What is robotic process automation and how it changes the travel and hospitality industry

Iryna Hnatiuk


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March 3, 2024


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You see automation everywhere you go: when you visit the local coffee shop and pay contactless with your phone, when you hop in a cab ordered online, when you arrive at the office and sit down to check your scheduling software. McKinsey Global Institute reports that over 40% of employees waste their time on manual, repetitive tasks. If you’re one of them, you recognize the value of business process automation: it gives you more time to grow the business rather than run the business.

The travel and hospitality industry faced many challenges in the last two years, from total lockdowns and closed borders to strict health and safety regulations. Knowing that mundane tasks like request processing, answering calls and queries, approvals, and cancellations take a big part of the employees’ work time, these front-office and back-office operations are the first to automate.

This article is the starting point of learning about robotic process automation and its applications in travel and hospitality. First, we will define RPA and its types, find out how it works, and how to use it in hospitality. Then, we will look at the benefits of robotic process automation and the opportunities it brings for the travel and hospitality business.

What is robotic process automation (RPA)?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a business process automation technology that employs digital workers – software or hardware systems – to perform repetitive tasks. RPA often comes in the form of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and data mining algorithms focused on primarily office-type functions. For example, RPA software can be programmed to do complex multi-step operations such as auto-filling forms, sending messages, checking document accuracy, updating spreadsheets, moderate content, track down and notify about malicious data patterns, and more.

The best part is that RPA requires minimal (or none at all) human intervention, works 24/7, and reduces the error rate to a practical zero. As a result, everyone benefits from workflow automation: employees concentrate on their role-specific tasks and eliminate do-overs; business owners save company costs and get more work done in less time. This may be the reason why robotic process automation software successfully replaces human employees in nearly any industry, from banking and healthcare to manufacturing and production, fueling the pace of global hyperautomation .

RPA in the hospitality industry

From an end-user perspective, using robotic process automation tools is just as easy as using any other office software. In fact, office software has already adopted business process automation as its key feature. For example, Microsoft Power Automate offers workflow automation across Microsoft products, including Microsoft Teams and OneDrive.

With that information in mind, here’s the punchline: robotic process automation in travel and hospitality is no different from any other industry, but it has its specifics. RPA takes care of front-office and back-office operations and can be a part of booking engines, hotel property management solutions, and different hotel management software that handles billing, invoicing, guest check-ins, etc. So, while the essence of automation remains the same, operations like guest check-in or hotel reservation require industry-specific expertise.

As is often the case in software development, the key to success is finding a team of qualified automation-wise developers. Blackthorn Vision accounts for over 10 years of providing hospitality software development services and partnering with companies in the hospitality sector. Our business process automation solution, UnTill Web Management, is used in more than 13 countries around the world. It brings all restaurant data together and leverages robotic process automation tools for data management, price and menu updating, and generating custom reports. Check our robotic process automation case study here.

How does RPA work?

Without digging into technical details, the whole process of RPA configuration can be divided into three parts: training, operation, and orchestration.

Training takes up to 90% of the time and doesn’t require any coding or technical skills. Typically, users give instructions through a simple interface or screen capture: they complete a task once so that RPA can capture and reproduce it step-by-step.

Once training is done, RPA can operate in two ways:

  • Attended. It means users need to keep an eye on RPA, triggering bots to begin or finish completing their tasks.
  • Unattended. Unlike attended, unattended RPA operates without human intervention. These bots run in the background of servers or virtual machines and start their job automatically by using pre-programmed trigger events.

Attended vs. unattended RPA

Attended vs. unattended RPA

The next step is optional and preferred for multiple robotic process automation solutions that work as a team. A team of bots, each performing a different task, needs human-controlled orchestration. In practice, orchestration means using a control panel that allows users to install, configure, manage, and monitor bot activity.

Regardless of the task complexity, RPA workflow depends on the type of robotic process automation software. So, let’s take a closer look at the most common types of RPA and their use cases in the travel and hospitality industry.

Types and examples of robotic process automation solutions

There are various approaches to categorizing robotic process automation tools, yet all of them fall into two categories: rule-based automation and cognitive automation.

Rule-based automation

This type of RPA is more traditional as it doesn’t require decision-making or analysis. It mostly refers to rule-based systems that rely on user commands: what data to collect, where to save files, when to launch, and so on. Rule-based RPA is the most commonly used RPA in business and shows astounding results in handling simple tasks and scaling hundreds of business automation processes.

But let’s get more specific. Here are some use cases of rule-based robotic process automation tools in the travel and hospitality industry:

  • Customer support chatbots that answer queries
  • RPA bots that get customers updated about booking status and flight schedules
  • Hotel price comparison RPA
  • Automated hotel reservation management
  • Automated assignments for travel and hospitality stuff
  • RPA-powered CRM with automated order processing, compliance reporting, and more
  • RPA solutions for automated billing and invoicing
  • Automated refunds
  • Automated cancellation and issue resolution

Despite all the advantages of traditional robotic process automation software and unlimited applications across industries, this type of RPA has its limitations. For instance, rule-based bots cannot adjust to changes in UI without human intervention or recognize images and human speech. That’s when the second type of RPA comes into play.

Cognitive automation

Cognitive automation is the type of RPA that leverages AI and deep learning technologies to create independent, self-learning virtual employees. These intelligent robotic process automation systems can recognize human speech and handwriting, images, data patterns, as well as analyze them and generate data-driven forecasts. When applied in travel and hospitality, these virtual assistants can personalize guest experiences, ramp up the communication process, and take hotel management systems to the next level of efficiency.

However, cognitive automation requires custom software development to fit a specific business case and company’s needs. Therefore, you need to choose a software development company with proven experience in machine learning and artificial intelligence that offers custom software development services. Once you find the right software development partner, you can employ cognitive automation in rule-based workflows and multiply your business’s productivity and profit.

Cognitive automation

The transformation of travel and hospitality with RPA

Digital transformation and technology adoption remain the biggest trends in the hospitality industry, and for a good reason. Industry competition, pandemic-induced market shifts, and increasing consumer expectations drive business owners to change their ways of managing hospitality business and guest experience. Besides, customers prefer touch-free digital experiences to flesh-and-blood human contact (check our article about trends in the travel and hospitality industry). They expect fast and hassle-free service that’s only achievable with technology.

Robotic process automation is relatively new for the hospitality industry, but it offers numerous benefits for hotels, restaurants, and travel agencies, including:

  • Effective revenue management and data-driven insights for better financial strategy
  • Flexible scheduling that adjusts housekeeping to guest flows
  • Personalized guest experience and seamless digital communication
  • Reduction of compliance costs
  • Elevated data security and analytics
  • Improved health safety for guests and employees
  • Hassle-free booking process
  • Automated upselling and larger revenue opportunities
  • Ability to leverage customer data to promote customer loyalty and satisfaction

According to Deloitte Global RPA Survey, 61% of C-level executives met or exceeded their cost reduction goals by using robotic process automation. Moreover, 92% reported improved compliance, 90% enhanced quality or accuracy, and 86% up-leveled operation productivity. While IT, manufacturing, and healthcare sectors stand on the frontier of RPA adoption, travel and hospitality are only starting to come to their senses after the global pandemic and looking for ways to grow. Time is an impatient thing, and the sooner you join the game and keep pace with innovations, the more opportunities you’ll have in years to come.

Your easy start for travel and hospitality automation

While we’re only at the beginning of the digital business transformation in the travel and hospitality industry, it’s clear that RPA brings a multitude of benefits. Let’s recap what we learned today:

  • Robotic process automation utilizes software to automate repetitive office tasks and free human workers from routine.
  • RPA in the hospitality and travel industry has its own workflow-related specifics; hence it should be developed by a team experienced in that domain.
  • There are two types of RPA: attended and unattended. Attended RPA needs human intervention, while unattended RPA runs independently.
  • As subdivisions of unattended RPA, we can highlight rule-based and cognitive automation.
  • Cognitive automation is the most advanced category of RPA and includes artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer vision systems.
  • There are many robotic process automation benefits for the travel and hospitality industry, including cost reduction and enhanced revenue management.
  • RPA market keeps growing, and following this trend from the start will give you a competitive advantage.

Whether you’re looking for rule-based or cognitive automation, you need access to skilled professionals to ensure reliable robotic process automation software delivery. Blackthorn Vision implements business process automation for over a decade and knows all nuances of travel and hospitality software development. Aside from developing end-to-end hospitality software, we provide robotic process automation services across multiple touchpoints, and augment your existing workforce with dedicated development teams.

So, if you need a hand in hospitality software development, leave us a message. We’re always ready to assist!

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