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There’s no shortage of complaints about hotel stays these days, and one reason is pretty clear: many hotels are still severely understaffed.
In 2018, American hotels directly employed more than 2.3 million people, according to an Oxford Economics study funded by the American Hotel & Lodging Association Educational Foundation. But the AHLA predicts hotels will end 2022 with just 1.97 million employees, or 84% of pre-pandemic levels.
If your last hotel stay was terrible – maybe you felt like there was no one to help you or the queues were too long – labor shortages work could be the cause. But it’s not all bad news; it’s more a story of two hotels. While staff shortages can certainly be brutal, they have brought new technologies into play. And sometimes technology is an improvement over processes that relied on workers.
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The messy effects of hotel labor shortages on travelers
Unsurprisingly, the shortage of staff led to a drop in customer satisfaction. The American Customer Satisfaction Index Travel Study surveyed 6,200 travelers from 2021 to 2022 and found that hotel guest satisfaction dropped 2.7% during that time.
Respondents noted specific reasons for their dissatisfaction, and some of the most common were:
Loyalty program (-4 points).
Quality of hotel facilities, such as swimming pool, spa and fitness center (-3 points).
Quality of catering services, such as restaurants and room service (-3 points).
Quality of in-room amenities, such as refreshments, toiletries, and bedding (-2 points).
Ease of booking (-1 point).
Staff courtesy and helpfulness (-1 point).
Call center satisfaction (-1 point).
Many of the main reasons why hotel guests are unhappy are clearly linked to staff shortages: long wait times for call centers or terse, overworked employees.
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You could attribute the reduced quality of hotel amenities to reduced hours, facilities that haven’t been cleaned, or a reduction in staff-heavy offerings like kids’ clubs and pool parties.
Hotel breakfast buffets have been largely discontinued, due to social distancing efforts, and also because fewer staff made it difficult to fill and clean messy buffet counters. Instead, most hotels that previously offered a free all-you-can-eat breakfast have moved to simple brown bag meals.
In many hotels, housekeeping has been reduced from daily service, and sometimes there is none at all, with the exception of changing rooms between guests. It’s left guests with overflowing bins and forced them to do their own chores (like making their beds), which many don’t think they should have to do on vacation.
Positive ways hotels have responded to labor shortages
Difficult times often prompt change – and many hotels have done just that. ACSI found three aspects of the hotel experience that improved from 2021 to 2022:
Quality of the mobile application (+3 points).
Mobile app reliability, such as minimal downtime, crashes, and lags (+2 points).
Ease of registration (+1 point).
Two of these three improvements relate to hotel applications. The third, ease of check-in, is probably technology-related, as most apps now allow you to bypass reception and check-in through your phone.
Many major brands, including Hilton HLT,
and Marriott MAR,
allow you to use your phone as a digital key to most properties. Hyatt digital keys work on Apple AAPL,
Look too. Hilton lets you choose the exact room you want, up to 24 hours before check-in.
And better apps aren’t the only tech-related improvements. Some hotels are replacing room service with state-of-the-art alternatives, including partnerships with food delivery companies. Others are installing high-end vending machines capable of serving fresh meals in their lobbies, giving customers access to food at any time of the day.
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What to expect from future hotel stays
While technology in hotels is likely to continue to evolve, there is also hope for the human staff. AHLA expects the hiring to return. The problem? It does not foresee any catch-up in the workforce before at least 2024.
But for travel between now and then, temper your expectations. Understand that things might move a little slower and amenities might not be up to par with what you’re used to. That said, there are several things you can do to improve your hotel stay.
First, hold elite status. While elite status benefits vary by tier and exact property, they can mean free meals and room upgrades. Even lower tiers tend to grant you access to members-only check-in lines or direct you to a dedicated customer service number with shorter wait times.
And no, you don’t have to live out of a suitcase to enjoy elite status. It’s often automatically assigned to certain hotel credit card holders, even if you’ve never stayed at that hotel before.
See: Four Travel Card Perks That Might Not Be Worth It Anymore
Second, it never hurts to ask. Some amenities like housekeeping are often not advertised or offered preemptively, but they can still be provided upon request. And short-staffed hotels can appreciate the opportunity to get it right, rather than getting a bad review later.
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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SAFmedia.