Robotisation in the hotel business: a threat to or enrichment of the labour market
01/16/2023 - 16:42
A number of innovative solutions can be found around The Netherlands, but the Dutch hospitality sector could still learn a lot from examples in other countries. The Breda University of Applied Sciences' professorship Sustainable Experience Design completed a research project in 2022 on the impact of robotisation and automation on the future labour market as part of the DigiREAL project subsidised by SIA RAAK. As educator of future young professionals, it is of the utmost importance to have a clear image of the post 2030 labour market, also considering the effects of the fourth industrial revolution: the fusion of the physical, digital and biological world.
In practice, can we make a distinction between automation and robotisation? What is usually meant with automation is that a system takes over one or more business processes (from software to machines) with no or hardly any input from employees. Robotisation on the other hand is when a physical or virtual machine (partially) takes over certain duties with a certain degree of autonomy. As far as the researchers are concerned both terms cannot be considered separately. Just think of the physical robot which requires software in order to be able to operate independently or data from a specific system in order to act.
Differences between The Netherlands and other countries
We have established that there are many developments within the hospitality sector concerning robotisation and automation. In countries such as Japan, China and the United States the use of such systems or machines is common and they are years ahead of The Netherlands, which is partially the result of governments' and large tech company's investments. In Japan for instance, an almost fully automated hotel opened a number of years ago, there are no employees but instead robots are used as staff. Other businesses in the aforementioned countries use robots to carry out physically demanding or repetitive duties, which results in fewer physical issues for employees and fewer mistakes. As a result, this leaves employees with more time for other, more complex duties, or tasks which require empathic skills. Human interaction remains important, especially in hospitality, but technological innovations will lead to added value and reduced costs. Despite the rapid world-wide industry developments, The Netherlands is not one of the front runners. Quite the opposite. Many Dutch entrepreneurs are sceptical about the use and necessity of investing in robotisation and automation.
The recently completed research project used Q-methodology. This methodology is used to identify different visions for the future among (groups of) respondents by ranking certain statements. The statements used in this survey were developed based on literature and interviews with experts in the field. The research has shown that there are various points of view on the potential impact of robotisation and automation on the hospitality sector labour market and the knowledge and skills a young professional should possess. The research was carried out among experts, entrepreneurs, students and lecturers in higher education. Based on the data various world views could be observed;
World view 1: Controlled impact on the labour market.
In world view 1 robotisation and automation will have a controlled impact on the labour market. Respondents who have this view consider human interaction to be an indispensable part of work in the hospitality industry. They do expect that the use of automation may lead to increased productivity and efficiency within an organisation. The people with this view also think that the development and implementation of robotisation and automation will not lead to employees completely disappearing or the creation of new jobs, the human aspect and service will remain the key element within an organisation where this is important and necessary.
World view 2: Larger impact on the labour market.
World view 2 assumes that the further implementation of robotisation and automation will lead to a greater impact on the future labour market. Respondents who share this view expect that the developments will impact a number of jobs for employees at various educational levels. This will not just lead to roles disappearing or (partial) task in which robots and software systems will replace human employees, but also to the emergence of new businesses and jobs, tasks and positions within almost all businesses. Respondents with this view consider the industry to be ready for (the start of) this technological revolution. Furthermore, this group is of the opinion that these developments are accelerated by the pandemic and by the tight labour market. They see an important role for education in order to prepare talent for this new, dynamic labour market.
World view 3: Cobotting will increase in importance.
The third world view places the collaboration between robot and human beings at the heart of things, this is also known as cobotting. Respondents with this view strongly believe in the positive influence robotisation and automation will have on employees and the service experienced within an organisation. In this world view, smart robotisation and automation applications in collaboration with employees will even lead to an improvement in service experienced through the implementation of new personalised services. Robotisation and automation will also lead to more time for the employee, which then can be used to work on tasks which are more complex, and which require empathy which will help to make a difference in the guest's service experience. These respondents also see opportunities for the increased sustainable employability of staff because physically demanding and repetitive tasks can be executed or supported by robots. In this world view the employee and the robot will collaborate, or cobot.
What happens next?
For businesses within the hospitality industry the guest’s experience is of the utmost importance. The focus in this sector is to improve and innovate the experienced service. Implementing robotisation and automation is a part of this. Thanks to robotisation and automation employees may have more time for both more complex and more meaningful duties. There are opportunities for improved guest experiences, sustainable employability and improved efficiency and quality by using technology in a smart manner. None of the aforementioned world views will turn out to be one hundred percent true or false. World view one suits single operators on the more luxurious side of the industry, while the implementation of world view two can already be seen in various delivery services, dark kitchens, fast food and fast casual restaurants. World view 3 matches the developments of the larger franchises, hotel operators and their suppliers. Research in other labour markets has shown that there too cobotting is seen as an opportunity to further improve quality and productivity, combined with sustainable employability and a sustainable production chain. Here you can think about predictive analytics for procurement and revenue management but also personalised services which can create a unique experience. Cobotting may contribute to the service experience, but it can also create a unique experience. Examples of this could be a robot chef, a robot barista, a robot bartender, a robot waiter, etc. Here it is not just about gimmicks and gadgets but also about the ability to provide 24/7 service in a tight labour market with comparatively low margins. The possibilities are endless but not every solution will suit every business, financially or operationally.
By Lauren Voogd, Nadine Oosterman and Bert Smit