Novel sights. Magnificent cultures. Unexplored tastes. If you feel you live your best life on vacation, a career in the hospitality industry could provide the flexibility and travel perks you crave—and help you see more of the world sooner rather than later. There is no better environment for a sociable “people person” to make a memorable impact on the lives of countless guests and patrons day after day.
When we think of hospitality, we may think of a front desk hotel concierge, wait staff, or theme park attendant. But the hospitality industry has become increasingly saturated with job postings for software engineers, data analysts, data scientists, and UX designers amid the digital transformation that’s taken place across all industries over the last decade.
Take the story of Peter Cho, for instance: he made the move from line cook to software engineer after his restaurant shut down during the COVID-19 crisis. Though he didn’t have a college degree, a four-month software engineering bootcamp taught him how to code and break into a six-figure salary with better security, ambiance, and work/life balance.
“I’ll never go back to restaurant work because my quality of life is so much better now,” Cho has said. “While I feel challenged at my current job, it feels healthy and more enjoyable, stemming from puzzle-solving rather than being yelled at in a kitchen.” Best of all, he no longer has to worry about job security or work 60 hours to make ends meet.
Continue reading to learn which changes have made hospitality a “tech industry,” and what emerging trends promise plenty of tech work in hospitality for decades to come.
What Makes Hospitality a “Tech” Industry?
Hospitality is a service sector industry that includes a broad range of businesses, including lodging, restaurants, bars, cruises, theme parks, spas, tourism agencies, and travel operators. Whether it’s a convenient booking experience, a satisfying meal, or a good night’s sleep away from home, the goal of all hospitality businesses is to take care of every patron and provide a remarkable experience. And what better way to uncover your customer’s needs, offer greater convenience, and achieve personalized service at scale than to use technology as the bridge?
Three decades ago, you’d see a travel agent if you wanted to book a trip. But since the launch of Expedia in 1996, consumers have shifted to the driver’s seat—with a world of service and convenience at their fingertips. Now it’s hard to imagine a world without Travelocity reviews and mobile hotel apps. Further innovations—like rideshare apps, restaurant menu QR codes, food delivery service, Apple wallet subway tickets, and keyless room entry—have become expected aspects of the travel experience.
From a business perspective, technology helps hospitality companies improve customer experience and enhance operational efficiency. In fact, half of travel and hospitality companies cited “new technology to better serve customers and/or suppliers” as their top priority in 2020, and 84% of businesses said they had someone responsible for facilitating their digital transformation in the years to come.
A look back at the past decade reveals how today’s hospitality industry came to be defined by technology:
The internet has a powerful impact on how people choose to spend their discretionary income. Foot traffic from passersby or word of mouth referrals are no longer a given, nor enough to compete in an increasingly saturated market.
Over the past decade in particular, as the number of web-connected mobile phones exploded, hospitality businesses have to assume their prospective customers will look at their website, social media, photographs, menus, online reviews, and competitors before they open their wallets.
Today, consumers visit an average of 38 travel sites before they book a trip. Ultimately, 87% of travelers feel more confident in their decisions after reading reviews, and 90% of travelers will avoid booking a hotel that has been labeled “dirty” in online reviews. The bar of service automatically rises, now that any guest can have the power to impact the decisions of countless others through social channels online.
Smartphones have become the preferred method of contact, so instead of sending out emails to notify customers of reservation confirmations, changes, delays, or deals, hospitality companies now use SMS to communicate more quickly and effectively.
Increasingly, mobile devices shift control of the hospitality experience into the hands of consumers. Instead of paying travel agent commissions, they can book transportation, lodging, tours, and more through free travel mobile apps—and if they need anything at all to make their experience more enjoyable, it’s just a click away. Browsing and self-booking remains a popular pastime for wanderlusters: at its 2019 peak, the online travel app market facilitated $755 billion in revenue.
It’s no wonder 88% of guests prefer a hotel mobile app that delivers a personalized experience. Consider the Marriott Bonvoy app. Before arrival, guests can select extra pillows, toiletries, luggage assistance, or a late checkout to ensure their comfort. They can browse the menu and order food to be delivered anywhere on property. To plan their transportation, live maps, traffic information, and track airport shuttles are accessible right through the hotel’s app. As an ecommerce portal, travelers have spent over $1 billion through Bonvoy, thanks in part to the built-in loyalty point redemption center and mobile pay capabilities.
Computer systems create uniformity and oversight for large hotel or restaurant chains to oversee multiple properties and create a seamless guest experience across venues. Reservations, staff scheduling, building maintenance, and administrative tasks can all be managed from one convenient portal now.
Whether your goals are to routinely update your menu planning, standardize your guest check-in experience, train employees, or stay up on cleaning tasks, workflow management systems get the job done so nothing falls through the cracks.
Many of these systems also double as collectors of big data to guide intelligent decision-making. Managers can optimize prices and staff more efficiently when they can forecast demand based on past trends. Marketing teams can take a holistic look at their customer demographics to help determine campaign strategies.
While there’s no substitute for service with a smile, automation can help coordinate behind-the-scenes magic to make interactions seamless and stress-free. From automated reservation intake systems to email campaigns that prepare guests for their upcoming vacations, automation improves customer service with little to no human participation. In turn, this ability reduces operational costs and maximizes human labor to focus on value-adds and special touches rather than routine aspects of running the business.
Going one step further, businesses can harness the power of automation to strategize their pricing models using real-time data. For instance, when a restaurant replaces a static paper menu with a dynamic QR code activated mobile menu, it’s possible to offer deals on a slow day and increase prices during periods of peak demand. In other words, the cost of a steak on Tuesday might be less than a Saturday steak. The increased flexibility ensures hospitality businesses don’t lose money due to unexpected events—like when the cost of chicken spikes due to avian flu or war interrupts grain shipments. For one restaurant, a 15-cent price increase led to a 21% increase in revenue. While hotels and airlines have long employed dynamic pricing, the model is spilling over to dining, Uber rides, and other hospitality operators.
Robots and Chatbots
Robots are still an industry novelty, but you can find hotels around the world that use robots to greet guests, clean rooms, cook, deliver meals, and transport luggage. Similarly, there are robot bartenders, robot-staffed kitchens, and a new robot-run theme park in Orlando, Florida.
In a less splashy (but no less important) sense, hospitality chatbots automate customer service at a crucial time amid widespread call center staffing shortages. In some cases, chatbots answer common questions without human involvement. In other instances, they obtain information to pass along to customer service representatives and save time. To extend customer service, chatbots serve patrons in different languages and different time zones, any time of day or night.
Still in its infancy, recognition technology has the potential to usher in a new era of seamless user authentication. Imagine your face gains you entry to the hotel building, the pool, or your room. Your fingerprint pays for your drinks, your meal, and your souvenir shop purchase.
Or you walk past a billboard—and the sensors connect your face with a treasure trove of data that says you’ll be responsive to an ad for travel to a particular country which is then displayed to you. Perhaps you can collect travel rewards simply for showing up—and looking like you.
With a global market for this technology set to increase from $3.83 billion to $16.74 billion (USD) by 2030, we’ve only scratched the surface of recognition technology applications in hospitality.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Virtual and augmented reality experiences are still differentiators in hospitality. Most VR tour videos are viewed through web browsers, though some travel companies offer VR headset-powered tours of restaurants, attractions, resorts, and destinations that allow customers to “try before they buy.” Similarly, through augmented reality, mobile devices can be used to engage in fun, interactive games by navigating the real world with artificial overlays.
Digital realms like the Metaverse have only just begun, yet analysts predict hospitality players will get involved, whether to allow guests to hold birthday celebrations in virtual spaces, place real restaurant orders using virtual avatars, attend virtual concerts alongside real performers and celebrity attendees, or play a few rounds of blackjack in a virtual casino.
Why are Tech Roles Important in Hospitality?
Every hospitality business needs a presence that spans the web, mobile apps, digitally enhanced in-person experiences, and even the Metaverse. In competitive markets, players from hoteliers to cruise ship operators look to technology to bring costs down, boost employee productivity, and provide guests with unique experiences. Automated software and leading-edge technologies—the global “smart hospitality” market—is currently valued at $37.41 billion (USD) in 2023 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22% over the next decade.
At present, the hospitality industry is “really screaming to find workers,” according to one market analyst. With widespread demands for flexibility, higher pay, and fulfilling work, the pains of the service sector will continue to persist. In part, technology can help ease this burden.
While it’s unlikely all frontline workers will be replaced by robots, technology can help hospitality brands realign their business models and workforce composition with digital and automation technologies in mind. For instance, forward-thinking companies are asking questions like: what if all guest check-ins take place by mobile or self-help kiosk instead? What if an autonomous drone could stock toiletries in a room and vacuum the floors? What could we learn about customer preferences and behaviors through deeper data analysis that will transform how we serve future guests?
Imagine the Possibilities with a Tech Role in Hospitality
According to the World Economic Forum, 65 percent of today’s students will perform jobs that don’t exist yet due to the rapid waves of advancement. But today, there are plenty of top tech roles in demand in hospitality:
- Software engineers: Software engineers design and implement back-end solutions hospitality brands need to make decisions, differentiate, automate, and optimize their workflows. Every internal system, automation, VR program, and on-premise technology relies on a software engineer’s code. Every travel web portal or app requires a software engineer’s out-of-the-box thinking to run properly and continue to innovate the industry.
- Data analysts: As patron information flows in from email surveys, review sites, social channels, websites, mobile apps, and more, data analysts crunch the numbers and the trends that help prevent cancellations, increase length of stay, reduce lead time, determine daily pricing, and increase revenue per booking. Data analysts monitor the competitiveness of each property in a portfolio and improve services based on feedback. Data mining is also popular to justify marketing spend and create effective campaigns.
- Data scientists: Some see data science as “the modern holy grail of hospitality.” The right business intelligence models aid in smart pricing, inventory management, and demand forecasting. Data science can also lead to smarter customer segmentation and marketing automation that maximizes revenue per guest and unlocks the keys to dreaming up the next big crowd-pleasers. Before making any decision, a data scientist can help determine whether a proposal is worthwhile or not. For example, Starwood Hotels used data science to determine whether it was worth the investment to translate some of their branded websites into other languages—a decision which ultimately increased revenue by 97% over two years.
- UX designers: A digital user experience often provides the first impression for a hospitality brand. UX designers perform user interviews and usability tests, as well as create and manage public-facing digital customer journeys. Their research and implementation skills help reduce barriers to sales, engage prospects with immersive experiences, and introduce new conveniences that make life better than ever before. Megan Woolfrey, a UX/UI Designer who made the leap from hospitality to tech, found her service-minded approach works equally well in design as in hospitality. Drawn to UX design for its creativity, Megan says she “instantly enjoyed it and found some concepts similar to hospitality—like anticipating a guest/user’s needs, thinking about their goals, and understanding how to build a cohesive experience.” Other transferable skills included the ability to listen, empathize, and collaborate with others.
No matter where your journey into hospitality takes you, a few tech skills will help you break in. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a four or six-year degree to make the switch.
Use GA As Your Tech Skill Stepping Stone Into Hospitality
General Assembly is here to help you find work you love. With over 19,000 corporate partners and 60,000 successful graduate placements, we’re one of the top pipelines for technical talent across industries. In as little as 12 weeks, you can pick up the tech skills you need through an immersive online bootcamp. While a career change can be daunting, you’ll find the support of instructors, alumni mentors, and career counselors to set you up for success.
Wondering if a hospitality career might be love at first byte? Take our Tech Industries “Meet Your Match” Quiz to find out.