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12 March 2018

What will the future hold?

By Tucker Johnson - Instructional Assistant Professor at University of Houston
  • What will the future hold? | By Tucker JohnsonWhat will the future hold? | By Tucker Johnson

I read an incredibly interesting paper by Bain and Co. a few weeks ago titled "Labor 2030: The Collision of Demographics, Automation and Inequality", and it really got me thinking. Here is a snippet:

"The Bain Macro Trends Group has analyzed a range of technologies at or near commercialization, including humanoid service robots, collaborative robots (cobots), drones, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. These technologies will transform primarily the service sector of most advanced economies and some emerging economies."

What really got me thinking was the idea of cobots (robots that work alongside humans). I recently spoke with a colleague who told me that his class was having a discussion on robots in restaurants. He said that they all concluded that they will always need people to provide services and robots would never be able to replace waiters and waitresses. While I agree that they may never be able to completely replace people, I think it would be reasonable that eventually robots could help enough to cut current staffing levels by 90 percent. Payment, ordering, and food running could easily be automated – this would free up more of the server's time, allowing them to take more tables.

Based on Bain's analysis the automation of beverages and kitchens is a foregone conclusion:

"Today, a set of robotic arms can fully staff a bar and mix drinks to spec on a cruise ship full of thirsty guests. Within a few years, we expect continued cost reductions will make a strong business case for the automation of many tasks in restaurant kitchens and bars. Already, high-dexterity service robotics are being experimentally deployed in settings ranging from food preparation to assisting in hospitals and nursing homes."

I'm looking to hotels and wondering, "What will the future hold?" I spoke with a GM today of a Full Service Hilton. He told me that about 10 percent of their guests check-in on their phone and use their phone as their room key. They never come by the front desk. Their hotel utilizes Kipsu to communicate with guests via text message; many guests have no face-to-face human interaction. All these changes are more efficient for the guest, but will have a lasting impact on the industry and career opportunities.

I know where I'm focused right now: technology, robots, and AI. Housekeeping Robots are already here. Room Service Robots are already here. More robots are surely coming. A 2013 Study by the University of Oxford predicts the probabilities of Restaurant Cooks becoming automated at 96 percent, Hotel, Motel, and Resort Desk Clerks at 94 percent, and Waiters and Waitresses at 94 percent. The good news: Lodging Managers' chance of automation is less than one percent.

I try to always have an eye towards the future of hotels, as well as the future of education. I can't picture an industry that will not be changed by rapid advancements in technology and I want to make sure that I am in a position to succeed in this changing environment. The best boss I ever had used to use the phrase: "Don't skate to where the puck is; skate to where it is going to be." This idea of looking to the future, and critically thinking, in order to be successful is something I have always tried to follow.

Right now if I was starting my career, especially in the service industry, I would make sure that I had a solid understanding of technology, what it can accomplish, and where it is headed. If I didn't have an exceptional understanding of basic computer programs (Word, Excel, Outlook), I would make that a priority. I would then google "hotel technology" each week and select the news results. Reading these results will keep you informed and allow you to stay up-to-date. Like it or not, automation is coming. Now is the time to put yourself on a trajectory to take advantage of it as it becomes more and more commonplace in the future. It's time to "skate to where the puck is going to be."

Tucker Johnson

After nearly 20 years working in food and beverage and hotel sales, Tucker Johnson is now an Instructional Assistant Professor with the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management-San Antonio. He received his BS in Hotel Administration from Cornell University and MHA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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