While staying overnight at a more upscale hotel, you may have felt the urge in the past (or even acted on the impulse) to take a towel or even a robe home in your suitcase. And you might have wondered whether or not management would know items like these were missing.
Although guest pilferage of items like towels and robes is a lesser problem for most hotels than poor inventory control, many larger operations are turning to automated strategies such as radio frequency identification (RFID). Manufactured to be bendable and washable, RFID tags can be sewn into linens or placed inside a rubber case in the item. And RFID readers with longer ranges can keep track of inventory in a larger area.
Here are two areas where hotels are turning to RFID tags and RFID readers to tighten inventory controls and prevent losses.
Using RFID Readers and Tags to Manage the Linen Closet
A growing number of hotels are embedding RFID tags in linens and using the RFID readers to monitor pool towels, bathrobes, duvet covers, bathmats, banquet linens, and even bed sheets. While industry insiders estimate that on average, between 5-20% of linens go missing, it's clear that inventory estimates on how many towels and sheets are on hand for customer requests can be wildly inaccurate.
That's where RFID tags come in. While prices for towels carrying the tags are about a dollar higher than those without, improved inventory counts and more efficient guest service may help turn the tide.
More likely to be implemented at larger resorts and hotels that serve guests in higher income brackets, RFID readers and tags show promise in helping to reduce costs and improve service in the hospitality industry.
Tracking Employee Uniforms With RFID Tags
Upscale hotels both in the United States and Latin America are tracking uniform inventory using RFID tags integrated into garments.
The Alvear Palace, a luxury hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, needed their employees to present an impeccable front to guests at all times, paying particular attention to the appearance of their uniforms. But using a manual system with tags showing employee names sewn into the garments caused constant errors. And since employees picked up fresh uniforms prior to starting work each day, often the supply did not meet the demand. Workers might be forced to wear ill-fitting uniforms or not have one available at all.
That's when the company turned to RFID tags and RFID readers from a system integrator (www.falkensecurenetworks.com). Small RFID tags are attached to every shirt, jacket, pair of pants, or other uniform piece. Employees report to a uniform depot prior to starting work, to pick up a set of garments. The tags are read using a desktop RFID reader, capturing the identification numbers encoded in each tag and associating those with the ID number of the employee taking the piece of clothing.
Once an employee finishes a shift, the uniform is dropped at the uniform depot, and placed next to another RFID reader. The software checks each garment back into inventory, before sending each piece for cleaning. Errors have declined and the right uniforms are more readily available.
And using RFID tags and readers offers an increased ability to track the wear on an individual garment. The software program sends alerts when an individual piece of clothing has reached a pre-determined threshold, based on the number of cleanings. Staff then removes the uniform from inventory, ensuring that employees aren't wearing worn out or threadbare clothing.
With 8,000 employees and 125,000 uniforms, the ARIA Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, posed another uniform inventory challenge that was solved with RFID tags and RFID readers. Using a system from InvoTech, the RFID technology was installed prior to the hotel's opening, providing initial cost savings.
The RFID tags may already be embedded in each garment or they can be sewn in as needed. The software assigns uniforms to individual employees. After a shift, the soiled garments are dropped into a laundry chute, sent to be cleaned, and on their return are scanned back into the employee's slot.
By using ultra-high frequency (UHF) technology, the RFID tags can be read from greater distances. This larger read area means that entire laundry carts and racks containing garments going to and from laundry facilities can be processed automatically.
As with many industries less familiar with RFID readers and tags, hotels and resorts will require plenty of education and proof that the technology can offer cost savings. But as time goes by, RFID tag prices will drop and associated technologies will improve, bringing RFID more and more into the mainstream.
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