Hotels are turning to automation to cope with unfilled positions

In a nutshell: Hotels are increasingly turning to robots to fill jobs previously held by humans. The Garden City Hotel in Long Island invested in a pair of 66-pound, industrial-grade robot vacuums last year at about $30,000 each. That’s an eye-watering amount compared to consumer-grade robot vacs like those from iRobot’s Roomba line but they’ve already paid for themselves multiple times over.

Garden City Hotel managing director Grady Colin said that if they vacuum every floor with a robot, it saves one entire shift. That translates to one person each day who can be reassigned to do other tasks or in this environment, one less employee they have to struggle to hire.

Merle Ayers, the hotel’s director of banquets, said all they have to do is change the vacuum bags periodically and keep the batteries charged.

The hospitality industry was one of the hardest hits by the pandemic and although travelers have returned to hotels, workers haven’t. According to data from the Labor Department, there are 350,000 fewer people working in hotels today compared to in February 2020 just before the pandemic.

On average, hotels have raised wages by 25 percent and now offer greater flexibility with regard to scheduling. Still, labor is hard to come by. At the Garden City Hotel, roughly 15 percent to 20 percent of staff positions remain open. Colin, who has been in the hotel business “for a long time,” says he’s never seen anything like it.

Anticipating a busy 2023, the hotel is considering what other tasks can be automated through the use of robots.

It’s a similar story at the Country Inn and Suites just outside Baltimore where owners Deepak and Deepa Patel can’t seem to find employees to help staff their 81-room hotel. Before Covid, it wasn’t uncommon to have up to 30 people on payroll. Now they have just 14 employees, despite raising starting wages by 60%. Their two daughters came in after school to lend a helping hand.

“Before the pandemic, we had a lot of people just walking through the door, filling out an application, but since then, we’ve had nobody,” said Deepak Patel. “Nobody wants to work, actually. We’re still surprised.”

The Patels are also weighing automation options, and have considered leasing a robot vacuum and contemplating installing a high-tech check-in kiosk at the front door.

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