How Gamification Can Help Hoteliers Keep Employees Engaged and Improve Their Business

The key to developing a more engaged and skilled staff may be a little fun and games. Instead of simply teaching housekeeping staff what a clean room is supposed to look like, one hotel shows new employees two pictures: one of a room that’s spotless, and another of one with noticeable imperfections. Workers are asked to pick out what’s wrong with the second photo and prizes are awarded for correct answers. In the process, new staff members learn what to watch for when they clean rooms for real.

Acquiring skills in a fun and interactive way creates an environment of light, seamless learning where staff is educated, but don’t feel like they’re being drilled from a dry and boring textbook. As a result, the training is less tedious and regimented and employees are more likely to pay attention and retain information.

This is gamification at work.

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Gamification, the application of game elements such as rules, challenges, a leaderboard, and prizes to regular tasks and operations, is one way hotel operators can educate staff without the monotony previously associated with training. Gamification exercises also allow operators to assess and even reward workers without their even realizing it.

In the hotel business, there’s plenty of training focused on promotional and operational tasks. Gamification is a proven way to make them more fun and engaging. Turning standardized techno-babble into a fun game or competition has been found to energize staff,  improve morale, and make those tiresome tasks much less of a grind.

“Many hotels are having excellent results with it,” says Aron Ezra, chief marketing officer at NRT Technology, a leader in the design and development of systems that use artificial intelligence and gamification. He notes that gamification doesn’t need to be disruptive and can be used to augment existing initiatives already going on at a hotel, “like adding extra fuel to what you’re already doing.”

Gamification has already been widely adopted by the business community. In 2013, Forbes estimated more than 70 percent of large companies incorporated gamification into marketing, customer retention, or, as in the previously mentioned example, as a way to teach housekeeping staff to improve room cleanliness. 

Gamification technology has only improved since then, becoming simpler and easier to use and understand. On the employee side, hoteliers can cultivate a more engaged and competent workforce through gamification, or as Ezra says, by turning “annoying requirements into fun activities.”

Playful learning tools can create a more enjoyable workplace and help employees pay more attention to details and retain important information. Adding rewards or a competition to the equation only enhances participation.

“People will work hard for those kinds of things,” says Adria Levtchenko, CEO and co-founder of PurpleCloud Technologies, a data service optimization platform designed to help hotels effectively engage employees and strategize operations. “It gets them really involved in the hotelier’s goals and the picture of the hotel. It gets people engaged totally in the software, too. It’s a double-win, and it makes it a little easier to do the hardest job in the industry—that is, to find people, retain them, and motivate them.”

In addition to education, gamification can also help to assess employees. Instead of a formal test, a series of trivia questions can instead put workers at ease and allow operators to gauge their understanding of practices and procedures.

Additionally, gamification isn’t just for training. Staff games are another way to drive business with friends and family promotions that mobilize them to help market the property. Referrals can be tracked through game software and there can be rewards for employees who encouraged the most spending at participating hotels with prizes. “There’s a way to inject gamification into a lot of what we do,” Ezra notes.

Done right, gamification can get staff involved and teach them something in the process. But hotels can also use games to engage customers. Gamification can help stretch marketing dollars by giving guests a reason to book a room at a particular hotel. 

Instead of marketing that tells them how great the hotel is and why they should stay there, gamified promotions are fun games to play as part of the booking process.

“Every hotel marketer is hungry for good content,” Ezra says. “The pitch isn’t just that this hotel is so great, this is why you need to stay here. Marketing requires an exciting and interactive dialogue, which is hard to do. Having a strong gamification element to the marketing opens up a treasure trove of content that makes marketing a lot easier and, ultimately, drives more people to a hotel.”

Perhaps more important than training staff, gamification is a way to recognize them for a job well done. Often, hotel operators are too busy or just don’t think to give staff a pat on the back. Gamification gives them a way to do just that—and the gesture goes a long way.

“I think it’ll help keep employees happy,” Levtchenko says. “People are struggling to maintain and retain their associates. Housekeeping is obviously one of the biggest targets right now, but it should be across the board.” She adds, “When I worked in the industry as a front desk person, I was never recognized. That was the case, too, when I was a housekeeping manager. I think if you can gamify in a way that makes it an interesting thing to do and includes a recognition component, the hospitality industry will start getting employment back. It’s hard to make it a sexy, fun career for college students nowadays because it just seems like you’re saying, ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘Thank you, sir,’ and not actually getting anything back for your soul. It’s a huge piece of that.”

Elements of an Excellent Gamification Program 

Games are great, unless they’re too hard to “play” or understand. That’s when gamification can backfire. So, it’s important to keep these hallmarks of an excellent gamification program in mind during the development process. 

According to Aron Ezra, chief marketing officer at NRT Technology, good games typically include the following:

  • A realistic goal.
  • A leaderboard to track participants.
  • Fast, practical prizes.

Ezra uses the example of a corporate wellness program where employees can track exams, healthy eating, and exercise on a central leaderboard. He recommends prizes be tangible.

One company, he says, got it wrong by offering a prize—a rebate on the winner’s health insurance premium— that wasn’t easy to redeem. While the discount was a valuable prize, registering for the rebate was time consuming. Ezra says a gift card for the same amount would have been a more popular prize, because the instant gratification and tangible worth would create more buzz than an insurance rebate.