Now more than ever before hotel guests find themselves with even more need of human connection and interaction than ever before. And post isolation, quarantine and lockdown, the urge for many to travel and re-connect with our humanity and by default, other human beings, once again comes to the fore.
Though certain hotel industry players seek to differentiate their guest experiences through digitalisation, for me the novelty of having a robot to check me in is fleeting. Most of the online check in experiences I have tried didn’t work (I ended up at reception anyway). I have often been tempted to SMS my room service order, but when it came to the crunch I needed to tell a human being how I liked my fries cooked and reverted to tried and tested behaviour. The best I’ve done is check out on my TV which I wish I hadn’t done as I needed the actual print out of my account for my expense claims. If given the option, I would imagine myself looking at the robot concierge and thinking, “Oh, that’s fun.” I would then bee-line it toward the human, probably taking note of a fun feature the hotel has acquired. When I check in, I am looking to get meaningful information combined with personal interaction. I don’t see a general purpose for the automation outside of it being an ornamental attribute that does not contribute to what I believe is a significant and necessary hotel experience.
However tech-savvy we may profess to be, hotel guests (and yes, even Millennials!) cannot and will not simply replace the human interface from a service provider with that of a digital one. For me, with the overall warmth of spirit and our inherent friendliness we are renowned for as South Africans, a fleeting interface with a smiling human being with whom you can make light conversation, inquire about services, share a joke with or ask about what to expect from your hotel experience, is not only fulfilling at a social and psychological level – it is part of us as humans and thus wholly necessary.
Imagine asking a robot for an upgrade or a late checkout? These interactions are not something that can likely be replaced with a button push or rehearsed automated messages. Not for now at least.
The increasing use of technology and digitisation in travel and hospitality is nothing new; in fact it has been an ongoing reality of most, if not all industries since the beginning of the century. When we look at airports, flight check in, ticketing, car rental and rideshare processes, we can perhaps justify the need to streamline what could be and practically needs to be an automated process. But there’s a distinct reason why this hasn’t taken off to the same extent in the worldwide hospitality arena - and certainly not within the domains of guest service
Why? The very basis upon which we as humans exist as social beings – our raison détre – our Alpha and Omega.
It’s the necessity of human being to interface and socialise. The Human Interface.
Some hotel groups have tried and continue to attempt to integrate a far more digitalised process into the key pillars of the traditional guest experience and for most and in my personal experience and opinion, it’s definitely not hit or miss. It is a 100% miss! Despite pushes for automated experiences from millennials or gen z, so many hoteliers are stuck trying to conceptualise automation for services and activities which, in my view, inherently require a human interface. No small wonder we’re not making such great progress here.
As a collective, there is no doubt that technology and digitalisation has improved our lives as humans in so many spectrums – education, science, health, security to name a few. But similarly – it has the effect of pulling us away from the real world. It’s been proved time after time that human being’s social connections can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems. By neglecting our need to connect, we put our health at risk.
The reality is that we're living in a time of true disconnection. Let’s change this, and quickly.