Article: Adam Beck discusses if technology can improve guest service quality in hotels and if this applies to all levels of the industry.
Technology has arguably been one of the main driving forces in the growth of many economies and organisations around the world. The tourism industry, and hotels in particular, have seen an abundance of benefits which technology can bring to internal operations and guest service quality. In the hotel industry, guest service quality often involves exceeding expectations in an attempt to increase guest satisfaction and ultimately build loyalty. Increasingly, technology is playing a role in guest experiences and overall satisfaction. Buhalis (1998 in Cobanogulo 2006) stresses a continuing need to increase levels of technology due to the increasing volume of travellers and the contemporary needs of those travelers. In many cases, where technology is implemented effectively it has become a main source of competitive advantage (Buhalis and Main, 1998; Siguaw et al, 2000).
Technology can often be difficult to define due to its vast nature, however, for the purpose of this article it will be considered as any activity which involves the use of electronic equipment which adds value to guest service quality. Examples of how technology can be implemented in hotels include; integrated hotel property management systems, guest data management, internal communications, inventory management, hotel design and amenities. Many new forms of technology such as Springer Miller Systems (SMS), Micros-Fidelio and Opera provide opportunities to manage all of these areas from a single program or system. This ultimately provides opportunities for hotels to lower costs, increase revenues, improve communications and create business opportunities (Nyheim et al, 2005; Minogue, 2007).
Although technology provides many opportunities for hotels, many authors focus on the full service (4-5 star, large hotels) sector of the industry. This sector of the industry only accounts for up to 30%, the remaining 70% are considered small to medium hotels which are usually owner operated (Buick, 2003). Therefore, it is important to consider how effective technology is at different levels of the hotel industry and thus if it can improve service quality in general.
A recent report from TRI Hospitality Consulting found that hotel revenue for large chain hotels was down by 17% (Hotel Magazine, 2009). This would suggest that the hotel industry is feeling the affects of the economic depression and will continually need to find sources of competitive advantage. Pine and Gilmore (2009, p.6) state that ‘all businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers’ in order to remain competitive in the long run.
It is well documented that the hotel industry has tended to fall behind in technological advances, opting more for labour intensive operations and service delivery (Chathoth, 2006). Therefore, it is perhaps now more important than ever for hotels to make use of technology as a means to provide better guest service quality and increased satisfaction. This may provide loyalty and repeat business which will be increasing important to hotels in these troubling times.
This article will critically evaluate to what extent technology can improve guest service quality in the future and whether this is effective at all levels of the industry. The article will not discuss in great detail the different forms of technology as it is intended to highlight the main implications to guest service quality. Firstly, the advantages of technology will be discussed in relation to the benefits which they provide to service quality. Secondly, the disadvantages which technology may cause will be introduced. Thirdly, the success of technology in small hotels will be considered. Finally, a number of conclusions and recommendations will be given as to whether technology can provide benefits to the hotel industry as a whole and how this may change in the future.
The Role of Technology in Improving Guest Service Quality
The traditional approach to building guest satisfaction tends to be through the use of physical labour and to some extent this is still the case. However, technology has provided hotels with many opportunities to improve the level of service throughout the guest journey (stay at the hotel). It is important to consider a number of recent technological advances and the benefits this provides to hotels and guest service quality.
Although technology is used in hotel rooms and through the hotel and its amenities, it perhaps plays a far more important role in gathering guest information to increase guest satisfaction. This is particularly the case for large full service hotels which require guest information in order to exceed expectations and build loyalty.
Technology which is at the forefront of the hotel industry includes the use of finger print technology and Closed-circuit television (CCTV). The use of fingers prints, which are linked to property management systems can provide many benefits for both the hotel and the guest (Kang et al, 2007). The guest will be able to use a finger to check-in, enter their room, pay for items in multiple outlets and check out. This will allow the guest to be free of carrying room keys, forms of payment and identification details whilst staying at the hotel. The hotel will also see many benefits from this. Firstly, room keys or key cards will not need to be purchased, which often are expensive to purchase (Kang et al, 2007). Hotels will also be able to gather forms of guest intelligence on elements such as food and beverage preferences, retails purchases, time spent in room and in hotel facilities. This provides opportunities to analyse guest preferences and ultimately exceed guest expectations (Domke-Damonte and Levsen, 2002 in Chathoth, 2006).
CCTV works very much in the same way; however it adds a number of benefits as guests activities in the hotel can be turned into data and statistics. Crowne Plaza at Dulles Airport has tested the use of CCTV to add signage to the hotel to avoid guest frustration. This would also allow hotel managers to review facilities and evaluate how effective they are, when peak periods are and how guests experience the hotel (Kirby, 2009).
Other forms of technology include self-service check-in facilities, which can reduce check-in time from approximately 10 minutes to 60 seconds (Caterer and Hotelkeeper, 2009). In some cases a guest can check-in using wireless devices once arriving at the hotel (Chathoth, 2006). This may even be made easier for guests in the future who could check-in from home, working on a similar system as airline companies. If this works in tangent with finger print technology then it is likely that a guest will be given a time for when the room will be ready and the guest will be able to by-pass any form of check-in procedure once arriving at the hotel. This would work particularly well in business where guests can often arrive very late in the evening.
These forms of technology benefit the operations of the hotel. Mintzberg (1979 in Sigala et al, 2000) promotes these forms of technology as standardisation of work. This also involves elements of deskilling which require less technical input from physical labour. A well-known example of deskilling is McDonalds who attempt to deskill every level of its operations to promote efficiency (Ritzer 2006). This provides a number of benefits for hotels including reduced labour costs, reduce dependence for skilled labour and increased efficiency. However, in some cases this may not have any substantial impact on guest satisfaction as it can be argued that it is very much dependant on the type of hotel and the guests which it attracts.
This article focuses on generic forms of technology, however, it is also important to consider in room technology as a form of guest satisfaction. It has been identified that guests are becoming more demanding in terms of what is expected in the way of in-room amenities and organisations such as Microsoft are attempting to integrate hotel technology to make rooms more personal (MICROSOFT, 2005). The aim of this article is not to go into any great detail about the different forms of technology, however, it is important to understand that this will be a great factor in the future and is likely to affect business and full service hotels more than smaller hotels.
Implications of Technology Implementation
Although technology provides a number of benefits and hotels and their ability to improve guest quality, there are also a number of implications which can be considered. Perhaps the most important point to consider is the fact that technology is continually changing. This provides great challenges for hotels in providing quality guest service. Munyan (2008) states that ‘the “next-generation” reality demands continual technology upgrades for every business and personal user, and hotels often cannot afford to be that nimble’.
Technology upgrades for hotels often include high investment and continual changes mean that hotels are often unable to maintain the latest levels of technology both for guest use and for operational use. This creates a problem with guest satisfaction as guests often expect the same technology (or better) which they have at home, particularly in the hotel room (Munyan 2008). Many hotels also tend to be older buildings which provide limitations to infrastructure changes. New build hotels are able to introduce high levels of technology as this can be planned into the design and layout of the hotel. However, older hotels often hold limitations in the amount of changes that can be made. Some hotels would even struggle to introduce an air conditioning unit into some bedrooms due to the design and layout of the hotel.
In terms of economical and social issue, technology can be seen as a disadvantage because it often reduces the levels of labour which are needed. For example, the self check-in services which are appearing in a number of hotels in the UK reduce the need for labour on reception. Although some levels of staff may be maintained for control and maintenance, it is likely that the same levels of staff will not be needed. This is may to become more prominent as labour costs rise in the UK and hotel organisations seek methods to reduce the level of employment needed to run the hotel operations (Caterer and Hotelkeeper, 2008).
However, when considering ‘guest service quality’, it can be argued that self check-in can reduce the level of quality offered. This will often be dependant on the type of hotel which it is implemented; for example, it would seem to be a good idea for business hotel but when considering a full service 5 star hotel it would perhaps reduce the level of personal service and guest satisfaction. Although, overall it is likely that full service hotels will be able to reduce levels of staff in other areas where machines and computers will replace the work of humans.
Technology Strategies for Small Hotels
This article focuses on the larger (full service) aspect of the industry where technology plays an important role and will continue to do so into the future. However, as mentioned earlier the majority of hotels tend to be small to medium enterprises. In a recent survey of technology implementation it was concluded that luxury full service hotels tend to adopt technology more than small to medium hotels (Sigala et al, 2000). If this is the case it is perhaps important to consider whether small to medium hotels will be able to compete with larger hotels in the future and if guest service quality will be affected in any way.
An important factor to consider is the level of investment which technology requires both in installing and maintaining. It is likely that the majority of small to medium hotels have neither the capital requirements nor technical knowledge to maintain such high levels of technology. Also many small hotels are old buildings which perhaps do not prove practical in hosting high levels of technology.
Research by Buick (2003) found that owners of small hotels in Scotland were reluctant to purchase a system which would help to run their business and in fact over 40% claimed not to use a computer to run the business. However, many of the hotel owners where very successful and had high levels of turnover. This would suggest that technology may not always be required to provide successful guest service quality. It is important to understand the type of guests which occupy small hotels. On the whole it is likely that families and couples would visit small hotels in Scotland and therefore would not necessarily be seeking high levels of technology. However, many large chain hotels attract contemporary business and leisure travelers who expect higher levels of technology, similar to that of the home. Research which has been carried out suggest that small hotels need to invest time into web design in order to attract guests.
It is clear from the evidence in this article that technology is becoming increasingly important for hospitality organisations and in particular hotels. It can be argued that the industry has somewhat been reluctant to follow technology trends and as a result has fallen behind. A number of technology advances which are currently being tested and are in the early stages of usage have been discussed to highlight the importance of technology as a method to increase guest service quality. However, a number of negative implications have been discussed which suggest that technology creates a number of issues for hoteliers, guests and employees of hotels.
Having said this, many hotels are now beginning to realise the benefits which technology can bring to operations and guest service quality although many hotels still fail to make full use of it. It has been identified that many small to medium-sized hotels tend to operate with little or no technology at all. This may be detrimental to the future success of these hotels due to travellers becoming more inclined to expect levels of technology as part of a hotel ‘experience’. However, small to medium hotels attract different markets to that of chain or large full service hotels and therefore technology may not be as much of an expectation or necessity to these types of guests.
Thoughts for the future?
Therefore, it can be concluded that although technology provides a number a benefits for the hotel industry there are still a number of challenges which need to be addressed. Also although technology can be useful at some levels for the whole hotel industry, it is not vital for success. However, it is likely that this conclusion may change in the future and technology may become vital for the whole hotel industry. The Caterer and Hotelkeeper (2001) suggests that by 2020 technology will be paramount for the success of the hotel businesses. A number of recommendations will be offered as to the likely direction of the industry in the future and how the industry can adapt for these changes.
The findings and conclusions in this article suggest that although technology will be increasingly important in the future for the hotel industry it will be more so for large chain or full service hotels. Technology for these hotels will be paramount in sustaining competitive advantage. However, smaller hotels will rely less on technology but it is recommended that these types of hotels make use of technology which is economically and operationally viable. These hotels will rely on quality service which will increasingly be channelled through technology.
Please note: This article is published for information only and any recommendations given are the opinion of the author and therefore, should only be used if the reader feels they are applicable. A full reference list is available on request via email.