Smith Brain Trust / July 13, 2021

Checking In on Hotels

Why You’re Likely To See Robots on Your Next Vacation

Checking In on Hotels

The past year has been a wake-up call for the hotel industry, and travelers will likely start seeing its effects as they begin checking in again.

Like much of the hospitality industry, hotels are struggling to hire employees, while others still haven’t fully brought employees back to work.

As a result, says Maryland Smith’s Roland Rust, hotels may identify potential opportunities to automate processes. Much like fast-food restaurants that use kiosks for order taking, more hotels are automating the check-in process or even employing robots to deliver room service, he says.

“The result of the hotel industry’s hiring troubles is that hotels will try to figure out how to continue their operations without hiring, and the most straightforward way is to automate using things like robots and smartphones,” says Rust, Distinguished University Professor and David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. “Artificial intelligence is going to play a huge role in what a lot of companies do moving forward.”

For where those trends might begin, guests will see it first through the prices, Rust says. The lack of labor supply will potentially drive up room prices and fees, causing businesses to look for ways to be more cost-efficient with their operations, he says.

“Research shows that when costs increase, businesses try to get more productive – and the way they do that is by automating more from the customer side,” says Rust.

Hotel guests might see that trend as a good thing. While it never hurts to have face-to-face customer service, there’s some truth to the notion that people don’t mind compromising some elements of service for more privacy or safety, says Rust, founder and executive director of Maryland Smith’s Center for Excellence in Service.

“Perhaps it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have less service, considering guests don’t want to be bothered all of the time,” says Rust. “For example, ordering room service at night and getting the knock on the door might make some guests a bit uncomfortable, but automation and robotics can help alleviate that. Those preferable situations for guests could be a positive side to this.”

Services such as complimentary hotel breakfast buffets may also be on the chopping block, Rust says. But with the pandemic still on the minds of guests, that might not be a bad thing.

“People are going to think twice about buffets, but as more people get vaccinated, that may become less of a concern,” says Rust.

In terms of enticing bringing employees back to the hotel industry, some executives are beginning to think creatively. The chief executive at HEI Hotels and Resorts, for example, recently suggested encouraging guests to offer tips at check-out – like at a restaurant.

“Of course, hotels would always like guests to tip given that it’s money that the hotels don’t have to pay, which is a major point of the ‘gig economy,’” says Rust. “It might make the companies and employees happy, but there’s no new motivation for customers to buy into it and tip more.”

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