The hospitality industry is in a state of flux, and there is a world of change on the horizon. Hospitality experts predict that the use of robots to deliver amenities to hotel guests will be standard practice within the next five years. Others say a shift in demographics may cause the hotels of the future to look more like hostels, or perhaps like something else entirely.
Two forces, in particular, are shaping the future of hospitality: the increasing availability and affordability of robots and other smart technologies, and the rise of the millennial market. The only certainty is that the changing landscape of the hospitality industry will have dramatic repercussions, not only for hotel owners and guests but, also for the broader economy and job market.
The Future With Robots And Smart Hotels
It’s quite possible that hotels are drawn to robots because they’re efficient and cheaper than human labor. Guests too are likely to enjoy robots because they’re a novelty. Many hotels are already quietly testing robots for cleaning rooms. In addition to robotics, fully-integrated smart hotels aim to utilize mobile technology for self-serve check-in and keyless room entry. Some are even offering virtual reality tours of rooms and other hotel spaces.
Modern customers expect better service and more amenities, and robots are an attractive way to deliver on these expectations. Today robots are mostly limited to cleaning and delivery tasks. But smart technologies are advancing at an exponential rate and every year brings new surprises. Many jobs that we currently consider the sole domain of human workers may be fully automated within our lifetimes.
As Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes more sophisticated and robots are increasingly able to pass for human, no profession seems entirely out of the question. Self-service kiosks have been a huge success in grocery stores and other establishments, and it already seems likely that the smart hotels of the future will do away with front desks and receptionists.
This raises the question: what will hotels do with the extra space? One suggestion is to transform the hotel lobby into a social workspace for freelancers, which could even be rented out to non-guests. The freelance job market is on the upswing, and many people already make their living from a local cafe rather than an office cubicle. Hotels may take advantage of this trend by providing workspaces tailored specifically for the modern freelancer. Whatever hotels decide to do with the lobby space, it will likely be catered toward the ever-expanding millennial market.
Hospitality For The Millennial Generation
Millennials already make up one-third of hotel guests and hospitality experts expect this number to increase to one-half within the next three years. This generation grew up with high-tech and connectivity as the norm, and the mobile aspect of any experience is of paramount importance to a millennial.
To cater to this new breed of customer, the hotel of the future will allow guests to view and select suites, request room service, and check in and out using nothing more than their mobile devices. In addition to placing emphasis on the technological aspects, millennials also want to get a deeper experience out of their stay, with a focus on inspiration and personalization.
The redesigned lobby of future hotels may, in addition to workspaces, offer spaces specifically designed to facilitate social interaction or to help guests explore and experience new cities. Some forward-thinking hotels are even experimenting with social media connectivity, allowing guests to connect with other guests on the basis of mutual interests and organize meet-ups or activity groups in physical space.
What this looks like in practice is open to interpretation. It may take the form of structured classes and events organized by the hotels themselves, or it may be a more free-form way for guests with shared hobbies, such as running or frisbee, to meet up and explore their interests together. Ironically, as the hospitality industry incorporates advancing technologies and replaces humans with robots, some guests are actively seeking a greater level of human connection in physical space.
Automation And The Job Market
As is usually the case with technological breakthroughs and large-scale societal change, the changing face of hospitality has been met with a bit of a backlash in some circles. Hotels experimenting with robot services have already noticed a conflict between customer convenience and the missing human touch that is inherent to the very idea of hospitality.
Human interaction will probably remain a feature in hotels for the immediate future, as guests will need time to adapt to dealing with robots instead of people. Still, the use of robots for tasks such as room cleaning, which do not involve customer interaction in any way, will probably become the norm sooner rather than later.
Some have expressed concern over what this means for a shrinking job market going forward. Some of the most pessimistic projections predict that up to half of American jobs might be taken over by robots in the future. Other estimates are more conservative, but even if the actual number is not so high, any amount of lost jobs could be problematic given rising population figures.
Given that there will simply be more workers in the future, unemployment numbers will continue to go up even if the job market remains stable. The automation of service jobs will only contribute to a rising deficit in the job market. These sorts of problems recently seemed to exist only in science-fiction, but recently governments around the world have begun discussing the reality of an automated future. Rising millennial interest in social experiences and human connection, however, could paint a brighter picture of the future.
Not Losing The Human Touch In Hospitality
There are two ways to look at the rise of mobile connectivity and social media culture. The initial reaction expressed by many people is one of fear that people are becoming more and more isolated, cut off from each other while living vicariously in virtual worlds. A less dystopian interpretation and one that is slowly gaining in popularity and acceptance is that a more connected world is actually a more empathetic world.
Through social media and other internet spaces, people communicate freely and openly with strangers around the world. In the process, they expose themselves to thoughts, cultures, traditions, and ideas they otherwise never would have had the opportunity to come in contact with.
In the context of the hospitality industry, this means that open two-way communication between hotel guests and hospitality experts is allowing the two groups to better understand each other. By receiving clear, heartfelt feedback from their customer base, hotels are better able to interpret the needs of their guests and to satisfy them more effectively. As robots and other smart technologies are increasingly able to cover the low-grade services and amenities currently provided by human labor, hotels will be free to hire professionals for more specialized services which only humans can provide.
Hospitality will always be about people, and as millennials pursue deeper, more meaningful experiences, the focus will shift from creature comforts and minibars to exploration and creativity. Whether hotels opt to provide their guests with performers or tour guides, yogis or life coaches, there will always be a place for the human touch in hospitality.