Technological acceleration is unstoppable. And not only that, it develops at an exponential rate. With a plus of vertiginous intelligence for the whole of Humanity. Starving, wars, terrorism and climate change will soon give way to automation and job substitution. In a strange competition of social alarms, most of the jobs reserved for us in this immediate future are yet to be defined. Sixty-five percent of the jobs that humans are going to exert in the second half of this century does not exist today.
However, the advance of artificial intelligence (software) is being much faster than predicted while the advance of robotics (hardware) takes the opposite path: slower than predicted. It looks the same, but it’s not. In the programmatic structure of automation, intelligence acquires greater speed than dexterity. This explains, in spite of the surprising nature of this axiom, that the most intelligent tasks, those that require a higher labor qualification, could be robotized more quickly than the less qualified tasks, but that requires a greater physiological dexterity, as the evolution of the tourist industry teaches us. A hotel manager is more easily substitutable than a housekeeper. If the salaries of the floor waitresses are today far below the hotel management is not due to their expendable condition, but to the fact that the low academic qualification of housekeeping provokes inflation in the labor market. And, because of the law of supply and demand, directors today are scarcer than housekeepers, so their emoluments tend to swell as a result of this scarcity.
But technological acceleration highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both. While some hotel directors supply with emotional intelligence what artificial intelligence takes away from their daily routines (handling PMS, CMs, CRM, RMS, etc.), housekeepers and cleaners, for the most part, can only trust the robots that supply their skills when moving arms and legs to take longer than expected to evolve. And it seems a shred of evidence that will take a few decades, although the latest developments of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), able to imagine the movements that other entities perform in their environment, make think of a shortening of the deadline.
Hotel automation will not replace human receptionists with an animatronic velociraptor, but with a real Artificial Intelligence.
In early 2019, the quirky hotel of dinosaur robots dressed as janitors, the Henn-na in Japan, fired half of its exotic workforce (240 machines in charge of guest registration, luggage transport, and room service) because it did not meet the expectations of its programmers. And much less than those of the entrepreneur who hired them. Anti-technological negativism soon boasted that the human factor is indispensable for the functioning and attractions of a hotel.
But it’s not a good idea to get excited by the biodegradable results of the experiment in question. Robots are nothing new in this world. They have been working for us for half a century when automobile manufacturers introduced them for the mechanical tasks of assembly and programmed micro-welding. In the hospitality industry, they have also for some years been very effectively replacing accountants, salespeople, and managers themselves in many of their routine tasks. Today, direct channel commercial strategies would not be conceivable without the reserve engines with some layer of artificial intelligence, much less the reserves intermediated via OTA without the Big Data treatment of tourist flows by means of RPA (Robotic Process Automation).
For half a century, hotels have been going through an unprecedented spiral of prosperity and growth. It’s not just the big chains that are being automated. Independent hotels are also investing or financing more and more valuable developments in artificial intelligence solutions that increase efficiency and maximize profits. What if not the intelligent solutions platform BookingSuite, to cite one of the best known in Spain.
Hotel automation will not replace human receptionists with an animatronic velociraptor, far from it. The experience of the Japanese robotic hotel teaches us that to automate is not only to modify the performance of the function but also to modify the function performed. When the velociraptor is able to expel the human receptionist from the reception desk, we will have to ask ourselves why we want to conserve the counter (the velociraptor never had the capacity to be cabinetmakers) and, therefore, why we would want to conserve the morphology of a dinosaur in a methodological practice of artificial intelligence. What this intelligent system augurs is the very substitution of the task and not only that of its performer. That, in any case, replaced by the machine (in reality, the invisible system in the cloud), it will dedicate itself to carrying out the tasks proper to its sex, which will be none other than free human creativity, imagination, empathy, and entropy.
Cobots: machines with humans
The future is robotic, yes. But the transition is going to be ‘cobotic’. As soon as we investigate the stage of development of artificial intelligence laboratories around the world, we will be surprised by the strategy focused on human-machine interaction rather than the complete substitution of human activity. Applied to the day-to-day reality of the hotel, the question to be asked would be: why would expelling the person behind the reception desk entail his or her total expulsion from the hotel? Or, to put it another way, do the receptionists seem to us today so robotic as to exchange them for velociraptors?
The next decade of the hospitality industry will be the decade of the progressive demolition of the dividing wall existing today between the host and his guest. We have been announcing this for some time now: the reception desk is going to disappear. The routine functions of a receptionist will be gradually assumed by an artificial intelligence system: traveler registration, room assignment, guest check-in and check-out, night audit, and so on. Everything will be managed by an intelligent and invisible system, not by metal machines disguised as dinosaurs. And so, unlike the smell of bitter almonds, receptionists endowed with those very human qualities of empathy and entropy will stop wasting time on mechanical processes to cultivate the soft skills of hospitality: making the guest happy. Mechanical workers reconverted into human workers. Generators of experiences supported in the vertiginous technological resources that the future promises us.
In the same way, hotel managers will be reconverted in their work positions. The emergence of Big Data analysis in the hotel industry has made the data much more valuable and, above all, has structured them with respect to the dispersion they offered in the past. The property management system, booking engine, reputation metrics, and department racks were retained as watertight units of information and data processing. Today’s digital PMS (property management system) have ended up unifying them, making them more valuable in the eyes of a human analyst. That, at the same time, verifies how the machine manages with more speed, depth, and predictability the information accumulated in an Excel spreadsheet.
The director who remains locked in his office analyzing the operational data of his hotel will soon be replaced by his own neural intelligent management system. According to the Osborne+Frey study for Oxford University, 16 percent of hotel managers today work with a high risk of becoming unemployed in the next two decades. And there is only one way to avoid it: leaving the office, giving up data management to artificial intelligence and, using its analysis, predicting staff needs, verifying the human accent after cleaning the rooms, increasing the operational capacity of the hotel, helping the robots to do their job well and, above all, caring in person for all their guests with what will still and for a long time be irreplaceable: the human brain.
Fernando Gallardo |