Vending machines are basically small-scale F&B kiosks that replace the need for a cashier or any other form of staffing besides the restocking and maintenance. Can hotels be the same?
Obviously, at the luxury, resort and upscale ends, this is out of the question. Operations are complex and guests want that personal touch. But what about limited service, select service and economy hotels where it’s all about fast in and fast out, with a strong ownership need for further cost reductions?
The march for a wholly integrated and unified hotel technology system is well underway. Just think about a lot of the advancements that operations management systems (OMS) have made as well as the recent push for mobile check-in, mobile check-out and mobile keys. The former help to automate service orders and housekeeping while the latter reduce labor needs at the front desk.
Then with cloud systems, you need not even have a lot of onsite management because most of this can be remotely from a regional corporate office or from home. Dare we say it, but for economy hotels the days of the GM are numbered! We’re even seeing this with omnichannel distribution where AI-driven platforms are emerging to help automate inventory and presentation on OTAs, TOs or other bed banks, meaning that one revenue director has time to manage a dozen or so properties. Such pure heads-in-beds plays may only repair onsite security, engineering and room attendants, no more.
For a more granular look at how technology may lead to hotel vending machines at the economy segment, let’s drill into specific functions or departments:
- Reservations: Besides using a seamless booking engine, intake can be fully outsourced to call centers or AI-based voice services along with integrated chatbots for SMS or social media. You won’t need a reservations time save for a front office manager who can also work out of a regional office to handle complains or complex bookings for multiple properties.
- Property management: There’s no need to host on-prem and devote IT resources to maintaining your own servers. Cloud-everything is the way forward, especially for your PMS for which there are a plethora of secure options already on the market.
- Prearrival: Advances in CRMs, CDPs and open APIs allow for rich data integrations so that hotels know their guests before they arrive and offer bespoke, one-to-one upsells, with all of it automated through a robust PMS or communications platform of choice.
- Check-in and check-out: This can be wholly contactless to eliminate the front desk. Mobile keys will reside in a digital wallet (accessible via a phone, smartwatch or smart ring) as prompted by a prearrival check-in portal. Or, in the rare case that a guest doesn’t do this in advance, a kiosk will be available in the lobby.
- In-room: AI-based voice command speakers can act to address guest questions instead of a live agent at the front desk or concierge. Everything in the room will be IoT-controlled while casting to the TV to access a guest’s preferred streaming service will be made increasingly frictionless.
- Food & beverage: While onsite restaurants are critical for four stars and above, for midscale and economy hotels, online food ordering like Uber Eats, Grubhub and Doordash will suffice. Once you set up the drop-off rules for security, you can eliminate this entire department.
- Parking: It will all be self-park with automated ticketing and monitoring. Realistically, though, most people will be using Uber or Lyft to get around.
- Housekeeping: This can be only upon guest departure for short stays. Or, via integrations to the PMS, you can let the guest choose between no stayover cleans and leaving fresh towels at the door or daily cleaning for an extra charge. Using existing systems, room attendant routing can be optimized with cleaning schedules updated in real-time and pushed to a staffer’s phone.
- Accounting: No cash transactions will be allowed onsite with mobile payments becoming the norm. Moreover, new centralized payment operations platforms are emerging to expedite audits, workflows, reporting, clearing and reconciliation so that, much like other departments, accounting can be moved to a regional office with one controller for multiple properties.
- Recruitment: Networked on-demand labor platforms are emerging that verify and onboard staff members, giving HR quick access to a large pool of potential hires with little extra work.