Incentives such as additional loyalty points and in-house spending vouchers help hoteliers manage room service.
Guests are getting free coffees, cocktails and other discounts in exchange for less frequent room cleaning as desperate hoteliers grapple with staff shortages.
Hosts are finding inventive ways to circumvent the lack of housekeepers, and contactless check-in systems are also increasingly being adopted to replace receptionists.
Novotel Queenstown Lakeside general manager Jim Moore said around 20% of guests take up the offer of $20 vouchers to spend internally, extra loyalty points or a $10 donation to charity Cure Kids for every day they forego room cleaning.
“Some hotels say ‘we don’t clean your room,’ but we didn’t want to go that route, we wanted it to be up to guests to choose whether or not that’s what they want.”
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Rodney and Rowena Bowler are desperate for migrant workers to return to help staff at their hotel in the town of Luggate in central Otago. (First published June 10, 2022)
The reduction program helped deal with sudden staff absences.
“With the winter flu and the odd case of Covid, when it happens you don’t get much notice so those extra rooms helped us through those times.”
According to Moore, since the start of the ski season, the 273-room hotel has also booked around 20 rooms to accommodate staff unable to find accommodation in Queenstown.
“If we hadn’t done that, we would have had 20 fewer employees.”
Jucy Snooze now has a policy of hiring versatile staff ready to do everything from clean toilets to serving drinks at the bar, and general manager Tim Alpe says this allows them to fill gaps in rosters if people get sick or have to self-isolate.
“Our managers clean the toilets, especially in places like Queenstown which has been so busy during the ski season.”
Since the border reopened in March, only 3,320 Working Holiday visa holders have entered the country, and for June the total number in New Zealand was down 86% from the same period in 2019 .
A recent tourism industry Aotearoa survey of 360 businesses showed that almost a third thought they would need to limit guest occupancy due to labor issues, and that is already happening.
Alpe says that sometimes between 10% and 20% of sleeping Snooze “pods” are unavailable because there aren’t enough staff to maintain them. “It’s common in the industry.”
Snooze Hotels in Queenstown and Christchurch have always had self-check-in technology and it will be a feature of Auckland’s new hotel due to open in October.
Scenic Hotel Group chief executive Karl Luxon said the company learned the hard way that moving staff from one hotel to fill gaps in another risked spreading Covid-19 infections on their return . “Moving people doesn’t necessarily work.”
However, high-tech solutions are helping to make better use of manpower, and Scenic Group’s Dunedin hotel now has a system that allows guests to check in remotely via an app.
Liverton Technology Group sells automatic check-in systems and chief executive Justin De Lille said the business has grown significantly over the past year, in part thanks to the labor savings they provide.
A few hundred Australian hotels have installed Smart Check units and at some properties between 50-70% of guests check in this way.
The technology is also taking off in New Zealand, with 30 hotels using it and more on the way.
“You can check in in less than a minute and check out in less than 30 seconds.”
“One machine replaces two people because it works 24/7, and you can usually only do an eight- to 12-hour shift for one person,” says De Lille.
While coping with fewer staff is helpful in today’s environment, hotels are also using self-check-in to free up staff for other tasks, such as working as lobby “ambassadors” who help customers.
De Lille says many new hotels are installing locks with a blue tooth feature, so they can use Liverton’s mobile app which effectively allows a cell phone to be used as a key.
“Some have already deployed the digital key, others will in the future, but all the technology is there.”