Let the debate about the appropriateness of contactless service in hotels continue, but the processes’ automation is already undeniable future, and both trends have recently been developing at a rapid pace. We will talk about processes that can be automated in the hotel, and about contactless guest service.
Automation of internal processes
First of all, we will understand what tasks the automation of internal processes solves, and why it is in such demand. Automation systems allow you to monitor the performance of tasks assigned to an employee of a service, keep a log of applications, store information about who, when, where and how performed the work, generate reports in accordance with hotel standards.
The pros are obvious: automated processes make it possible to get rid of part of the routine, as well as reduce the human factor — reduce the number of errors, exclude the opportunity to miss or forget about the task or application from the guest, and control the reaction time and the timing of the instructions. Staff are able to interact more efficiently between departments, see what colleagues are doing.
Increasing staff efficiency, reducing operating costs, improving the quality of services — all this ultimately positively affects guest feedback about the hotel.
It is worth noting that the implementation of process automation does not require any software in its classical sense. Everything is processed on the developer server, “in the cloud.” Users work with the product either in a browser or in a mobile application. Differences are in user roles. For one role, only the functionality necessary for work is available, another one can use all the capabilities of the system.
Depending on PMS and third-party systems (for example, Hoteza), integration can be paid, and the product itself, as a rule, is distributed by subscription. The price can be generated based on both the number of rooms and the number of system users, with the possibility of monthly or annual payment. This is convenient for the hotel, since all updates, bug fixes and system improvements are already included in the price.
Technological solutions and the inevitability of progress, however, in practice sometimes rest on the “human factor.” Staff are often not ready to change their work habits, people resist innovations, and often they do not understand why some automation systems are needed, when old methods work well. It is easier for them to get the task directly from the manager, by phone or in the WhatsApp, and report on the work done in the same way. In addition, some are confused that their work is visible online: they are not thrilled with the fact that everyone can see what they are doing at the moment.
Nevertheless, as practice shows, after a while, employees who have gained experience using an automated system understand that these tools actually allow them to perform their work more efficiently and often facilitate it. Everything strives to automate as many business processes as possible and significantly reduce routine manual labor. In the near future, we will be able to get rid of manual planning and reporting: algorithms will do this for us, and a person will simply control their work.
Automation of services for guests
Automation of services for guests has two main goals: for the hotel – obtaining additional profit, for guests — improving the quality and convenience of receiving the services provided, the ability to choose the way to book them.
The pandemic has shown how relevant this direction is, especially among corporate clients. In the past and this year, a frequent condition for cooperation is to minimize contact with people. In theory, it is possible to automate most of the guests’ requests, the guest will receive the ordered services without communicating with the hotel staff.
Already, with re-settlement and residence, the system can analyze the preferences of the guest and, on their basis, offer him certain services. In addition, the hotel has the opportunity to receive quick feedback from the guest about accommodation and services, respond to comments directly during the stay and thus influence the prevention of negative reviews about the hotel in the Internet.
Depending on the hotel, they are automated: orders for in-room food, essential goods, housekeeping services, reservation of tables in a restaurant, appointment for events, rental of equipment, reservation of meeting rooms and much more.
For both the hotel and the guest, it is very convenient that automation systems allow you to keep the information up to date. For example, if a restaurant puts a dish on the stop list, it will automatically disappear on the menu on the device. On the other hand, for example, if a group of guests wants to rent bicycles for a walk in a country hotel, then online guests will be able to see how many bicycles are free and at what time they are available. Developers are constantly expanding functionality based on the needs of the hotel business.
To automate services, chat bots, voice assistants, interactive interfaces on TVs/tablets/phones, mobile applications are used. Applications work on different hardware platforms — Smart TV, tablets, interactive phones, integrate with smart speakers and TV consoles (Yandex.Station, SberBox). A very successful solution is when, connecting the guest’s device to Wi-Fi, a redirect occurs to the hotel’s welcome page with a link to the mobile application. Of course, automation for the hotel entails certain costs, but they can begin to pay off quickly enough. Although it directly depends on the concept and type of hotel.
Any hotel room is likely to have a TV, so a software subscription is purchased first and integration with the hotel’s PMS is carried out. This is not so expensive if you take into account that if you use it correctly, you can immediately begin to reduce costs. For example, get rid of printed information folders, from the restaurant menu on paper, transferring it all to the TV/tablet/phone screen. There is no need to post printed products inside each room, while the guest always sees up-to-date information. This reduces the costs of paper/printing and staff time. When guests buy services from the interactive menu, where the services are attractively presented, the system offers accompanying additions, in half of cases they are purchased, that is, there is an increase in the check amount.
Mobile check-in and mobile key
In Russia, interest in this technology was noticeably fueled by the 2020 pandemic. Hotels have begun to actively introduce self check-ins, although so far we are not talking about mass, but about single integrations. However, for example, in Europe for several years such systems have been successfully operating in many accommodation facilities.
If you briefly describe the procedure for turning a smartphone into a hotel key, then the scheme is approximately the following. When booking a room, the guest receives a link to the application for his smartphone or web form. Depending on the settings, sometime before arrival, a push notification (or letter) comes with an invitation to register (sign an electronic contract), assign a number and generate a mobile key. Upon arrival at the hotel, the guest in the application makes a check-in, the SPiR employee receives a notification and confirms the check-in, and the guest, bypassing the reception, goes to his room. In the Russian Federation, according to the law, the guest so far needs to approach the SPiR employees with a passport for identification. In the future, it will be possible simply to send a scan or photo of a passport.
From a technical point of view, there are no special requirements for the guest’s smartphone. Any iPhone or Android device that supports Bluetooth is suitable. Moreover, in case the guest does not have a smartphone, the lock, as before, can be opened using a key card.
As for the costs incurred by the hotel, much depends on the manufacturer of the locks. For the most popular solutions among the world hotels, it will be enough to install an additional BLE-board. You also need a license for the software responsible for mobile access and integration with the hotel’s PMS. For the solution from ASSA ABLOY in 2020, the cost of locks’ refining was about 28 euros. The price of software and integration of PMS with the existing mobile application depends on the size of the room pool. The monthly payment for using the system depends on it, but it is quite reasonable.
The main advantage of using the remote check-in and mobile keys is that they make it possible to get rid of the need to encode card keys and, accordingly, from queues at the reception counter and accommodation when visiting. Guests do not spend time waiting to check in and get a key, but immediately go to the room and open the lock using a phone or smart watch. The hotel also has the opportunity to contact the guest in advance, inform him about the services and sell them. The load on personnel is also reduced, as well as the number of paper registration forms.
Virtual Voice Assistant
As virtual assistants in hotels, ready-made solutions are used (Yandex.Station, SberBox, SberPortal), optimized for business. For each client (hotel), the solution is customized based on the needs and services that the hotel provides to guests.
The functionality of robots is very rich. After the guest has entered the room, the virtual assistant will welcome him first, can tell him about the hotel; where it is situated, what services are provided, what points of attraction there are near the hotel. For example, a guest can ask which restaurants are nearby, ask to display the menu on the screen, then book a table or order dinner in the room. The robot, at the request of the guest, can order a taxi, transfer, rent a car/bicycle, record the guest on an excursion, in a spa, transfer a request to bring something to the room and much more. You can ask to take things to the laundry in the morning and return them in the evening. The assistant will pass the information to the appropriate service and the order will be completed.
If the room control system is installed, the voice assistant will turn on your favorite TV channel, make the air temperature in the room cooler, muffle the lighting or push the curtains. With some fantasy, it is possible to develop any scenarios that the hotel needs.
From the guest’s point of view, all the main functionality is available without any synchronizations (voice assistant, television, radio, YouTube). However, if a guest wants to use paid services (watch a film, listen to music), it will be necessary to sign in to the account (Yandex Plus, SBER Salute, Okko, Kinopoisk). It is important to note that after the guest leaves, there will be an automatic exit from his accounts, all the data and the entire history of the guest’s actions will be deleted.
To implement the innovation, the hotel will need to integrate with PMS, purchase devices once in each room and subscribe, which will include product improvements, updates and support. If the hotel is already equipped with a room control system, you may need a gateway that will connect the voice assistant to the system and allow you to control the voice of the TV, climate control, lighting, curtains, windows and others.
For robot castomization, the hotel sets up a menu or unloads an existing one, and the supplier prepares devices – teaches the assistant answers for a specific object, configures work scenarios, etc. The hotel can arrange the installation of devices in the rooms both independently and with the help of a specialist developer.
In our country, hotels were the first to begin integration with Alice and mainly only in rooms. An assistant from Sber, is still installed in single hotels. The difference is that the product from Sberdevices is a TV set-top box with its own interface on the TV screen and voice assistant. Yandex.Station is a smart column with a voice assistant that can work without connecting to a TV. The capabilities of the products are similar, but Sber is more focused on increasing sales, and Yandex on increasing the convenience of receiving services and entertainment. Yandex assumes to press the buttons as little as possible, Sber, on the contrary, will not listen to the request without pressing the button.
There are opinions that this service in the hotel is just a tribute to the technological era, and the cost of installing virtual assistants in the rooms is unlikely to pay off. Yes, the system is created as a technological solution, however, in addition to interactive services for the guest, it is also an additional point of sale, which can bring real profit from the sale of additional services.
By Vadim Verzhbovsky, IFK Hotel Management, IT Manager