A friend just returned from vacation and described her stay in Europe at a new hotel. CitizenM. She’s a lady of some refinement and not easily impressed so I did a little research on the company. Their business model is to streamline and automate as many hotel processes as possible and radically reduce the number of in-house employees. All guests reserve rooms via the interwebs using transparent dynamic pricing. Each day is priced according to demand so a Saturday in New York might be twice as much as a Tuesday. The more flexible you are the more you can save – or splurge. Self check-in at an automated kiosk in the lobby takes one minute. Check out is thirty seconds. There are no bell hops and no room service, but there are free movies and high speed internet.
The rooms are small, but very well designed with only one standardized configuration on offered. The public space – the “living room” – compensates for the lack of private space and supports sociability with 24 hour food and drink. There’s minimal differentiation between the staff so any “ambassador” is able to help any guest need from bartending to concierge service. I poked around Glassdoor and found the usual rift between management and staff, but that’s an ancient dynamic. The folks with hospitality graduate degrees from Cornell are unlikely to feel equal to the plebes in logo uniforms. And the cleaning staff is entirely outsourced.
My curiosity about how this new hotel chain is organized goes back to my expectations about the future of employment. If a boutique hotel with 250 rooms can run on five in-house human workers per shift that says a lot about where most industries are heading. We see this in gas stations and supermarkets and everywhere else now. The low skilled humans are going away. I’m reminded of an old article from the satirical newspaper The Onion proclaiming Congress Passes Americans With No Abilities Act. In theory people are being liberated from mindless positions and freed up to do more meaningful productive work. Are you charming? Attractive? Ambitious? Flexible? Passionate? Skilled? Great! Or are you a lethargic middled aged curmudgeon with bad hair, a weight problem, and an associates degree in underwater basket weaving?
I came across this ad for an automated telemedicine center manufactured by Philips and Athena Health. This device is part of a larger trend. The proposed mergers between Walmart and Humana as well as CVS and Aetna suggests the American health care system might just sorts itself out in the absence of unified coherent federal leadership. We’re only a few more mega mergers away from a de facto single payer system. Perhaps some day soon we’ll all find ourselves wandering in to our local big box store to sit in a white plastic tube and get virtual care from a doctor broadcasting from Chennai or Manila – until the artificial intelligence gets good enough to diagnose our ailments without a human. There will be lots of high paying jobs developing and building these machines and overseeing the associated computer programs. And then there will be a few positions for people who wipe up the vomit and blood in the plastic tubes. All you art history majors. I’m talking to you.