TechnologyThe Year of Efficiency: How Automation Is Helping Hotels Thrive Amid Labor...

The Year of Efficiency: How Automation Is Helping Hotels Thrive Amid Labor Shortages

Despite the overall U.S. economy adding 517,000 jobs at the beginning of 2023, the leisure and hospitality sector remains understaffed with two million open jobs, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Meanwhile, 79 percent of hoteliers say their hotels are understaffed, and 81 percent are unable to fill open positions, according to American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) research.

With the labor shortage showing no signs of improving, hoteliers are focusing on finding creative ways to increase efficiency with smaller teams. For many, automating manual processes has become critical for operational success.

2023 Is the Year of Efficiency

The hospitality industry bounced back from the pandemic shutdown faster than many expected, and now, after three years of growth, owners and operators are feeling optimistic about their businesses. Even though there are still some challenges, such as a smaller labor force and higher wages, the industry is on solid ground.

However, it’s natural for year-over-year growth to slow down when you’re starting from near zero. In 2023, demand and top-line revenue growth are expected to soften, and many leaders are calling it the “year of efficiency,” shifting their focus to managing expenses and bottom-line growth.

Efficient operations will depend on automation. Technology can streamline small tasks that the front desk, general managers, and accounting teams typically handle. For example, self-service kiosks or mobile apps can help guests complete check-in or check-out, or chatbots can handle common guest inquiries and requests, freeing up team members to focus on more complex issues.

In the accounting department, streamlining processes can turn projects that used to take days into tasks that can be done in just a couple of hours. By adopting digital tools that replace employees printing documents and scanning them to email or fax, staff, and management can save time and effort. Consolidating the single-daily reporting and reconciliation process for all properties in the portfolio will also help, replacing multiple manual Excel sheets for each property.

By automating the transfer of information across systems and keeping it secure and accurate, hoteliers can simplify many of these manual tasks. When staff and management spend too much time on redundant back-office tasks, they struggle to serve guests and run an efficient hotel. Automation can help hoteliers become more efficient and cost-effective, streamlining operations while improving the guest experience.

Streamlining Back-Office Operations Through Automation

Back-office communication is a huge area for automation opportunities. By better communicating and collaborating with each other, hotel teams can streamline operations and ensure no task goes unperformed. Automation here will lead to a reduction of errors and improve accuracy, as well as provide better visibility into operations.

Automation is the next big step in the evolution of hotel operations. In the early days, hotels kept a red book at the front desk, where team members could add and share notes. Over time, that cross-shift communication gradually moved toward email. That is until inboxes became unwieldy and tough to organize. Today, there are digital tools that keep these notes and records in a centralized, cloud-based location, which increases accountability by ensuring everyone on the team can easily view and access them.

In addition to sharing guest notes, many of the critical reports needed to run a smooth daily operation are generated by an employee working the third shift, the night auditor. The night auditor will run all the reports from the previous day and use that information to prepare the team for the following day.

Before digital tools were available, team leaders would arrive at the hotel in the morning and find a stack of papers from the night auditor in their mailboxes to review. Mailboxes were lined up from general manager to assistant general manager to front office manager to housekeeping manager, and so on, and critical reports would get initialed and passed down the list. This process could often result in misplaced paperwork, with key team members missing out on important information. Additionally, using so much paper isn’t a sustainable practice.

Today, the night auditor can drop critical documents and reports directly into a digital centralized location. From there, they enter the same workflow as above, but through a more efficient, accessible, and secure platform. Now, if questions about the data on reports arise, there is a clearer and more easily accessible channel to communicate than email, where conversations with multiple people can get convoluted or overlooked entirely. Indexing this information is critical because it allows your team to go back and view past reports, such as guest charges or specific incidents, at any time.

Don’t Be Afraid of Digital

Digital tools that enable hoteliers to automate document workflows and ensure data is secure and compliant can optimize operations, reduce redundancies, and cut down on supplies and labor costs. What’s more: By moving things like document workflows digital, hoteliers will be well on their way to reducing their environmental footprint—a key first step for a more sustainable industry.

And while the hotel industry has found itself on solid post-pandemic footing, rising supply costs, inflation, wages, and more threaten hotel profitability. Now is the time for hoteliers to adopt digital tools that help automate processes to fill labor gaps and increase operational efficiencies.

Jason Q. Freed
Jason Q. Freed
Jason has been working with hoteliers and technology leaders looking to disrupt and improve the hotel industry for 15 years. As MDO's Hospitality Data Evangelist, he shares hotel owner-operator success stories through data analysis and engaging content, uncovering profitability trends and building news around the numbers.

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