Bid to help hotels tackle labour woes

Self-service check-in counters and automated bedmaking devices could soon do the jobs of hotel staff.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is looking at ways to help hotels reduce their reliance on Singapore's shrinking labour supply.

Ideas such as high-tech kiosks or touchscreen tablet menus could also ease frustrating hold-ups for guests at the front desk or long waiting times at the cafe.

The board is looking at automating areas like front desks, food and beverage outlets and housekeeping.

It told The Straits Times it is commissioning a study to "find opportunities to use technology to drive business efficiency and boost productivity efforts".

STB executive director of capability and innovation John Conceicao said the study should spot the current skills gaps and identify solutions to support the implementation of new technology applications.

He added: "This allows them to reallocate manpower resources effectively and to more critical functions which can result in increased guest satisfaction."

The push towards tech solutions, he said, will ultimately reap benefits for the guests.

The eight-month study will involve 10 luxury, boutique, and mid-tier hotels of different sizes in focus group discussions and surveys. The final report will be presented in August next year.

Meanwhile, a trial will be run jointly by the STB and Infocomm Development Authority to use more IT in hotel operations to boost productivity and efficiency. Pilot tests are likely to start by March.

The new moves are part of the STB's aims to increase innovation amid a muted tourism forecast that shows the pace of growth is expected to slow by about half over the next 10 years. Tourist spending is expected to grow by only 4 per cent to 6 per cent.

Technology currently being used by hotels here includes radio-frequency identification laundry tags and scheduling software to track the turnaround of rooms.

The Westin Singapore at Asia Square Tower 2, which opened last month, is one of several hotels here to install a bed-lifting system in its rooms to cut the time taken for attendants to make them.

Bay Hotel allows guests to check themselves in by sending an SMS to the hotel using their cell phones. Front-desk manager Nigel Vsandh said: "People are tech-savvy nowadays and would rather tap away on their handsets and gadgets than wait in line to be served."

The hotel, which runs a lean four-strong service staff in its 30-table restaurant, is likely to roll out touchscreen tablets by February for guests to place orders without having to wait for service staff.

But putting in place more automated systems will not be at the expense of good customer service.

"It is not a replacement for the human touch," said the Singapore Hotel Association's executive director Margaret Heng.

"Instead, it allows employees more time to interact with their guests."

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