Who: Rex Warren, Assistant Professor with Johnson & Wales University College of Hospitality, Providence
His Take on the Article: Articles about the hospitality industry, such as this article published by The Wall Street Journal, are typically resplendent with anecdotal guest or management comments. What matters are always facts and data, not anecdotes.
Explanation: Guests typically fall into different “personas” as they travel, and often a person may have one or more travel persona. A person who travels extensively on business wants nothing more than a fast, efficient check-in experience, and the more highly automated — the better. That same person when traveling for pleasure may prefer a more leisurely, intimate experience — say when checking into a resort. So in addition to each different person having a different view on the experience, the same person may have different views at different times.
Technology enables a number of important capabilities from the perspective of the business. First, consistency in delivery of the experience. As a hotel operator, you are no longer at the mercy of the individual human who is interacting with your guests. Each experience, every time, is delivered identically. Of course as with anything, individual guests will view the experience differently, but at least it removes or minimizes 50 percent of the service-failure potential by automation.
Second, as the cost of human employment continues to skyrocket, it is increasingly likely to justify the capital and operating investment in technology. The math is exquisitely simple, and the rationale for operators to maximize the productivity and minimize the cost of their labor is abundantly clear. Every time the cost of labor increases, whether by government fiat or by market forces, automation will become more likely.
Third, what an operator definitely does not want to do is be on the wrong side of the adoption formula. Guests will adopt new technology quickly — and if you do not, you will ultimately lose the game. If, three years hence, the industry has engaged wide adoption of smartphone check-in and you have not, you are at an incredible competitive disadvantage. And in an industry as competitive as this one simple mistakes like that can very easily take you out of business. The bar for “acceptable” is constantly being raised.
Finally, it is generally more profitable and rational to replicate not innovate. Replication allows you to observe how successful new technologies are and how quickly guests adopt them. Innovation is grand fun, but very expensive and often very risky. As virtually everything you do is observable by your guests (and therefore by your competitors) the likelihood of achieving a sustainable competitive advantage by being first is low.