There is a general tendency to underestimate hard skills in the industry that’s been dominated by soft skills. However, in today’s ever more competitive environment. Having hard skills gives you additional leverage in the most unexpected places and industries, the hospitality industry is no exception.
Well, before diving into the discussion, I would like to point out the difference between coding and programming:
- Coding is the translation of natural language into machine commands.
- Programming – to create a product, you need to take several additional steps aside from coding. They include planning, design, testing, deployment, and even maintenance. Altogether, the whole process can be called programming.
I would argue that any industry may benefit from coding and basic 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 diverge from orthodox views and look a little bit into hard skills. Therefore, all the examples and scenarios are provided from the hospitality industry.
At the beginning of my studies at the university. I was already suspicious that many things that are done on the managerial level could be increased in efficiency. Since many reports are repetitive and could stay the same in structure for several years, I was wondering if there is a way to automate them using any kind of software. Upon further research, I found out that the financial industry automates its reports through Excel VBA, a programming language native to excel and simple in design and structure. Without any hesitation, I took the online course at the University of Colorado to learn and apply Excel VBA. I saw it as an additional tool to help in my future career in the hospitality industry.
The courses were hard and required some skills related to abstraction and logic, however, since I graduated technically focused high school, it was manageable. Upon completing several projects as well as finishing automating some of my coursework from university just for fun, I felt confident that I can start applying my skills in a potential workplace.
There are two main different applications of Excel VBA:
- Automating repetitive reports
- Creating small programs that may help with doing advanced analytics such as web-scraping or trends detection.
All of the code is scalable, meaning that if the code was created once it can be used by all the other associates in the department or company.
There are many tedious reports that can be automated in different departments of the hotel industry starting with Finance, and Sales and ending with F&B and Front Office. In some departments more so than the others. For example, more administrative tasks will more likely require excel. In the departments such as F&B and Front Office, the administrative tasks are mainly done by managers and supervisors while in Sales and Finance you may have them at the entry-level position.
In my particular department, I wrote a piece of code to automate the Guest Satisfaction Survey(aka GSS) that previously used to be done manually by one of the supervisors on a daily basis. This allowed to relieve the burden and improve productivity within the department and get some recognition from managers. However, there was some resistance due to the lack of trust and understanding but they were eventually overcome. Moreover, I went ahead and automated some reports at night audit, such as customer care cases and chat logs. On average, it would take 5 hours a week to make a GSS report and 2.5 hours per week to make customer care cases and chat log reports. That would result in potentially saving up to 390 hours per year!
There are some advanced features that can be implemented as well to offer quality of life changes or at least some quick fixes till the IT or management comes up with a better solution or software. For instance, to improve trend forecasting I added a feature that allowed to search for keywords in a comment section of the survey. This further cut down on unnecessary manual screening of the surveys and allowed the Front Office manager to be prepared for management meetings on a daily basis.
Another advanced analytical tool provided by excel is basic web-scraping. This involves making a code that would get the information you want from a website in a matter of seconds. For example, a revenue manager may need to manually copy-paste the room rates from a competitor’s website into an Excel report. By writing a code to automatically download and detect rates it can save up time for more important tasks. In advanced cases, the revenue manager may even automate the report by web scraping several websites and combining the information in the manner he/she wants to see it thus making a report that would take at least an hour to make in just a few seconds. Another example would be a sales&marketing manager who wants to automate the process of generating leads or responding to emails and messages. The sales and marketing manager may customize emails and files he wants to send out on a daily basis.
On the other hand, there are certainly some pitfalls that need to be accounted for when working with Excel VBA. The person who works on the code should leave clear Standard Operating Procedures (aka SOP) and sometimes provide maintenance of the code. Whenever even a small part of the report changes, the entire code may become useless unless there is a person who knows VBA to quickly fix it by making small changes in the code. Therefore, the organisation may be dependent on one person who knows VBA. In the financial industry, it’s leveraged by having several people who know how to program in excel VBA while in the hospitality industry it can be quite hard to maintain, and thus will be limited to the personal tool box of the savvy sales or revenue manager.
Getting to work on excel will definitely provide plenty of opportunities for automation. There is definitely a substantial amount of time you have to invest before being able to see potential benefits, including studying for months or up to a year without seeing any tangible progress, however, it certainly pays off in the long term. Therefore, I advise that any professional or manager who wants to get an upper hand in productivity and administrative tasks would definitely benefit from learning basic excel VBA.