RPA in Hospitality: Opportunities and Pitfalls
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Robotic process automation (RPA) is an emerging application of software embedded with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to capture, interpret and automate existing high-volume and repetitive tasks which were done manually previously.  RPA enables organizations to effectively automate labor-intensive tasks, streamline processes, increase employee productivity, and ultimately deliver satisfying customer experiences.

The global Ecosystm AI study found the top business solutions that the hospitality industry has identified to be addressed by AI adoption.

Digital transformation is disrupting the hospitality industry in many ways. The way guests are consuming hospitality services is changing dramatically as the hotel industry transforms its offerings, products, services, and infrastructure to meet the needs of the digital age.  The hospitality industry is a high-volume transaction-based environment, consisting of data management, bookings, processes, and systems. RPA is becoming a prime technology that can disrupt hospitality management and operations.  For example, hotel/restaurant/leisure bookings, front desk cashiering, financial reconciliation, loyalty processes, and employee rosters may be disrupted through RPA. Chatbot services will integrate with bookings and purchasing, forming a new notification channel for guests. Loyalty and streamlined rewards redemption will be another key focus. Hotels will actively partner with other providers as they expand their role in the travel experience, leading to loyalty networks among hotels, airlines, restaurants, and retailers. The potential of RPA for hoteliers to innovate and deliver improved services while improving the efficiency of existing services to sustain and grow their business is presented below.

Bookings. RPA holds tremendous potential in the areas of booking and purchasing.  It lowers the cost of service via automation, by virtualising the entire booking process from start to finish with little or no manual intervention.  RPA also permanently reduces the cost of itinerary and transaction processing, delivering significant savings for travel companies. With RPA, hoteliers can spend less time on data-processing and more time on providing superior guest services.

Front Desk cashiering. Front office automation can completely transform interaction and engagement between guests and hotels. RPA will automate front desk time-consuming, repetitive, and rules-based processes, such as processing orders, tracking payments, guest’s interactions, digitizing paperwork, and managing data. Front-office automation will derive a single view of the guests and their transaction history and will ensure that guest’s communications are seamless regardless of the channel. RPA will greatly assist with tasks that are repetitive, predictable, rule-based, and structured, freeing human resources, making them more productive and improving the guest experience.

Financial reconciliation. Financial reporting is an important activity for every organization. However, composing and distributing these reports is labor-intensive and highly risky in case of failure or errors. Thus, RPA or bot can be used to generate finance, HR, or tax reports, in which the bot can gather information from multiple legacy systems, including ERP, data warehouse. This aggregated data is then can be reconciled based on pre-defined reporting templates, with workflow management enabling hassle-free process, error-free compliance which can be supported by transparent audit trails. The RPA systems are available 24/7, which can significantly reduce the overall time for reporting.

Loyalty programs. Loyalty programs are a key aspect of any business striving to achieve and maintain a strong relationship with their customers. However, existing loyalty programs have not delivered their fullest potential owing to inherent issues such as disparate data sources, cumbersome processes, complicated points-to-rewards conversions, limited redemption options, security threats, and overdrawn settlement processes. Existing loyalty programs and platforms can greatly benefit from a secure and highly automated platform that targets the above-mentioned customer pain points. RPA can be embedded into an existing loyalty program or over-arch multiple systems to automate a process or sequence of processes. It can also be used to automate existing standard loyalty program practices such as recording of earned/redeemed/conversion of loyalty points, as well as managing customer and product details.

Recommendations. Intelligent automation which is a collaboration between RPA and AI can be applied to approach tasks that require complex decision-making and analysis, such as natural language processing (NLP), recommendation services and online customer support. This means that intelligent automation will be able to independently predict new holiday destinations, make restaurant recommendations or recommend a spa service for a guest, depending on real-time analysis and determination of the guest profile based on past consumption patterns.

Chatbot services. RPA chatbots will be able to form a new reservation and notification channel for guests. Modeled on text conversations with call centre agents and website navigation paths, booking bots may be able to not only fulfill reservations but also upsell rooms and promotions in line with guest’s preferences.

Compliance management. RPA can automate repetitive compliance tasks and reduce the risk of hotels being exposed to non-compliance measures by eliminating errors and complying with the prescribed workflows. Personal information of guests can be monitored regularly for possible data leakage and can be easily audited.

In order to derive the most benefit from RPA, hoteliers should be aware of the potential pitfalls from the initial process. As mentioned by Bernard Marr, a strategic performance consultant, in his article ‘Are These The 7 Real Reasons Why Tech Projects Fail’,  “more than half of the technological failures are in fact due to poor management, and only 3% are caused by technical problems.” Difficulties may also arise from not choosing the right processes to automate. The following are potential pitfalls that hoteliers should avoid while embarking on RPA:

  1. Awareness, ownership, and knowledge. RPA implementation demands ownership at all levels. At the top level, the Project Sponsor needs to understand how to prioritize the processes for deployment by identifying the benefits that the technology offers. It is thus important to understand the strengths and limitations of RPA in order to align the initiative to the organization’s strategy with it and monitor the key performance indicators (KPIs) for success.
  2. Not prioritising the right processes to automate. This refers to picking the process that is most appropriate for an effective start of using automation in the business. Tasks to be automated should be thoroughly evaluated based on features, process complexity and its business impact. Hoteliers may be tempted to optimize existing manual processes first before RPA. While this may seem logical, doing so will result in missed opportunities to uncover true process inefficiencies that will be flagged through the RPA process.
  3. Implementing RPA In-house. With a high level of technicality expected from an RPA implementation, it is not advisable to attempt such an implementation using in-house resources. While the cost savings might look attractive in the beginning, a less-than-successful RPA implementation will cost more to rectify post-live than a well-thought-out plan which includes external expert resources to advise and lead the implementation. In-house specialists can also be trained during the process so critical domain knowledge can be transferred for post-implementation support.
  4. Well-planned RPA maintenance & support regime. RPA software requires ongoing maintenance so that it continues to run smoothly. While RPA processes do not deviate from their configured algorithms, interfaces, data formats and most important company processes do change. A proper maintenance and support regime is needed to ensure RPA software continues to function optimally.
  5. Ensure a close relationship to IT. A strong relationship to IT is key in RPA. Any change to the application carries a risk of impacting RPA behaviour. To avoid such an incident, it is important to have open communication with the application administrators.

RPA stands to overwhelm the IT world. As its adoption becomes more widespread, it is imperative for operators and technologists who are accountable for its execution to understand the potential pitfalls prior to deployment. This will ensure successful adoption and make for a smoother transition to operationalization across the business organization.

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Mike Ghasemi is one of APAC’s most respected retail and hospitality industry futurists, analysing trends and the use of emerging technologies to digitally transform organisations. His intellectual work and thinking – which has covered topics as broad as omnichannel strategy, cross-border e-commerce, supply chain management, customer engagement and in-store technologies – have influenced many of the region’s best-known retail, hospitality and technology brands. In his most recent position as Research Director for Retail Insights APAC and Worldwide Hospitality at IDC, Mike was extensively involved in advising local and regional clients on IT solutions, investments and mitigating technology risk. Prior to this, the self-proclaimed technopreneur spent 20 years in senior management and leadership roles within the engineering and retail IT industry, and co-founded the UK-based International Retail Technology Council. Mike graduated from De Montfort University with an MBA. In his free time he loves to swim, ride his motorbike over the weekend and read leadership articles and political news.


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