by Lynn Minges
President & CEO
North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association
In North Carolina, we have seen a boom in hotel construction, with new lodging properties being announced almost weekly. Many of these facilities will feature cutting-edge technology. Like other industries, lodging is experiencing a technological leap forward. Advances in facility and in-room technologies are helping hotels provide a more enjoyable experience for guests. We also are witnessing firsthand how high-tech solutions can improve hotel operations by increasing efficiencies and maximizing profit. The challenge is to find the right balance between advanced technology and irreplaceable human interaction.
From business travelers to families, today’s guests expect a personalized lodging experience. New hospitality software applications are enabling hotels to offer just that. Hotels can now easily obtain individual customer preferences through social media tracking apps and customer relationship management programs. This valuable data allows hoteliers to provide custom marketing promotions and web pages, personalized menu offerings, and other unique guest services. Starting at booking all the way through checkout, guests can enjoy a better experience that is tailor made for their individual preferences and needs.
We also are seeing how technology, such as the latest generation of property-management and point-of-sale systems, can streamline many day-to-day business processes for hotel management and staff. Data gathered by these systems can be used to optimize daily operations and improve a facility’s bottom line. Among other things, the data can assist managers in fine-tuning their staff levels and predicting how long room cleaning should take. The newest point-of-sale systems further simplify booking and check-in, greatly speeding up these transactions. They also allow hotel staff to spend more time answering questions for guests, addressing issues, and providing guidance. However, one of the most valuable pieces of hospitality technology has nothing to do with efficiency or the guest experience. Panic buttons, like those being adopted by many hotel brands, have provided enhanced security and protection to hotel staff while doing their jobs.
Even with the emergence of these exciting technologies, there is little chance that traditional customer service and simple human interaction will ever be replaced. In fact, it’s already been tried in the hotel industry, and it failed. In 2015, the Henn-na Hotel in Sasebo, Japan, opened with a staff consisting primarily of robots. Their novel approach to staffing caught the attention of the media and curious hospitality professionals worldwide. However, according to recent reports, the Henn-na Hotel has “laid off” half of their robotic workforce, replacing them with human staff.
No matter how sophisticated artificial intelligence and augmented reality become, they will never take the place of a friendly front-desk attendant or helpful concierge. The human touch can simply never be replaced. Hotel staff always will be called upon to provide their priceless local knowledge, such as recommending their favorite restaurant or offering firsthand insight into local entertainment options. Hotel management will always be needed to solve problems as they arise, using their experience and real-world wisdom. No machine will ever be able to comfort a distraught guest or lend a helpful hand in an emergency.
The goal for hotels is to find an ideal balance between high-tech solutions and human interaction. Technology should be used to improve a hotel’s guest experience and to increase operational efficiency. But it should never be thought of as a replacement for time-tested customer service techniques or human judgement and caring.
The future looks bright for the lodging industry in North Carolina and across the nation. We are experiencing a historic level of growth and prosperity. As the hotel industry continues to expand, guests will enjoy better experiences thanks in part to ever-improving hospitality technology. And behind the scenes, technology will help make life easier – and business more successful – for hotel operators, managers, and staff. The key to success for everyone is striking the right balance between technology and the human touch.