How coding can benefit the hospitality industry
There is a general tendency to undervalue technical skills in the industry which has been dominated by soft skills. However, in today’s increasingly competitive environment. Having specialized skills gives you extra leverage in the most unexpected places and industries, the hospitality industry is no exception.
Well, before diving into the discussion, I would like to highlight the difference between coding and programming:
- Coding is the translation of natural language into machine commands.
- Programming – to create a product, you need to go through several additional steps besides coding. They include planning, design, testing, deployment and even maintenance. Altogether, the whole process can be called programming.
I would say any industry can benefit from basic coding and programming skills. However, in this article, we are going to focus on the hospitality industry. I felt compelled that the industry dominated by soft skills should also try to deviate from orthodox views and lean a little into hard skills. Therefore, all examples and scenarios are provided by the hospitality industry.
At the beginning of my studies at the university. I already suspected that a lot of things that are done at the executive level could be more effective. Since many reports are repetitive and can maintain the same structure for several years, I was wondering if there was a way to automate them using any kind of software. After further research, I discovered that the financial industry is automating their reports through Excel VBA, a programming language native to Excel and simple in design and structure. Without any hesitation, I took the University of Colorado online course to learn and apply Excel VBA. I saw it as an additional tool to help me in my future career in the hospitality industry.
Classes were challenging and required some skills related to abstraction and logic, however, since graduating from technically focused high school, it was manageable. After completing several projects and finishing automating some of my college courses just for fun, I felt confident that I could start applying my skills in a potential workplace.
There are two main different applications of Excel VBA:
- Automation of repetitive reports
- Create small programs that can help perform advanced analytics such as web scraping or trend detection.
All the code is scalablemeaning that if the code was created once, it can be used by all other associates in the department or company.
There are many tedious reports that can be automated across different departments in the hospitality industry, starting with finance and sales and ending with catering and the front office. In some departments more than in others. For example, more administrative tasks are more likely to require Excel. In departments such as F&B and Front Office, administrative tasks are mostly done by managers and supervisors, while in sales and finance, you can have them at entry level.
In my particular department, i wrote a song code to automate Customer Satisfaction Survey (aka GSS) which previously was done manually by one of the supervisors on a daily basis. This reduced the burden and improved productivity within the department and gained some recognition from managers. However, there was some resistance due to lack of trust and understanding, but they were eventually overcome. Also, I went ahead and automated some reports during the night audit, such as customer service cases and chat logs. On average, it would take 5 hours per week to create a GSS report and 2.5 hours per week to create customer service cases and chat log reports. This would save up to 390 hours per year!
Some advanced features can also be implemented to offer quality of life changes or at least some quick fixes until IT or management comes up with a better solution or software. For example, to improve trend forecasting, I added a feature to search for keywords in a comment section of the survey. This further reduced unnecessary manual filtering of inquiries and enabled the Front Office Manager to prepare daily for management meetings.
Another advanced analysis tool provided by Excel is Basic web scraping. It involves creating a code that would get the desired information from a website in seconds. For example, a revenue manager may need to manually copy-paste room rates from a competitor’s website into an Excel report. By writing code to automatically download and detect rates, you can save time for more important tasks. In advanced cases, the revenue manager can even automate the report by scraping multiple websites and combining the information the way they want to see, creating a report that would take at least an hour to do in seconds. Another example would be a sales and marketing manager who wants to automate the process of generating leads or responding to emails and messages. The sales and marketing manager can customize the emails and files they want to send on a daily basis.
On the other hand, there are definitely pitfalls to consider when working with Excel VBA. The person working on the code should leave clear standard operating procedures (aka SOPs) and sometimes maintain the code. Whenever a small part of the report changes, the entire code may become useless unless someone who knows VBA can quickly fix it by making small changes to the code. Therefore, the organization can depend on a single person who knows VBA. In the financial industry, many people know how to program in Excel VBA, while in the hospitality industry, it can be quite difficult to maintain and will therefore be limited to the personal toolkit of the savvy sales or revenue manager.
Getting down to business in Excel will certainly provide plenty of opportunities for automation. There is definitely a lot of time you need to invest before you can see the potential benefits, including studying for months or up to a year without seeing any tangible progress, however, it certainly pays off in the long run. Therefore, I advise any professional or manager who wants to get the upper hand on productivity and administrative tasks to benefit from learning the basics of Excel VBA.