any additional labor costs. Once the initial check-in process has been completed, the guest can then be serviced by a human to provide them with keys and respond to any additional queries, thereby providing an efficient experience, leveraging technology for the basic data capture/transaction, and leveraging humans to create a more personalized experience.
In fact, customers may actually prefer less human contact to handle these sorts of tasks, according to a Criton survey conducted in 2020, which found that:
- 80% of consumers said they would be willing to download a hotel app that would enable them to check in and out virtually and obtain any pertinent information about the hotel.
- 60% of consumers said they would actually prefer to check in and out via an app versus in person.
- 20% of consumers said they would feel more comfortable at a hotel if there were a digital messaging service they could use to avoid physical contact with staff.
Hotels can also use software platforms to allow staff to take on multiple roles and responsibilities, thereby picking up the slack when staffing is thin. For example, management software can be used to ensure that specific customer care tickets are seen by the appropriate staff members and are addressed in a timely manner. For example, a service call that has not been addressed within a predetermined amount of time could automatically trigger an alert to the manager on duty, who could place a call to the guest, apologizing for the delay and letting them know when the service is expected to be completed.
Technology can also help with more efficiently allocating staff to ensure they are being deployed at the correct times to meet customer demand. By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced forecasting algorithms, staff scheduling technology can allow hotels to create hybrid shifts that better meet the peak periods of hotel demand, with built-in staffing overlaps. Staffing software, if integrated across multiple locations and tagged by skill set, can allow staffing managers to pull in additional labor resources that meet specific needs, such as additional housekeepers or front desk personnel. Hospitality industry executives believe that the labor shortage may subside over time. Meanwhile, deploying technology to optimize staffing resources and to offload tasks that do not require a human presence may be the best strategy for setting up the organization to handle other situations that may temporarily impact available labor, such as natural disasters, disease outbreaks, or temporary demand spikes from conventions, city-wide events, or sporting events.
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