Technologies such as global distribution systems, reservation platforms, accounting software, CRM, CMS, and other hardware and software innovations have helped reduce the workload and increase the efficiency of humans who work in the travel and tourism industry.
But are we marching down a path that will ultimately lead to the removal of all human intervention in what is undoubtedly one of the most relationship-rich segments of the economy?
We are already frustrated with convoluted phone trees, robotic cancellation messages, and overly complex on-line booking engines, should we really be looking at more ways to automate the travel experience before we find ways to make the current automation better?
Recently, IHG announced that is using a new technology called OpenWays which allows you to use your smartphone as a hotel room key.
[More background on the OpenWays system]
The OpenWays system would send a custom sound file to the guest's smartphone in advance of arrival allowing the guest to bypass the reception desk and go directly to the room.
Sounds like a great idea, right? But let's think about this from a human interaction standpoint. The reception desk in any hotel is usually the first point of contact for the guest with the hotel.
The front-desk staff acts as the face of the hotel and provides the guest with an opportunity to create a relationship, not only with the person but with the hotel.
I can hear the arguments already... "What about flight check-in, that can be fully automated, why not hotel check-in?".
Fair enough, however, there are actually more human touch points before boarding, for example with luggage drop-off, at the gate, and boarding the aircraft.
What does this type of technology represent in the long term? From a technologists perspective, I can fully appreciate the convenience of using my smartphone as a room key.
I can also appreciate the coolness factor of being able to offer the service. But are these types of technologies really where the industry should be going?
I don't think so. Why? Because with each small removal of human contact in the customer experience, we devalue the customer and introduce more potential customer service issues.
Think about it for a moment, what message do you send a customer when you say... "Skip the reception desk and go straight to your room using our convenient smartphone key service."
This message says that the reception is a barrier to you going to your room and is less convenient than automated service. Who works at the reception desk afterall? People do and in providing an opportunity to bypass the humans you are implying that people are an inconvenience.
In many cases, automation represents a bottom line savings to a corporation looking to increase profitability.
I argue that there are many areas of business process that can be automated and streamlined using technologies, but there are an equal number of areas that scream out for more human intervention.
Feel free to automate the phone and entertainment systems, use technologies to make the booking process faster, easier, and more reliable, and use tools to contact me after my stay.
But use these automation tools and systems to make it easier and more efficient for the people in the industry to do their most important job, provide guests with the best experiences possible.