Convincing students to learn how things work beyond technology

Business man standing at front desk of hotel reception checking out

The generation of now – all those young hospitality professionals fresh out of hotel school and eager to get their first gig in the industry – don’t know just how good they’ve got it in a world where technology makes the tedious processes of yesterday a simple click of the mouse today. The first thing they teach you on day one of your first job as a front desk agent, or if you’re lucky a front-desk supervisor, is how to look up an existing reservation or add a new reservation to the hotel’s central reservation system.

The first phone call you will ever answer as a front desk agent will probably go something like, “Thank you for calling the (brand name) hotel. This is (name), how may I be of assistance?” The prospective guest on the other end will ask to make a reservation, and all you have to do is find out what dates they are interested in booking, collect their contact and billing information, and then type the information into a few fields on the CRS and “viola!” the reservation is made. Similarly, it is just as easy to look up current and future room nights and occupancy percentages, daily check outs and room cleanliness status, link any charges from the hotel’s various outlets to the guest room, and even make detailed notes about a frequent guest’s preferences so that they always receive a personalized experience – but what if access to all of this information wasn’t available even for just a few hours?

I’m going to tell you a story that one of my previous students told me; it’s about a night at the hotel where he worked, when all of the hotel’s internal computers shut down at the same time for several hours, but the operation had to continue functioning. This student, Jay, was lucky enough to land a job as the outlet supervisor while he was still taking classes in school. He typically worked the evening shifts when general hotel business was slower, and all he really needed to worry about was making sure the restaurant and bar operated smoothly.

One night, Jay was balancing training a new server on navigating the POS (point-of-sale) system, helping the bar make drinks for guests when there was a rush, and constantly walking through the restaurant to make satisfaction checks at guest tables. The night was going well until 8:00 PM rolled around and one of Jay’s servers approached him and said that the POS system screen was frozen. This had happened before, and when it did, the procedure was much like any computer, perform a hard shut down and then restart it. However, as Jay was about to do this, he got a call from the front desk agent who said that his CRS screen was frozen. At the same time, the bartender approached and said her POS screen was frozen too!

After several unsuccessful attempts to reboot both the POS and CRS systems, it was apparent that there was a bigger problem at hand. Jay called the Director of IT at home and informed him of the problem, to which he said he would call the provider and find out where the problem was coming from. Meanwhile, guests were trying to order food and drinks or settle their bills, a line was forming at the front desk, and the phones were ringing off the hook, but none was available to answer with everything else that was happening. The problem was evident to guests, and the chatter amongst them began to turn into commotion; there was a sense of unease throughout the hotel.hotel-checkin_1540x740

Finally, Jay received a call from the Director of IT who said that the problem was on the provider’s side and that they were working on a solution, but the system would be down for several hours. Jay was panicked – he didn’t know how to fix this – he could navigate a POS system with ease and train anyone on how to use it, but he wasn’t prepared for a facility-wide meltdown. So, Jay did the only thing he knew how to do in this situation – he used his iPhone to call the Director of Operations, Ross, a veteran professional who had worked in hotels before POS or CRS systems were ever introduced.

Ross arrived on the scene in just 10 minutes, and the first thing he did was inform the front desk agent, servers and bartender to take down reservation information or food and drink orders by hand. Ross told Jay to offer a round of drinks and appetizers to guests (on the house), and then retrieved some old credit card machines from the basement that could be used to collect guest’s payment information that could be processed when the system became active. Eventually, the commotion settled, and Ross was able to get the operation back to a steady flow, but Jay felt like he had been unequipped to handle the situation.

This experience gave Jay a newfound appreciation for technology, and he no longer takes it for granted like many of today’s young professionals coming straight out of hotel school. Instead, he asked his hotel general manager if he could shadow each of the hotel’s department managers (front desk, housekeeping, food & beverage, human resources, sales & marketing, inventory & purchasing) once a week, and have them explain the processes and procedures involved in their operation. The moral of the story is that while technology can be used to make tasks more efficient, you cannot always rely on it to get the job done, because it is flawed. It’s important to understand how and why something works so you can get still the job done when technology fails.


About the Author
John Walker

John Walker

John R. Walker, D.B.A., FMP, CHA, is the McKibbon Professor at the college of Hospitality and Tourism Leadership at the University of South Florida Sarasota Manatee and a Fulbright Senior Specialist. He is an accomplished author with several leading industry titles include his most recent release, Introduction to Hospitality Management, 5th Edition. John’s years of industry experience include management training at Savoy Hotel London, followed by the stints as assistant food and beverage manager, assistant room division manager, catering manager, food and beverage manager, resident manager, and general manager with Grand Metropolitan Hotels, Selsdon Park Hotel, Rank Hotels, Inter-continental Hotels, the Coral Reef Resort, Barbados, West Indies. He has taught at two- and four-year schools in Canada and the United States. In addition to being hospitality management consultant and author, he has been published in the Cornell Hotel Restaurant Administration Quarterly, the Hospitality Educators Journal and the New York Times. He is a 10-time recipient of the President Award for exemplary professional performance through teaching and authorship of tourism hospitality publications.

John is an editorial advisory board member for Progress in Tourism and Hospitality Research. He is the past president of the Pacific Chapter of the Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education (CHRIE). He is a certified hotel administrator (CHA) and a certified Foodservice Management Professional (FMP). He and his wife Josielyn have twins, Christopher and Selina. The Walkers live in Sarasota, Florida.