Will technology lead to a hotel experience without human service?

Just try to imagine your upcoming paradisaical hotel stay. You step through the main door without a single hotel team member smiling at you or offering assistance. A walk to reception is needless. Your online reservation was followed by a digital key access capability available on your mobile device, for a room you picked in advance. Within minutes you are in your designated guest room on the floor you chose. Ordering and paying for food and drink during the hotel stay is accomplished via an app on your device, and the items are delivered to your location, either by a machine or a person. 

Your checkout process is similar to check-in, as the device has already charged you for your accommodation and you are free to depart. A contactless experience with no hotel staff around. How about that? A dream come true, or a nightmare?

According to a recent research study, titled “Hospitality in 2025,” conducted by Oracle Hospitality – part of the American multinational computer corporation – and the Skift travel news site, nearly three-quarters (73%) of travelers want to use their mobile device to manage their hotel experience, such as checking in and out, paying, and ordering food. Apparently, travelers look to personalize their journey even more by picking their exact room and floor and paying for only the amenities they want. 

While many cannot imagine their hotel experience without the familiar concierge they got accustomed to, the bartender hearing their stories, the pool staff that save them a good, shaded spot, or the restaurant manager welcoming them with a smile, a growing number of travelers think differently nowadays. 

“I believe the notion that guests are demanding human-provided services at hotels is greatly exaggerated, especially today,” says Max Starkov, an American travel and hospitality tech-consultant and adjunct professor of hospitality technology at New York University.

Advanced humanoid robot ‘Sophia’ is pictured at AI for Good Global Summit, in Geneva, Switzerland, July 6, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/PIERRE ALBOUY)


“A great example of why guests do not care about human-provided services – as much as some in our industry think – comes from the vacation rental sector. In 2022 close to a quarter of room nights in North America were consumed at vacation rentals/short-term rentals: houses, villas, condos, and apartments. A third! The vast majority of these short-term rental bookings were made online via lodgings apps similar to Airbnb. Just imagine the whole vacation rental experience: You book online and receive online confirmation and pre-arrival information (directions, keyless entry info, destination info). 

“Upon arrival, you enter the unit using the mobile key or keyless entry. You enjoy your stay, pack your bags, and leave on the day of departure. All of this while having a completely humanless experience.” 

Covid initiated a shift in consumer demands

EVER SINCE the Covid plague the hospitality industry is suffering from three other pandemics with no solution: A never-ending labor shortage; unsustainable labor costs; and the inability to provide adequate services, especially to an exceedingly tech-savvy growing market of customers. Israel suffers constantly from those side effects and a cure is urgently needed, but is it technology?

Some believe that technology is the remedy, as the Oracle Hospitality research indicates. 

However, Guy Lindt, general manager of the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem says: “A personalized service is the essence in our hotel and also the entire boutique hospitality.”

About “digital key technology” he says “we hope to implement it in the next six months. However, I don’t see how this modern check-in service will affect manpower in the hotel. I don’t anticipate any reductions in the number of our employees. Service comes first,” he says.

“New technology will quickly be implemented, mainly in business city hotels, less in leisure ones,” foresees Franco Vella, the new general manager of the David Intercontinental Tel Aviv, who recently moved over from the Sheraton Tel Aviv, shortly before its “grand” category revamp after a long renovation and upgrade project. 

“The human touch will stay for a long time as millions of loyalty program members expect a friendly face (reception, concierge) and maybe an upgrade to their reservation by a smiling person, and to feel important,” Vella says.

“In addition, the legal procedure in Israel is to manually check passports, to monitor who needs to add VAT for the hotel services. Tourists holding both Israeli and foreign passports are not exempted from this tax and a stamp for that specific purpose is marked by border control. Until a solution is found, digital key technology in Israel might be delayed”, he says.

The passport’s hotel registration is an issue in numerous countries and digital solutions will likely be found. Italy for example, is very strict about this procedure, just as is Israel. 

“Stationing designated kiosks in the hotel’s lobby to scan passports is in a pilot stage in some of our hotels in Italy, and the results are satisfactory,” says veteran Israeli hotelier Rafi Carmon, country general manager of the Leonardo/Fattal Hotels Group Italy, Hungary.

“Technology is implemented in endless trains and airlines that have adopted the humanless experience successfully. Customers expect hotels to follow and not stay behind, and we concur. However, I doubt if it will affect the constant need for team members. The shortage in manpower is significant, but hospitality in our hotels is all about personal service and this cannot be eliminated”, he explains.

RON YARIV is a reputed, leading, experienced hotel advisor to developers. He indicates that hotel owners in Israel find technology implementation expensive and that the return on the investment hardly justifies the expense. 

“Hotel CEOs feel overloaded by technology. In many cases, the implementation takes time, and difficulties follow. Staff and guests lack knowledge of how to use it. Hotel owners struggle with how to keep the balance between technology that assists guests and at the same time does not take away the personal human touch. Hospitality is a people business, when technology supports better service, it is adopted gladly. But taking away the personal engagement with guests is definitely not recommended,” Yariv says.

Numerous travel experts and supporters of the “do it yourself,” current trend of customers booking their flights and hotels online, say that today’s hoteliers are like 19th-century horse-drawn carriage drivers: Members of a vanished popular profession and means of transportation that represents a time gone by. They point to Omena Hotels, the Finnish hotel chain, known for central locations, cheap rates, and self-service. There are neither reception desks nor receptionists in the hotels – rooms are booked and paid for online. The customer receives a passcode that unlocks the front door and the room for the duration of the stay. 

Is this the model the industry will be facing two years from now?

The writer is the Travel Flash Tips publisher.

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