Hospitality Mon, Apr 1, '24
Hotel Automation: Advantages and Strategies To Optimize Operations

How can hotels improve efficiency and control costs while providing a more seamless customer experience than ever before? This article explains the growing importance of automation for achieving these goals. 

Below, we explain why automation is expanding so rapidly in the hospitality industry, some leading examples of hotel automation technology, and the key benefits leading more and more hotels to invest in automated solutions.

Breaking Down the Hotel Automation Trend

At a high level, hotels are investing in automation solutions because they have the proven ability to economically take on repetitive tasks, freeing up human staff to focus on other work. We take a closer look at the operational benefits of automation below.

In addition to multi-faceted operational benefits, the hotel automation trend is being accelerated by factors including:

  • The rapid adoption of new automated solutions to promote contact-free operations in the wake of COVID. While not all COVID-driven automation has persisted, this sudden crisis forced hotels to experiment with new technologies, many of which have proven their ability to streamline operations while protecting customer experience. 
  • In concert with the new automation capabilities introduced in the wake of COVID, the proliferation of digital BnBs has increased customer expectations for streamlined experiences for reservations, check-in, and other service requests.
  • Rising costs and labor challenges create persistent operational challenges for hotels, and automated solutions can provide a direct solution for enhancing the amount and quality of work your staff can achieve.

Looking forward, the accelerated adoption of hotel automation technologies is a trend that appears likely to persist for the foreseeable future.

Examples of Hotel Automation Technology

Hotel automation can refer to any solution for accomplishing manual tasks with minimal human input. Operating based on settings that can be configured on a case-by-case basis, the right solutions can transform time-consuming work into fully automated processes that can work 24/7, even when management and/or staff are not on site. This, in turn, allows your existing staff to accelerate the amount of work they can accomplish and focus on high-impact service tasks.

As the examples below illustrate, hotel automation encompasses both software and physical robotics.

1. Cleaning Operations

Hotel cleaning, particularly in high-traffic areas such as lobbies and corridors, is continuous, highly labor-intensive work. And keeping up with 24/7 cleaning needs can have a direct impact on guests’ perception of a hotel’s cleanliness and quality.

Automated cleaning solutions like autonomous floor scrubbers can provide a highly efficient supplement to human janitorial staff by taking on repetitive work such as vacuuming, floor scrubbing, and spot treating. Automation can not only boost efficiency but also improve SOP (standard operating procedure) attainment.

The most effective automated cleaning solutions are designed as “cobots,” robots designed to work safely in close proximity to human staff and guests. Today’s automated cleaning solutions can navigate dynamic environments without relying on pre-programmed routes and avoid obstacles in their environment.

Learn more about our robotic cleaning solutions for the hospitality industry.

2. Guest Communications

Day-to-day hotel operations involve a large number of communications with guests, including initial inquiries, reservations, routine customer service requests, and more urgent questions and concerns. By taking on the most mundane communications, automated solutions free up customer service staff to focus on more nuanced, sensitive issues.

Common examples of automated guest communications solutions include:

  • Automated front-desk software capable of taking on routine tasks such as updating pricing and confirming incoming reservations, scheduling housekeeping/maintenance tasks based on room occupancy, and invoicing.
  • Messaging systems for quickly communicating with guests and preventing issues such as overbooking or dropped guest service requests. After the stay, messaging can help promote satisfaction surveys, future promotions, reward programs, and more.
  • Billing systems for rooms, hotel amenities, and other services can reduce overhead while promoting timely, convenient access for customers.

3. Hotel Management

Automated solutions also have a valuable role to play in behind-the-scenes applications including:

  • Automated revenue management systems for workflows such as pricing/utilization optimization, inventory management, event RFP (Request for Proposal) management, and more.
  • Business intelligence solutions for automatically generating reports, analytics, and other management assets.
  • Automated sales and marketing solutions to streamline administration and allow sales professionals to focus on interacting with prospects.

4. Guest Experience

In addition to streamlining operations, automated technologies can directly contribute to a more innovative, responsive, and seamless customer experience. For example: 

  • Smart lighting, thermostats, and blinds can make it more convenient for guests to keep their rooms in a comfortable state. 
  • Digital portals for room service requests allow guest to skip front desk calls at their leisure. 
  • The convenience of mobile check-in will be increasingly expected by customers accustomed to digital BnBs and other hotel alternatives. 
  • Digital room keys can even end the need for midnight trips to the front desk for lost key replacements.

The Benefits of Automation in the Hospitality Industry

Automated solutions are already proving their ability to offer hotels outstanding value across all of the applications outlined above. This value stems from multi-faceted benefits including streamlined operations, improved staff engagement, and cost reduction. We explain each in more detail below.

Operational Efficiency

Automated solutions streamline staff’s time, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their potential benefits for operational efficiency. Automated solutions are more predictable, making it easier to plan and forecast key workflows with a high degree of certainty. The right automated solutions can also improve organizational resilience to staff shortages, allowing limited resources to focus on the work that truly necessitates human attention. Finally, properly configured automated solutions can accomplish tasks consistently, improving adherence to SOPs while reducing the need for supervision and quality checks. 

Staff Productivity and Engagement

Thoughtfully implemented automated solutions will help, not harm, staff productivity and engagement. Freeing staff from mundane work can boost morale while allowing staff to focus their talents on tasks where they can provide the greatest possible value. Automating the most time-consuming chores also makes it easier for staff to stay engaged with customers. And automation can even help reinforce the perception of a tech-savvy, forward-thinking workplace to attract and retain talent.

Cost Control

Automated hotel operations can help control costs by reducing the variability of operational expenses, boosting productivity for employees, and minimizing waste. By automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, hotels can optimize staff allocation, reduce overtime expenses, and improve overall efficiency. Furthermore, automation can help minimize errors and rework to drive further savings. And because many automated services come at a fixed price, they are much easier to anticipate and fit into future budgets compared to rising labor wages and other fluctuating expenses.

How To Integrate Automation into Your Hospitality Business

While the right automation strategy will depend on the unique budget, operations, and goals of each hotel, the steps below provide a framework for helping any hotel adopt a systematic approach to evaluating and implementing automated technologies.

Identify “Low-Hanging Fruit” for Hotel Automation

A hotel need not target comprehensive automation from the outset and can first work to systematically evaluate:

  • Which hotel system can be automated with the least disruption to existing practices and procedures?
  • Which workflows involve the most mundane tasks where automation is most likely to be embraced by staff?
  • Where are customers currently experiencing delays waiting for human service or communication?
  • Where are limited resources making it challenging to keep up with SOPs for cleaning and maintenance?

Pinpoint the Most Inefficient Operations

Whether it is data entry at the front desk, vacuuming lobby floors, or processing customer service orders, hotels are full of time-consuming tasks that do not truly require human creativity, sensitivity, or nuance. These tasks can be a great fit for reducing costs while allowing human staff to provide greater value to hotel operations (and guests), in many cases while boosting morale.

Key questions to ask include:

  • What are the biggest bottlenecks in operations and or the guest experience?
  • Which functions or departments are driving greater than expected labor costs?
  • Are any job functions particularly challenging to keep adequately staffed?
  • Are any essential services like cleaning and maintenance difficult to adequately plan and forecast?

Evaluate High Impact Automation Opportunities

In addition to waste and cost reduction, it is important to analyze potential benefits when considering automation opportunities. The potential for a given solution may vary dramatically from hotel to hotel — automated booking may save hundreds of hours a week for a large hotel while making a limited impact for a more boutique operation. 

Automated systems should be evaluated based on their impact on guests, potential savings, and disruption to existing operations.

Establish Goals for Short- and Long-Term Automation

Based on the first three phases outlined above, promising automation opportunities should be prioritized as either short- or long-term goals. Key considerations include compatibility with existing systems and technology investments, current staffing levels, and the required level of capital expenditure.

As the many different automation technologies outlined in this article illustrate, hotels have flexible options for strategically maturing their automation capabilities over time. For example, a hotel might:

  1. Start by automating its online reservation processing, freeing up front desk staff to focus on in-lobby guests while providing faster responses to customer inquiries.
  2. Expand automation to custodial operations with cleaning robotics for high-traffic areas in need of continuous cleaning.
  3. Identify long-term goals for back-end automation of financial, sales, and marketing functions.

While every organization's automation timeline will look different, taking a systematic approach is the best way to avoid unnecessary disruptions while focusing on the investments with the greatest potential ROI.

Choosing the Right Automation Partner

Successful automation programs require more than simply purchasing robots or software, and working with the right automation partner is critical for laying a foundation for successful adoption. A successful implementation program should include elements such as:

  • Pre-deployment and onboarding to build organizational understanding and define success metrics.
  • Onsite training and deployment consultation.
  • Post-implementation follow-up and maintenance to minimize downtime and ensure success.

At Softbank Robotics, we back our automated hospitality solutions with services and support designed to help customers achieve the greatest possible lifetime value out of their investment. You can learn more about our robotics services here.