Using RFID and intelligence to cut down on shrinkage in the hospitality industry

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By Dave Joyce, MD at Nimble Technologies

The global hospitality industry is in crisis with fragile economies, depressed tourism numbers and political uncertainty. With increasing pressure on the bottom line, the industry is searching for every opportunity to manage expenditure and loss. The key area of stock loss through theft, be it staff or guests, can run to the hundreds of thousands of Rands. It is a sensitive issue with guest relations being at risk.

How does a hotel or lodge prevent assets from disappearing out the door without draconian measures?

The answer has become surprisingly simple. Using an intelligent, discreet RFID solution tailored to the hospitality industry, that can monitor and prevent assets from leaving with guests.

Hotels commonly lose hundreds of assets ranging from gowns and towels to television remotes and even bed linen and curtains. Any item that is not physically bolted or tied down seems to be fair game. The challenge has always been how to track and recover these items intelligently in a way that does not infringe on law-abiding guests but discreetly draws attention to those who have hotel items in their possession.

RFID tracking is the obvious solution, but traditional RFID tags such as those used in the retail sector tend to be bulky and obvious. There has also been a lack of intelligence (intelligent software?) around these solutions, so it’s been impossible to identify what item has been stolen without searching the guest and their luggage. Until now, solutions have only been available from international vendors, and while the hardware is relatively inexpensive, the cost of the software has been prohibitive and opportunities for customisation are limited.

RFID chips are now available as small fabric tags that can be sewn into anything from gowns and sheets to towels, curtains and facecloths. These discreet tags can also be placed inside other commonly stolen items like remote controls, and even lamps and pillows. Each tag has a unique identifier that can be incorporated into a stock database. RFID scanners at all exits from the property will sound an alarm if a guest attempts to remove an item from the premises. Security guards equipped with a mobile device connected to the hotel Wi-Fi, are able to identify exactly what item they need to look for.

The hardware is only one element. It is the software that has been revolutionised thanks to the new locally available offering. This software is a cost-effective solution that can be customised for individual hotels lodges or guest houses. These solutions are also hardware-agnostic, so hospitality businesses have a choice of the most appropriate tags and scanners for their needs. The focus is on an easy to use a system so that uptake is maximised and those tasked with locating stolen items, such as security guards, are empowered to do so.

As an extension of this, RFID solutions also enables improved in-house management of assets. For example, the system can be extended to the laundry, so items can be marked when they leave and are returned. This removes the element of human error, allows all items to be tracked accurately, and reduces so-called ‘soft theft’ from items that go missing because they are not accounted for. In addition, the lifespan of these assets can be controlled more effectively, so that maximum return on investment can be obtained.

In an era of tight margins in an extremely competitive industry,  reducing theft and shrinkage are a huge contribution to the bottom line. A simple, locally developed and intelligent RFID solution is a cost-effective way to stop hundreds of thousands of Rands in losses.

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