Hotels have seen hiring strategies change after employing technology, with the focus on personality over skills.
Despite labour issues in the sector, hoteliers said they had employed technology less to save money on teams, but more to improve service.
Mark Heyburn, hotel manager, One Hundred Shoreditch, said: “We embraced technology because of the pandemic, not because of staffing and this has evolved for the whole of the guest journey. The guest has the opportunity not to interact with us, from room service through to checkout, but the majority of the guests who use the platform still interact with us.
“There are a lot of different platforms which we engage with – it’s an ecosystem of technology. It’s extended from guests to all sorts of revenue stream – including those who aren’t staying, but are using co-working. We don’t see it as a cost saving in terms of talent, it’s about service.”
Nizar Virji, director, Euston Square Hotel, added: “You reach a level of technology where it’s not about the staff numbers – you will still have a certain number of people on overnight, for example. You’re using technology to focus on service. When we’re hiring we look for ‘high personality, not skills’ because you can teach skills, but not personality. Technology then means teams spend their time on less functional activities.”
Heyburn agreed, adding: “I can teach reception, food and beverage, all areas of the hotel, but I can’t teach manners, which is where the service comes from. There are always going to be mistakes in the hotel journey, it’s how you respond, whether that’s technology or people.”
Dominic Child, sales director POS, Mews told the assembled that, with 80 million smartphones in the country, hotels needed to think about what could be achieved using them, commenting: “Why not replace a waiter’s pad and paper with a mobile phone? 50 per cent of waiter time is spent walking to and from a till.”
Sarah Norman, sales manager, Mews said: “Technology adds a lot of time saving. There are a lot of chores, a lot of admin, all the check-in, pre authorising – so instead, when the customer arrives it’s about the welcome and the customer. We make it easier for guests to interact with the staff.”
Virji concurred. “A guest knows how to spell their name a lot better than we do and they know their nationality. So we moved to kiosks because a lot of guests wanted to type their name in and they know they’ll get it right when they do.”
Mit Patel, director of IT at Lore Group, described a test in one of the group’s hotels which cut average checkin time from 18 minutes to seven minutes, proving the timesaving potential of the technology and the improved customer experience.
Alongside the reduction in tedious admin for teams, Child pointed to potential to drive revenue. He said: “You can achieve the same amount of sales with 50 per cent of F&B staff by using digital ordering in certain areas. Whether you’re budget or high end there’s a different reaction to digital ordering – at the high end you might want to pair wine with food – but in most scenarios a digital room service product would be suitable and you can generate more sale at the same time.”
While there was enthusiasm for technology, there were mixed approaches to how it was employed. Ioannis Koletakis, general manager, Novotel London West, said: “We’ve seen a lot of engagement with our teams and a lot of back office savings in terms of man hours spent on admin jobs.
“On the guest side it can be a minefield to introduce [new technologies] but in the back office we can bring in smaller companies to run the systems. Front of house is more expensive, so we have introduced more technology in the back office first.”
Virji said: “Back of house is easier to tweak rather than front of house. Technology companies would do well to listen to their customers. As much as you might love something, the team needs to love it. They need support and they help when it doesn’t work.
“You choose your [technology] partner based on who listens to you. If I want to serve strawberry ice cream in a flowery bowl, that’s what I want to do. Technology companies should try to be more customisable and help your clients to engage with the products. Hoteliers are a lot brighter than people think. People think that being on a front desk is easy but it’s not, we deal with a lot of complex tasks in real time.”
Heyburn concluded: “Brexit didn’t help us, we lost a huge talent pool, it put us back six or seven years. We need to embrace technology to help, but but we also need get on our soap box and sell our sector. There is more to working in a hotel than working at reception and putting plates on tables.”
And more, the event found, that technology could do.