If you think about the year 2024, how do you rate the hospitality sector’s prospects? Taking into account the financial pressures – the living wage, the levy, pensions, Brexit – I understand why it’s tempting to harbour concerns about the next six years.
The recent People 1st report offered suggestions on how hospitality and tourism can improve workforce productivity to overcome these pressures, many of which constructive and well received. The report’s focus on productivity was reinforced by a key projection, in which 1.3 million people will be required to fill positions by 2024, highlighting a potential recruitment crisis.
Regardless of whether this estimate is accurate or not, the report fails to acknowledge the role and advancement of technology over the next six years. In the past, I admit we haven’t always been the quickest to adopt modern technologies against comparable sectors, which I believe is a key reason why we have a lower contribution of Gross Value Added (GVA) than the likes of retail and manufacturing. However, it doesn’t mean that we will pass up on the opportunity to change and advance. From automation to artificial intelligence, it’s these aspects, in particular, where we need to focus our direction of travel.
The evidence is already there for us to see. If you’ve ordered at a McDonald’s recently, then perhaps you did so via the self-service kiosks? Going one step further is Amazon, whose prototype grocery store in Seattle – Amazon Go – has no queues or checkout counters whatsoever. The shift to self-service, with minimal human interaction, is no doubt an attempt to become more efficient, but reducing labour costs is a driving factor – just one that, perhaps, businesses don’t want to admit.
I would never be an advocate of unmanned bars, pubs, restaurants or venues. The ‘people’ aspect of hospitality is here to stay. But, over the coming years, we will see operators take inspiration from other innovators, with a view to integrating automation, robotics and AI more extensively.
If we revisit the industry’s financial pressures, such technologies present opportunities to alleviate them. We are already beginning to see companies phase out unskilled and low-skilled roles – and take training and development seriously. There is a chance for us to accelerate this and aim for fewer but much higher calibre of team members.
Daniel Davies is the chief executive of CPL Training Group