While reading a travel industry magazine this week, I stumbled across an article that talked about the release of several new travel applications. It made me think about how many changes have occurred in the travel industry since the time I entered it in the 1980s to when I left in the mid 2000s. When I first started working in the hotel industry, there was no such thing as apps or mobile devices for that matter. When I left, there were apps and a whole lot more. With that said, here’s a quick look at five ways the hotel industry has changed since the 1980s:
Hotel telephone service is one major area that has changed immensely since the 1980s. The first hotel that I ever worked for had a dinosaur of a switchboard system known as a PBX. It looked like something out of an, “I Love Lucy,” episode. It had a ton of cloth covered wires, switches, blinking lights and a funky set of head phones that would give you an electric shock to the ear if you wore the wrong shoes to work. The hotel owners eventually upgraded to a more modern switchboard but not until after I had managed to zap myself with the old one a few hundred times. Nowadays, most hotels are equipped with state-of-the-art phone systems and the customer often pays dearly for the convenience.
Telephones were not the only hotel system to undergo renovations in my life time. When I first started in the industry, we received reservation requests made through the hotel’s central reservation system over a computer known as the Holidex. It looked nothing like the computers of today and had its own series of funky codes that you’d have to memorize. It was also connected to a clunker of a printer that was fed carbon paper through a hole in the bottom of the unit. When the machine would spit out reservation slips, I would have to file them in the bucket. The bucket was a portable metal filing box that sat behind the front desk near the ancient switchboard. Once the guests arrived, their reservation slips were put into the rack and the rack cards were turned upside down to indicate that the hotel room was in use. Now, many of those items are obsolete because hotels are increasing using more modern, Windows based computer systems for all front desk operations.
Hotel key systems have also undergone radical changes since I first started working in the industry. In the 1980s, hotels used metal room keys that were stored on a peg board behind the front desk. If a guest lost a room key, I’d have to schlep down to the maintenance department and make a new one. The keys were made in a machine that you would have found in the possession of any 1980s locksmith. The key tags were hot pressed with a separate machine and attached to the metal keys with rings and a pair of pliers. When I left the industry in the 2000s, many hotels were using electronic key cards. The cards were a lot more convenient and could be programmed and de-programmed right at the front desk with a few simple key strokes and a swipe pad.
Hotel Accounting Systems
Hotel accounting systems are another area that has seen a lot of changes. In the 1980s, the night audit and general bookkeeping was done by hand. The tools of the trade were big blue ledgers, a large calculator, a sharp pencil and a big eraser. I remember that it would take me roughly six to seven hours to process charges by hand for 104 guest rooms, a 200 person restaurant, a lounge and two banquet halls. By my retirement, the same task took no more than two hours because all the calculations were done by the computer. The tools of the trade also became nothing more than a computer, a printer and a binder to stick the computer generated reports in.
Front Desk Staff
In the 1980s, a competent front desk staff was also essential. A front desk clerk was responsible for the day-to-day functions of the hotel as well as providing much needed information. If a hotel guest wanted to know how to get to their next destination or where to find the best burger in town, they asked the front desk clerk. Today, there are apps and kiosks that provide all those services. Where all that technology will ultimately leave the front desk department is a matter of sore debate among many. I, for one, would hate to see it become obsolete as well.
Killeen Gonzalez has a degree in hotel and restaurant management. She worked in the travel industry for many years.
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