Dehumanizing Hospitality: The Automation Paradox in Our Industry

A recent American Hotel & Lodging Association Foundation survey found that 97% of hotels are experiencing staffing shortages. It is not breaking news, and, by now, I assume we’re all familiar with the mainstream narrative:

  • It’s because of COVID.
  • It’s because of Brexit.
  • It’s because of basic income.
  • It’s because of [add a random word here. Just remember to make it sound intelligent and coherent with your statement. It’s even better if you add a few made-up stats (no one will fact-check anyway)].

But is it?

I don’t want to be controversial on purpose, but some studies suggest that hospitality has been understaffed (at least) since the mid-2000s, so what we’re experiencing right now may be just the tip of the iceberg. But, hey! Here’s the plot twist. What if there is NO iceberg? What if we got it all wrong? What if the industry was never understaffed but rather undermanaged?

I went to the woods because…

Let’s start with the harsh truths: hospitality is infamous for having, on average, lower profit margins than other industries, ranging between 1% and 15%. Hilton’s operating profit margin? 13%. Marriott? 9.7%. Hyatt? Less than 5%. Just to put things into perspective: the maids, nannies, and gardeners industry has an average profit margin of over 50%. At least on paper, therefore, you’d be safer pursuing a career in growing potatoes than running a hotel. To make things more complicated, most studies agree that almost half of the total operating expenses in the hospitality sector go to salaries, wages, service charges, contract labor, bonuses, and payroll-related costs. A 150 key-property will take somewhere around 25 and 40 employees to run. Again, let’s do the math here: when Meta (former Facebook) acquired Instagram (for $1 billion), the photo/video-sharing social network had just 13 employees, and that’s including its former CEO, Kevin Systrom. My point? We’re a people industry. People ARE the industry. The Latin term “Hospitalitem” literally means “friendliness to guests.” Now, Instagram is a lot of things, but “friendly” is not one of them, at least not in my book. Nonetheless, our managers have been taught to control costs over people, and, in an industry like ours, that’s a recipe for disaster.

24/7/365

If you can’t increase your revenue, then cut your costs. That’s what we teach at hospitality school. It’s all about profit. So, if people account for almost half of your company expenses, firing a bunch of them will do the trick. At least for a little while. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the pandemic could have been responsible for the loss of 50 million jobs worldwide in the travel and tourism industry. That’s around 1/4 of the whole sector. But, surprise! Travel is back. And with a vengeance. According to several studies, 2022 RevPAR for accommodation providers worldwide has already surpassed 2019 levels. However, we haven’t replaced all of these 50 million vacant positions, have we? Yet, we’re still operating. Sure, a few double shifts here and there, but we’re still open for business. 24/7/365.

It’s not phygital. It’s just common sense

So, what did change in 2022? “We are in the business of people serving people,” Hilton’s CEO, Chris Nassetta, stated last June during the NYU Hospitality Investment Conference. “Technology will enable better service,” enabling workers to spend less time with their “heads down” and more with their “heads up.” Nassetta used the term “phygital” to describe post-COVID hospitality, but we can use a different, more prosaic expression: common sense. We tend to confuse the terms “hospitality” and “logistics” and use them as synonyms, but make no mistake here:

  • Passport scanning is not hospitality. It’s logistics.
  • Manually charging credit cards into a point-of-sale is not hospitality. It’s logistics.
  • Communication is hospitality.
  • Attention to detail is hospitality.

Trying to solve a tech problem with more people is a paradox. You cannot scale empathy. But you can implement a payment gateway and save hundreds (if not thousands) of hours in man hours. But here’s where the vicious circle kicks in: profit margins go down, and, as the quarterly earnings report date approaches, managers start to get nervous and implement fear-based band-aid strategies–fire somebody. Stakeholders are happy, managers still get their fat bonuses, and the real problem, well… Let’s address it in three months. Automation does not make your hotel “innovative,” “visionary,” or “cool.” It just makes your guests happier, your staff less stressed out, and your margin profits go up without downstaffing every three months.

Automate or stagnate

During the above mentioned conference, Hilton’s CFO, Kevin Jacobs, addressed what I like to call “hospitality losers’ excuse:” the infrastructure problem created by built-in-the-’80s-legacy-systems many properties still have. Jacobs refers to it as our “tech debt,” but that doesn’t change the substance: automation is a business necessity, not something worth bragging about. Sure, changing your infrastructure may be a painful process, but the alternative is not to be able to scale your business. A US Job Market Report revealed that 25% of hospitality workers who quit the industry due to the pandemic “are not willing to work in it again.” I don’t blame them. And it’s not because of the long hours, low pay, or lack of benefits/career opportunities. It’s because of poor management. Hospitality is still (and always will be) a fantastic industry to work in. It gets a bad rap, but c’mon: would you prefer your kids to work 40 hours a week in an Amazon warehouse or 80 at the Ritz? And, oh, the irony! While service is criminally undervalued in hospitality, the UK Institute of Customer Service has named Amazon the company with the best customer service score for the past ten years in a row… Their secret Szechuan sauce? Automate what can be automated and allocate people where they can give their best.

Dodo, Boulot, Metro

The bottom line is that if we don’t change the conditions of our people, in a few years, we’ll have none of them left. That’s the real dystopia, not the tech-centric industry some industry luddists fear so much. Of course, we all know the mantra: “people will never forget how you made them feel.” Well, guess what? It’s tough making your guest “feel good” when all your staff is forced to do is type on their keyboards, isn’t it? If we keep managing our human staff like tech and our tech like humans, they will keep leaving the industry for better career opportunities. Let it sink for a minute and be honest with yourself. Wouldn’t you?

Anglo Educational Services: Our Multilocation UK Client

Anglo Educational Services owns and operates 300 apartments across central London. In 2018, it implemented HotelTime PMS in order to shift to a more sophisticated distribution model, with more transparent and reliable reporting. HotelTime Solutions offered a customised tech solution, which resulted in increased revenue, reduction of costs, and streamlined operations. 

Benefits of HotelTime Solutions

  • Multiple channel manager connections within one single PMS 
  • Robust and clear reporting 
  • Easy management of maintenance and housekeeping through one system 
  • An effortlessly available cloud-based system

Although we are not a canonical hotel, we have found that HotelTime Solutions system suits all of our needs and requirements. The team really took the time to consult with us through the system setup, in order to ensure it suited our needs. Since it went live, the system has made a huge difference to our operations: streamlining processes, improving management reporting, allowing greater flexibility with the management of groups and invoicing, and vastly improving revenue by integrating with all the various distribution platforms.  Of course, we faced some challenges along the way, but the support staff (and the management team) were always on the other end of the phone and willing to help.

Joanne Bowers

Accommodation Manager at Access Apartments   

About Anglo Educational Services

Established in 1973, Anglo Educational Services boasts a wealth of experience in organising long-term and short-term accommodation, unpaid internship placements and customised educational, professional, alumni and sports tours focusing on London, the UK and Europe. AES offers a variety of services; from academic and logistical support for semester and short-term programmes as well as accommodation and study centre venues. 

Originally

As a non-traditional accommodation business, Anglo Educational Services share some challenges with hotels, but its back office and operational teams also face a multitude of unique, distinct challenges. In fact, most of the technology it was using, was built around the conventional hotel’s model, and could not be easily adapted to suit its specific needs.

Anglo Educational Services and HotelTime

Client’s needs:

* Connect accommodation facilities in 16 separate locations to a channel manager

 

Solution:

Anglo Educational Services offers accommodation services but is not a typical hotel. A specific solution had to be found in order to effectively manage all properties in 16 separate locations.

HotelTime Solutions PMS offered a technical solution that allowed multi-Siteminder integration through a single HotelTime Solutions app. That means, that although every location has its own “profile” on a specific OTA site, they are all manageable from one place – HotelTime PMS.

HotelTime Solutions combine multiple channel manager connections within one single PMS. Connecting 16 different sites through a single PMS application allowed the inventory to be dynamically managed. 

Client’s needs:

* Management of maintenance/housekeeping from one place 

* Clear reporting 

 

Solution:

HotelTime Solutions brought Anglo Educational Services a cloud-based PMS which allows the housekeeping and maintenance department to connect to it remotely via mobile phones or tablets. So, these departments have constant access to the system from anywhere. Administration of 16 properties thus becomes far easier.

At the same time, HotelTime PMS offers robust reporting that is segmentable by brand (whether it is related to Anglo Educational Services or the other brand under which they offer accommodation). Reporting is of course available through any ‘smart’ device from anywhere. The flexibility of HotelTime Solutions’ reporting modules also allows far greater transparency.

The cloud-based, unlimited user, user-friendly set-up of HotelTime Solutions means that all the departments spread across the 16 sites can easily use and report to one, centralized system. The robust financial module built within HotelTime Solutions allows the finance department to complete most of their reporting within the system, without having to export and manipulate any data. 

L’Hotels modernised operation with HotelTime Solutions

HotelTime Solutions systems opened L’Hotels a way towards modern, automated operation, helped to reduce the manual work of staff, created a modern experience for guests and their installation was the first step to increase sales as well.

Benefits of HotelTime Solutions

  • Modern innovative cloud system
  • Better care for guests, noticeably less manual work for staff
  • Automation
  • Extensive options of integration with third-party systems
  • Regular, quickly available, accurate reporting

About L‘Hotels

L’Embitu and L’Ermitage are 4* hotels with more than 120 rooms located in the centre of Tallinn that offer luxury accommodation. At L’Embit, guests can among other things enjoy an amazing rooftop restaurant with a view of the city. L’Ermitage is located very close to the beautiful historic centre of Tallinn.

Originally

The L’Embitu hotel originally used a legacy on-site system, which made the work of the hotel staff rather complicated. A hardware had to be purchased in order to work with the PMS and access to the system was only possible from the hotel. The hotel staff also had a problem with reporting, which they had to prepare manually. As soon as the second hotel, L’Ermitage, was built, the management wanted to switch to a cloud system. The HotelTime PMS was implemented and within a few months the L’Embitu hotel also switched to it. So, L’Hotels has completely moved away from a legacy on-site system.

L‘Hotels and HotelTime

Hotels’ needs:

* Modern PMS

* Less manual work for staff

* Effective reporting for management

 

Solution:

The implementation of HotelTime Solutions cloud-based PMS allowed staff to get rid of the hardware they were using, while at the same time the possibility to access the system was extended. HotelTime Solutions systems are accessible from any device from anywhere, while at the same time they bring much higher level of data security.

Furthermore, HotelTime PMS significantly reduced the manual work the staff had to do and helped to automate processes in hotels. Payment automation has accelerated guest check-in and eliminated the need to enter payments manually, the concierge module enabled online check-in, the housekeeping application increased the efficiency of cleaning and internal communication in the hotels, etc.

In addition, HotelTime PMS also significantly moved forward the reporting within L’Hotels. Originally, the staff had to create various reports manually, now the management can rely on automatic daily reporting, and any other reports can be easily generated directly from the system. No additional manual work is required.

Hotels’ needs:

* Automation

* Third-party systems

* Modern experience for guests

 

Solution:

The HotelTime Solutions cloud PMS, unlike the older legacy system, brought L’Hotels extensive options of integration with third-party systems. The management of L’Hotels decided that they want to have an efficient, modern, automatic operation, and therefore decided to automate payments (HotelTime Payments service), automate pricing (Atomize) or implement AeroGuest mobile application.

These systems and services led to higher profits for both hotels, and further freed the hands of the staff, who can now fully focus on the needs of the guests present in the hotels. The implementation of these software also creates a modern experience for guests who can enjoy their stay and take care of everything from their phone remotely, without having to spend almost any time at the reception desk.

Thai Garden Resort opted for HotelTime PMS

Thanks to HotelTime Solutions, Thai Garden Resort is now using a user-friendly cloud system that supports implementation of third-party systems and is compatible with an accounting software resort’s staff is using.

Benefits of HotelTime Solutions

  • Efficient and professional management of a large hotel
  • Flawlessly functioning accounting department
  • A comprehensive solution for all hotel services – accommodation and restaurant
  • Extensive options of integration with third-party systems
  • User friendly software

We recently switched to Carmen Cloud and I would say it is an excellent platform which allows you to operate securely from anywhere. 
Carmen is intuitive and perfectly programmed for the hospitality business; the features and functions are well thought out, straightforward, logical and eliminates redundancy; anyone with a basic understanding of software can use it. 
We recently changed our PMS and POS systems to Hoteltime, one of Carmen’s partners, and the transition was seamless. Carmen and Hoteltime integrate perfectly without any problem. 
I would highly recommend Carmen Cloud accounting software. Furthermore, if you are looking to integrate accounting with PMS and POS systems, you can not go wrong with Carmen Cloud & Hoteltime!

Anselma Niehaus
Managing Director, Thai Garden Resort Hotel

About Thai Garden Resort

Thai Garden Resort is an oasis of peace in the heart of Pattaya. Located in the middle of large gardens it is a great place for relaxation. Thai Garden Resort offers 220 rooms and as the only one in Pattaya it has received two prestigious Travelife gold certificates (HolidayCheck Gold and Travelife Gold).

Originally

The Thai Garden Resort team initially tried a different cloud system (a cloud version of a legacy system) and were not satisfied. Therefore, they needed a quick change to another PMS but it had to meet all their requirements, for example, have a connection to the POS system or be compatible with the used accounting software.

Thai Garden Resort and HotelTime

Hotel’s needs

* Cloud system ideal for large properties

* System integrated with used accounting system and with a POS system

* Possibilities of integration with third-party systems

 

Solution

The Thai Garden Resort team needed a quick change of systems they were using. HotelTime PMS and POS systems were ideal for this large property which offers accommodation in 220 rooms and also restaurant services.

HotelTime Solutions developed its own POS system (Vento) which guarantees a perfect integration between that and HotelTime Solutions’ PMS. In addition, HotelTime PMS is integrated with the Carmen accounting system used in resort. It was important for the team to maintain perfectly functioning accounting, that was achieved thanks to this integration.

However, the integrations between HotelTime PMS and Carmen software and Vento POS are not the only ones the resort is benefiting from. Thai Garden Resort also decided to implement D-Edge and Samsotech. These systems speeded up internal processes in the hotel, and thus are helping staff to create the most pleasant experience for guests that is possible. For example, thanks to Samsotech system receptionists are now able to automatically add data from IDs, passports (or other documents) into the PMS, there’s no need to fill it in manually.

Hotel’s needs

* Training and support in Thai

* User friendly system

 

Solution

Almost all members of the Thai Garden Resort team communicate only in Thai, therefore the process of implementation of HotelTime Solution PMS and POS systems and training of the resort’s staff had to take place in this language. That was not a problem as we have representation in Southeast Asia. Everything was led by our Thai team – implementation, training and the so-called refresh training of the team.

But not only the implementation, also the actual use of the PMS and POS systems had to fulfil the needs of That Garden Resort’s staff. They wanted to work with an intuitive, user-friendly software and we met also this condition. Thai Garden Resort team sees our solution as very user-friendly, processes in the resort are running smoothly which is evident for example from the fact that the resort basically does not contact customer support.

The overall transition from the original cloud solution to HotelTime Solutions was a huge improvement for both the team and the resort.

HotelTime Solutions integrate with Adyen

HotelTime Solutions add Adyen among integrated systems. Adyen will ensure faster processing and better automation of payments within HotelTime Payments service.

Adyen is a payment platform that provides a modern end-to-end infrastructure connecting directly to Visa, Mastercard and consumers’ globally preferred payment methods. The integration between HotelTime Solutions and Adyen will ensure an affordable payment solution and more efficient and comprehensive functioning of the HotelTime Payments service:

Integration with Adyen will allow us to provide even better automatic payments services, i.e. automatic charge orpre-authorization of virtual cards or regular cards when it is necessary to charge a guest for a stay or demand a deposit for it.

Payments will be faster. Money paid by guests will be transferred to the hotel account within days.

HotelTime Payments service will support a whole range of currencies that guests will be able to use to pay seamlessly and quickly in hotels, for instance, EUR, GBP, CZK, and AED, but also others will be supported.

The integration with Adyen will enable clear reporting on payment transactions available directly in the Adyen system or in HotelTime.

HotelTime Solutions will be able to supply clients with payment terminals that are compatible with HotelTime PMS. It will be possible to upload data from the card directly into the PMS through the terminal. Sensitive data will then be securely saved in the payment getaway in an encrypted way so that it cannot be misused (this is called card tokenization). The hotel will be able to automatically charge the saved (tokenized) card for the stay and other payments, e.g. for spending at the restaurant.

The HotelTime Payments service will reduce the number of payments returned to the guests because thanks to the Adyen platform, we will increase the share of payments made in the 3D Secure mode. It will be possible to authorize the payment within the card tokenization or pre-authorization (at the hotel reception or online via an e-mail sent automatically by the HotelTime system).

It will be possible to place QR codes, which guests can use for direct ordering, in the hotel restaurant, rooms, lobby or elsewhere. Thanks to the connection between the HotelTime Payments service and the Vento QR module, guests will be able to pay for their orders directly (or have them charged to the hotel room, the payment will be deducted later and in the 3D Secure mode).

Thanks to HotelTime Payments service and this integration, HotelTime Solutions’ clients will have the opportunity to use Adyen, a trusted and large payments platform provided by a company listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange.

Case Study – English boutique hotel

In Losehill House HotelTime Solutions opened a way to build a more effective operation.

Options to implement integrated third-party systems have led to greater automation and to an increase in the hotel’s total revenue.

Main benefits of using HotelTime

  • Effective and professional hotel administration even with a small team
  • Comprehensive solution – for accommodation, restaurant, and also a spa
  • A lot of possibilities for the implementation of integrated third-party systems that led to better communication with guests, increase in revenue, or less manual work
  • Daily reporting for management

Originally 

The hotel originally used a legacy system which provided insufficient connection between different services that Losehill House offers (accommodation, restaurant, wellness) and there was no possibility of integration with third-party software. Therefore, hotel staff had to do lot of tasks manually, automation practically did not exist.

About Losehill House

Losehill House has been developed into the finest boutique hotel and spa in the Peak District. This 1914 Arts and Crafts gem redeveloped as a boutique country hotel and spa occupies a secluded spot on the side of Losehill. The unequaled location, combined with friendly local staff, award-winning Grafene Restaurant, and Thalgo Spa are just some of the reasons why guests adore this place. 

   

Losehill and HotelTime

Hotel’s needs: 

* Effective and professional administration of a hotel that offers a wide range of services (accommodation, restaurant, spa) 

* Cloud system 

   

Solution: 

Three systems from the HotelTime Solutions’ portfolio became the basis of the Losehill House operation, namely HotelTime PMS, Vento POS, and Libero, software for wellness.

The wide range of hotel services is now managed by systems that belong under one platform which brings the hotel the advantage of perfectly interconnected systems. In practice, it means that: 

1) management has at its disposal complex reporting covering all hotel services (systems share information with one another), 

2) guests can order services online by themselves – for example, they can book time in the spa (even before arrival) or order food from the restaurant directly from the room, 

3) ordered services (restaurant, spa) can be credited to the guest’s hotel room account, etc.

 

Hotel’s needs: 

* Implementation of third-party systems 

* Make use of the potential that the available software has to offer 

 

Solution: 

With previous systems, it was impossible for Losehill House to implement for example a channel manager or any other third-party system which improves hotels’ operation. This has changed with the decision to switch to HotelTime Solutions’ systems which as being an open platform allow hotels to implement third-party software.

First of all, the revenue of the hotel increased almost immediately thanks to the implementation of RMS (Atomize), which optimizes prices (several times a day).

Furthermore, a large amount of manual work that the hotel staff had to do was eliminated. Thanks to the perfectly functioning integration between HotelTime PMS and other systems, a lot of tasks are now done automatically (e.g., updating information about free hotel capacities thanks to SiteMinder channel manager, communication with guests before arrival thanks to GuestJoy, price updates, etc.). Thanks to this, the hotel staff can focus on the guests’ needs.

The overall operation of the hotel has been simplified thanks to AeroGuest, whose application allows online check-in or installation of mobile keys (by the way, completely contactless operation of the place is a great advantage in times of COVID-19 waves).

How PMSs help mobile applications push hospitality forward

Guests’ satisfaction has been dependent on the work of hotel employees for a long time. However, hotels may not have enough staff (a common phenomenon today) or they may encounter understandable staff limits (people are not reachable nonstop or can be slow, etc.). This can lead to problematic situations such as check-in queues or insufficient communication with guests. 

Therefore, the dependency of guest satisfaction on the performance of the staff only may not be the best possible solution for a hotel. Especially nowadays, when there is an option to supplement the work of hotel employees with available systems. Mobile applications, software designed to improve the care that guests receive in hotels, are a typically great support for the work of staff. 

But it’s not just about mobile applications, the story of service improvements begins (traditionally) with PMSs.

PMS and third-party systems

Several systems are available for hotels. However, in order for their operation to develop thanks to the use of these systems, it is necessary to connect them “to solid foundations”, i.e. a good PMS. Not only because PMS simplifies hotel administration and increases its efficiency, but also because it gathers lots of information that third-party systems need to use. That’s why, for the good of the hotels, the responsibilities of PMSs should include “openness”, which means they should be enabling integrations with third-party software. 

But not all PMSs work that way. In many places, it is a standard even today to use PMS which does not support integration. Such a hotel then becomes a “prisoner” of its own system and deprives itself of the possibility to move its services forward. On the other hand, this situation is ideal for PMS itself, it keeps the client in hand and does not let third-party software in. At the same time, the PMS tries to provide everything the hotelier needs through its native functions. But that will never work, PMSs cannot do everything. On the other hand, what they can (and must) be capable of, is collecting data and providing it to integrated systems. 

Quality comes first

Not using the data provided by PMS limits the hotel’s potential and profits. Problems may arise in various places – dissatisfied guests may wait a long time for check-in, staff may spend endless hours manually entering and processing data or sending emails to guests. But we can solve or even prevent all such problems today – thanks to mobile applications for example. 

Mobile applications complement (or substitute) the work of hotel staff. Just as hotel staff, mobile applications are guests’ company during the hotel trip, they only differ in the sense that some of them are “with the guests” throughout the whole stay whereas some accompany them just through part of it. 

But why does the choice of PMS matter when it comes to mobile applications? Because the quality of the integration is of the essence. The more features the mobile application has, the more data needs to be transmitted and the more complex integration has to be built. It is still true that PMSs must be an open platform (providing APIs and integrating third-party systems) but that’s just half of the story. They must also be able to build complex integrations, i.e. exchange data with complex systems such as AeroGuest, a mobile application that is with guests from booking to check-out. The amount of data this system needs is huge. The quality of integration is crucial.

One small step for a hotelier, one giant leap for a hotel

As was said, the mobile application may accompany guests during part of their stay or take care of them from the journey’s start to its end. The choice of specific application(s) for a hotel depends on the hotelier – whether he wants to enable online check-in, install mobile locks on doors, automate communication with guests, increase revenue by supporting upselling, etc.

In the category of systems that are with the guest “from start till the end”, we can find applications such as AeroGuest, which is a system that allows online check-in/out, online payment for a hotel room, an upgrade of hotel room via mobile phone, upselling or installation of mobile locks. The second category consists of applications (GuestJoy, MyStay, Upsellguru), which focus on part of the journey of hotel guests, that means for example on automation of communication with guests, enabling online check-in, or increasing the effectiveness of upselling. 

But if we distinguish the systems only according to how big part of the guest’s journey they can take care of, we remain too superficial. It is important to look deeper, for example, at the level of automation that various applications bring to hotels. 

There is a huge difference between online check-in meaning only pre-filling in the information or meaning taking care of the whole process via mobile phone (and thus not having to come to the front desk upon arrival) or between having to pick up a door key/card or not (and thus going straight to the room after arrival). Guests can also spot a difference between the possibility of ordering extra services or upgrading the room directly through the mobile application and the situation in which the application just informs guests and they have to write an email or ask someone in order to get some of the available services. 

It depends only on the hotelier which solution he picks. But whatever his preferences, the way to open the hotel to third-party systems must begin with the right choice of PMS. Its selection is a giant leap for the entire hotel, as it is the basis for the proper functioning of third-party systems that then take staff work and guests’ experience to the next level. That brings us back to the beginning. The more complex the application, the better integration a hotel needs. If a hotelier chooses the right PMS, his only limitations when picking mobile applications are his own preferences.

Why Customers Love HotelTime Support? Martina, the Head of the Department, Explains

The customer support department is something HotelTime Solutions is really proud of. Our clients can entirely rely on the support team and regularly appreciate their work. The department provides support in several languages. It is possible to contact them in Czech, English, and other specific languages used in the areas where HotelTime operates, namely for example in Thai, Slovak, or Sinhala.

The customer support department has undergone several changes during history and is constantly improving. Thanks to that and thanks to the people who create the team, it is now truly one of the (many) benefits that HotelTime Solutions bring to its clients.

The customer support team is managed by Martina Durtova, who is celebrating her 10th anniversary at HotelTime this year. During that time, she has built a great department.

In an interview, Martina explains the secrets to the success of the HotelTime support department, speaks about how it all started, and about the current team’s plans.

Before we start talking about HotelTime customer support, tell me, Martina, how did you get the position in the first place?

At first, I worked in a hotel, which was a very time-consuming job. I left that position and started to work for a cosmetics company which put me on the other side of the barricade. I stopped working in hospitality and became a host in hotels. Then when I wanted to move forward again, I wanted to go back to the hospitality industry. At that time, HotelTime was looking for someone for the support team, I liked it, so I applied and they chose me for the position.

Was the whole customer support department being created?

It already existed but at the very beginning we only had a small office, and we dealt with every little thing our clients needed. We were providing support during all the stages of implementation. There were just two of us at that time and we had no system at all, no established internal procedures, so we had to communicate with each other practically non-stop. But it was a pleasure to work with my colleague, I learned a lot from him.

What did you learn? Some technical knowledge for example?

Yes, the technical side of things was part of what he taught me. It was important. The support department needs to understand the product, the purpose of each function, the practice of hotels, and the technical complexity of a specific problem. At the same time, we must take into account the fact that we provide a comprehensive solution and we have a lot of integration with third-party software. This means that we have a very comprehensive knowledge base about our partner companies as well. We build close relationships with some of them and work together to support customers so they do not have to act as an intermediary in communication. Because of that, it was important for me to start thinking outside of the box, which means to keep in mind our products, but also the knowledge about systems that are integrated with us. We have to manage all this information and at the same time not start doing the work that support of a third-party system should be doing.

How does your department work in practice?

We knew from the beginning that we didn’t want to be any kind of call center support. We also wanted clients to be able to help themselves in the first stage so they would not need to contact us. So, I chose software that in the first place allowed us to collect support tickets from all possible channels – email, chat, phone, or website. And secondly, it allowed us to create a customer support web page where we have a database of FAQs, various manuals, and information that are regularly updated. It can be searched by keywords, and it can also be found by searching on Google.

And what about the management of the team?

We have an internal system that sets instructions about what exactly should happen with the tickets we receive, and the team is divided into three levels. Each has its own work. As a whole, it makes perfect sense. We use great software to collect requests from clients and internally we have a set of rules saying what should happen with each one of these requests. The rules and processes speed up our work. Even though we do not have any agreements with our clients concerning the time for response, I know that the team answers in a matter of hours. They even have a timer set that makes sure everyone reacts on time. The result is that we solve 80% of the requirements at the first time of asking, which is great. But it’s not just about processes, of course, you also must take care of the people in your team.

That is true, especially for you. Your team does a job that consists of dealing with problems all time long. It must be difficult.

It can be quite frustrating, so I talk to them regularly. We discuss work and personal things as well. I try to assign them tasks that match their personality and preferences. At the same time, I try to be creative and break their work routine. Typically, I come up with some competitions, so they compete in who answers the tickets the fastest for example. I enjoy it when they have fun and want to participate.

In addition to a functioning team and well-established internal processes, is there anything else behind the fact that you have such great results?

On top of what you said I would mention that we understand our clients. That’s because everyone in the support team must have experience in working in a hotel. It allows us to have an individual approach to clients. We do not use any prepared answers. That’s the first thing I want to add. And secondly, I would point out the fact that people stay in the team for a long time. It has even happened repeatedly in the past that someone has started in the support team and then after some time moved to another position in the company. The fact that they stay for a long time means that they have a great amount of knowledge about our software. These people do their job very well and even help to train new colleagues.

What are you working on right now?

We have a new customer success program, which is an extension of regular customer support. This program is part of HotelTime license so is available for all our clients. Its purpose is to take care of our customers in a very targeted way. We know that each property is different and within this program, we want to find out how our clients use our software and its functions and give them advice on possible improvements. It is reverse support I would say; a customer success program means that we are actively approaching our clients. We explain to them which features can enrich their operation process or guest experience.

Case Study – Fully Automated Smarthotel

Thanks to the HotelTime Solutions systems and a wide range of integration options that HotelTime offers, a fully automated smart hotel could have been built in Olomouc. 

Main benefits of using HotelTime

  • Enables fully automated operation
  • Enables hotel to run self-service restaurant
  • Significant reduction of costs for staff
  • Reduced costs for IT administration

“In 2018 we were choosing a system for our first completely self-service ART and design hotel. We decided for HotelTime and after 4 years I have to say that the choice was a right one. Not only that HotelTime systems function well, are intuitive and offer perfect reporting, you are also in contact with a friendly and nice team. We never felt like we bother them.”

Marek Novotny,
Owner, Nezvalova Archa

A unique concept of smart hotel

In the centre of Olomouc, you can stay in a fully automated smart hotel Nezvalova Archa, which corresponds with current trends in hotel accommodation. The whole concept of this smart hotel is based on HotelTime Solutions systems. It uses the potential of an open platform and the possibility of integration with many other systems, which in general enables automation of any hotel operation according to the specific preferences of its team.

As was said, in Olomouc they decided on full automation so guests of Nezvalova Archa do not need anyone from personnel from the beginning to the end of a stay, they can arrange everything themselves only with the help of a mobile phone.

HotelTime PMS

The operation of Nezvalova Archa is based on the HotelTime PMS and Vento ePOS system (more information below). PMS, together with other software that is connected to it, automates accommodation services. In the case of Nezvalova Archa, the integration of HotelTime PMS with Profitroom, MyStay and Salto is used.

The hotel works as follows. Guests book rooms online, then an automatic message instructs them about arrival and about (also online) check-in. Nezvalova Archa uses mobile keys, so guests do not need to pick up anything upon arrival. They just receive a message before arrival stating that they need to download an app from Salto. Afterward, they receive a mobile key through this app, thanks to which they can unlock every door – the main entrance, their room, or a self-service restaurant (which is described below). HotelTime and Salto built a special integration so that the mobile keys could work properly.

Also at the end of a stay guests benefit from the automatic operation of the hotel. Guests do not have to wait for check-out, do not have to hand in any key or card, or pay anything. They can simply leave. Payment for the stay is made in advance, whether you make the reservation through the hotel’s website or other portals like Booking.com.

Nezvalova Archa uses Profitroom as channel manager. Thanks to the integration between their software and HotelTime, it is possible to also buy gift vouchers through the hotel’s website.

Vento ePOS

Nezvalova Archa also offers a unique concept of restaurant services, which is possible thanks to Vento ePOS system from HotelTime Solutions.

As the hotel is fully automated, it does not have a typical restaurant. Instead, guests will find a kitchen with a variety of food and drinks to choose from. If they want or need anything, they simply enter the restaurant/kitchen, select the food and/or drinks, mark everything at the self-service cash registers and pay. In addition, it is also possible to cook there.

 

Overall, guests operate fully independently, and the smart hotel completely automatically. However, if anyone needs help, a manager is present in the hotel during the day and a member of the hotel staff can be also contacted by telephone at any time.

Improving Guests’ Journey: Automation in Hospitality

Reduction of manual errors, reduction of employee workload, an improvement of productivity and promotion of efficiency, processes acceleration, and costs reduction. These are some of the benefits that come with automation. A process that is not at all foreign to the hospitality industry, even though it is an area that is fundamentally based on people and their care.

Automation helps to significantly improve and speed up processes in hospitality. Its aim in this industry should be to identify activities that do not have to be performed manually, that are repetitive, or can be better performed by an automated system than by humans. Properly implemented, automation minimizes the time staff spends on activities that do not require their attention. As a result, all personnel can engage in tasks that have real added value for both hotel and guests.

There are several processes that can be automated in hotels. It depends of course on the specific property, which possibilities of automation can be implemented there. Here is a list of all the options hotels have:

1. Automation and Rates and availability distribution

Benefits for hotels

  • Staff spend less time manually entering reservations into the system and/or updating them
  • Greater visibility of a hotel (it distributes rates and availability through many channels)
  • With the help of RMSs rooms are offered for the correct prices at all time
  • Possibility of payment automation which saves a lot of time for personnel

Benefits for guests

  • Information about rates and availability are updated and easy to find
  • Faster and more pleasant check-in – personal data and payment information are automatically saved into the PMS

At the very beginning, before (potential) guests choose a specific hotel, they need to find an available room in the right hotel for the right rate. At this stage, hotels can automate the distribution of this information (availability and rates) to various channels, typically their own website and online platforms such as Booking.com, Expedia, etc.

The distribution of data about availability and rates can be automated thanks to channel managers. These systems connect the hotel’s PMS with various channels, and if the hotel uses a 2-way interface, information is transmitted in both directions – from PMS to an online platform and vice versa. Data about rooms availability and rates are automatically sent from PMS and updated on all platforms hotel is using, and reservations automatically come from these platforms to the PMS. Staff does not have to enter or update any data manually.

In addition, pricing as such can be also automated thanks to Revenue Management Systems (RMSs) which can set prices for hotels very effectively based on a lot of different data. RMSs help Revenue Managers with day-to-day decisions, save them a lot of time they would need to evaluate data manually thus helping them make sure pricing decisions are as effective as possible to achieve planned revenue (you can find more information about RMSs and their benefits here).

2. Automation and Communication with guests before their arrival

Benefits for hotels

  • Possibility of personalized communication with guests before their arrival
  • Improvement of hotel’s services
  • Better preparation for guests thanks to the possibility for them to book additional services in advance (e.g. SPA)

Benefits for guests

  • Better hotels services and improved communication between hotel and guests
  • Possibility to order or book additional services before arrival

From the hotel’s point of view, it is very important to communicate with guests before their arrival. As part of this communication, a hotel can provide guests with basic information (e.g. how to get to the hotel), perform upselling, or even remind those who have ordered package services of the need to make a reservation to secure a time and date of specific service. This communication can be automated using specialized systems (GuestJoy, MyStay, Revinate) so hotel staff does not have to contact every single person manually.

The level of automation of communication with guests may vary. For example, HotelTime Solutions software allows hotels to include a link into the messages for guests that leads directly to the reservation system (typically for SPA). That means guests obtain all necessary information and are able to create a reservation themselves right away without having to contact anyone from a hotel.

3. Automation and Guests’ arrival

Benefits for hotels

  • Improvement of hotel’s services – reduced check-in waiting time
  • More time for guests – minimalization of the amount of information that is entered into PMS manually
  • Possibility to optimize the number of reception personnel, e.g. during night

Benefits for guests 

  • Speeding up the check-in
  • Possibility to check in to the hotel at any time, even if there is no reception
  • Higher level of privacy due to faster or online check-in

From the guests’ point of view, check-in has long been perceived as an unpleasant issue – it is very likely that there will be a queue before the reception desk and that unpopular tasks such as filling out various forms or paying will have to be done. Many hotels are trying to improve the experience for example by providing welcome drinks. However, it is possible to have an even better approach. A significant number of tasks (actually the whole check-in process) can be automated and thus speeded up.

Modern systems (like AeroGuest) allow guests to provide a hotel with necessary personal data and payment information in advance (online check-in). After that, a hotel must only give guests access to the room (keys/card) after they arrive. But the handover of the “keys” does not have to be done by a person either. Hotels can use key boxes (for example Keyguru can help with that) or mobile keys (Salto). In that case, it is only necessary to send guests (QR)code they will need to open a key box or room.

Another way how to automate check-in is by using kiosks. A kiosk does the same operations as a person at the reception – it reads the necessary data from submitted documents, enters it into PMS, and then gives guests everything they need to access the room.

However, if a hotel does not want to or cannot implement the above-mentioned check-in automation, smaller steps can be taken. Typically receptionists can use ID or passport readers which automatically, very quickly, and easily collect all data from documents submitted by guests and enters them to PMS. No manual work has to be done.

As a step toward automation, automatic payments are also an option that significantly eliminates manual work. It works like this – PMS saves card information provided by guests when creating the reservation (card tokenization) and then automatically charges (or pre-authorizes) the card according to the rules set in the PMS. This way automatic payment is used for payments for the accommodation itself, but since a hotel has the card information saved it can use it for other payments, as well – for example, when a guest needs to pay for the goods from a minibar. This type of automation saves a lot of time for hotel staff and guarantees zero error rate (you can find out more about payment automation here).

4. Automation and The end of a stay

Benefits for hotels

  • Less reception workload
  • Ability to manage feedback and control rating on OTAs
  • ECO-friendly approach

Benefits for guests

  • Faster check-out
  • Electronic invoices

Once guests leave, hotels should be interested in how satisfied they were during the stay or at least in receiving a good review, for example on Booking.com, as the average OTA rating directly affects the number of bookings a hotel can receive.

And so hotels collect feedback from their guests. That can be done either manually (hotel staff contact guests one by one) or automatically using software that is set to contact guests after their stay and ask them for feedback/review. Especially in case of large hotels, automated contact is a wise step, as manual, personal contact with guests after they leave is very burdensome, if not practically impossible, for the staff.

In addition, payment automation is also relevant when it comes to check-out and guests’ leaving. In some hotels, guests pay for the stay at its end. In case this kind of hotels have automatized payments, staff does not have to bother guests with that. The payment data provided by guests when booking a room is saved in the PMS and the system automatically charges the card (for the stay itself and also for goods from a minibar if they were consumed).

Apart from that HotelTime Solutions PMS can also help with invoicing. One of the functions of HotelTime PMS is the automatic sending of an invoice to the guests’ e-mail, which again reduces unnecessary manual work the staff has to do and provides guests with a document in a useful electronic form.

5. Automation and Accounting and reporting

Benefits for hotels

  • Possibility of saving a significant amount of costs spent on manual document processing
  • Possibility to connect a third-party analytic tool

Hotels, and their accounting departments, typically have to deal with a large number of tax documents and invoices. Entering them into accounting systems can be very time-consuming and expensive, which is why automation can be again very helpful. If a process of information transfer between PMS and accounting software is automatized, all financial information is shared between these systems and the accountant does not have to enter it manually.

At the same time, regular (daily) transfer of financial information from PMS brings the possibility of analysing this data using third-party analytical tools such as ERP or BI systems.