After braving one of the worst human and economic crises, a resurgent travel and hospitality sector is gearing up to meet a significant surge in demand. As COVID-19 restrictions ease around the world, leisure travel, especially, is picking up steam and steadily moving towards a pre-pandemic trajectory. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has projected that the sector will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 and outpace global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth.1
However, a burgeoning talent crisis threatens to stymie the travel recovery. The global travel marketplace lost approximately 62 million jobs in 2020.2 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by October 2021, the hotel industry had 3,00,000 fewer workers than a couple of years prior.3
The stiff competition for sourcing skilled talent has also resulted in high wages, forcing businesses to re-evaluate how they manage their daily operations. Automation can be a game-changer in this scenario, in not just alleviating the current challenge of talent shortage but also in driving higher revenues.
A Roadblock to Travel Recovery
Businesses across the sector are struggling to meet the pent-up post-pandemic demand. A recent report by Boeing highlights the need for large-scale hiring in commercial aviation over the next 20 years.4
A number of travel and tourism workers have switched careers, with the pandemic exposing them to risks inherent to this sector. According to a survey by Joblist, a third of former hospitality workers will likely not return to the travel industry.5
The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) predicts that the hotel industry is unlikely to see pre-pandemic staffing levels until at least 2023.6 This puts enormous strain on the existing staff to manage what has come to be known as “revenge travel”.
Even in the pre-pandemic era, the industry was no stranger to issues related to talent acquisition and retention. To ease the situation, companies have used hooks such as signing bonuses and higher remuneration. These tactics have led to low productivity levels and unsustainable costs, with businesses hastening to fill staff shortages by recruiting inexperienced workers.
Next-gen Technologies to the Rescue
The travel industry has accelerated its digital transformation efforts in response to the pandemic-induced opportunities and challenges. In fact, according to a global survey by WNS and Corinium Intelligence, the travel industry has as much as 60 percent of its client-facing business already digitized.
For instance, a leading UK airline, when faced with a sudden increase in customer refund requests due to COVID-19, deployed Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to manage the process through BOTs sans any manual intervention. The RPA-led solution ensured faster and accurate processing of refund requests while improving customer experience.
The rise of the gig economy and the mainstreaming of Artificial Intelligence (AI), RPA and mobility solutions are helping travel and leisure companies find cost-effective solutions to their workforce challenges.
Here are a few innovative technology-led approaches that are proving to be a game-changer and expediting digital transformation in the hospitality sector.
Open Talent: It is staggering that 57 million workers – or approximately 36 percent of the US workforce – are currently part of the American gig economy.7 In light of the pandemic-related business turbulence, there has been an increasing demand for alternative and future-ready work models that enable access to the right talent at the right time.
On-demand talent platforms and ecosystems leverage cloud, AI and big data analytics to smartly connect travel businesses with a specialized and readily accessible workforce spread across the world. While ensuring that enterprises benefit from a scalable talent model to navigate demand variability, these platforms harness the power of digital to create a collaborative and borderless workplace.
Cloud-based Property Management System (PMS): A recent survey of over 500 property managers revealed that manual processes were a major roadblock to business growth.8
Cloud-based property management systems automatically coordinate reservations, inventory availability and housekeeping services, and centralize the data to streamline front-office and back-office tasks. They can be swiftly assimilated with hotel systems such as payment gateways, Online Travel Agents (OTA), point-of-sale systems, locking systems, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and revenue management systems. With PMS, a hotel can share relevant data with these systems in real-time and eliminate manual data entry into multiple systems.
Self Check-in App: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that on average, self-service facilities save airlines USD 2.50 per check-in, which adds up to USD 1 Billion in annual industry savings.9 The hospitality industry can adopt 24/7, self-check-in kiosks at the hotel reception. This can considerably reduce the staffing pressure at the front office by transferring some of the tasks to hotel guests. Guests can enter the room via app-based keys in place of physical key cards, which can save time in organizing, distributing and sanitizing key cards. A survey by travel technology firm Criton reveals that 62 percent of respondents would prefer to check-in and out through a hotel app.10
Rate Management Tool: This flexible tool makes monitoring and adjusting pricing much easier and safer – from creating group discounts and package rates to instant overrides. It assists in adjusting prices based on pre-determined occupancy rules and regulates rates depending on a slow or busy period. Hotels can adopt commission-free Online Booking Engines (OBE) to their website, which will enable guests to view rates and availability in real-time. OTAs can also be integrated through the PMS to synchronize live inventory, rates and availability across channels, instead of managing each separately.
Chatbot: The global conversational AI market is likely to witness a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 22 percent over the 2020-2025 forecast period.11 A SITA study clearly shows that passengers prefer interactions with apps and mobile devices over humans.12
AI-powered chatbots can provide relevant answers to questions on booking, common requests, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), upsells and local recommendations. It can create frictionless experiences – right from catering to simple travel enquiries at the pre-booking stage to addressing complex queries such as schedule changes.
Companies can leverage chatbots to operate with a lean front-desk, thus bringing in much-needed operational efficiency and price competitiveness.
Is the travel and hospitality industry ready to re-structure its manual operations for higher productivity and revenue? The possibilities are immense: by 2035, productivity in developed countries is expected to increase by up to 40 percent due to AI.13 By automating many of the mundane, routine tasks and making the processes smarter by deploying AI, businesses will not just improve efficiency but also tackle customer demands and competitive pressures much better.
Read how WNS Open Talent is helping create the workforce of the future
Read how WNS EXPIRIUS is helping re-imagine customer experience with digital at the center