AI is starting to gain ground in the booming hospitality industry and promises to innovate services, its reliable, fast processes is streamlining efficiency and cost-effectiveness across all areas. Hospitality is a burgeoning area that is growing continuously, with the hotel industry alone making $554 billion a year globally according to Statista, so businesses need to innovate with the latest technology to stay competitive. Here we look at five areas where AI has already begun to be used and will change the face of the industry of the coming years:
A report by BI Intelligence in 2016 demonstrated that, for the first time ever, messaging apps are now more popular than social networks. The combined global monthly active users of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn is around 3.5 billion, trailing behind the combined active users of messenger apps including WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, and Viber at around 3.7 billion. So for the hospitality industry to keep up with the modern consumer, they need make sure they are utilizing real-time messaging.
This is where chatbots can come in handy. They can operate as 24/7 front-end customer service specialists, meaning there is no need to manually respond to queries on your social media and websites. This means customers will not have to wait until an operator is free to get their enquiries dealt with and questions can be asked any time of the day. This is particularly helpful within the travel industry, with travellers arriving at destinations at all times of the day, including when the welcome office is not open. Chatbots can innovate the entire travel experience, beginning with automated pre-arrival reminders, to suggesting nearby tourist hotspots. Chatbots are also multi-lingual so can easily interact with customers from all over the globe.
So far, people have been getting on well with chatbots. In a recent study by Retale, when asked whether or not they had ever used a chatbot, almost 60% of respondents said they had. And of those who hadn't tried a chatbot, 53% said they were interested in doing so.
2. In-person customer service
According to an Oracle report, Hotel 2025, 68% of hotel operators predict that the use of robots for check-in and checkout will be mainstream by 2025. Today there are several examples of established AI robotics being used for in-person customer service in establishments across the globe. For example, in 2016, Connie, a robot concierge developed by IBM, made its first entrance at the Hilton McLean. Connie draws on domain knowledge from Watson and WayBlazer to assist guests in figuring out where to eat dinner and tells them where things are located in the building, among other simple tasks. Speaking to USA today, Jim Holthouser, Executive Vice President for Global Brands at Hilton, stated 'this isn’t about reducing staff. That’s not where our minds are whatsoever. But if you can take 100 different routine questions off the front desk, at the end of the day, it helps them answer phones faster, it helps them check people in faster, it frees them up to actually deliver hospitality.' Connie is already streamlining in-person customer service and improving efficiency across the board.
Although AI robotics have the potential to innovate the hotel lobby experience, according to Oracle, just 33% of consumers said robots being used for greeting and serving would enhance their experience, and just 22% would visit more if hotels offered this service. Clearly, attitudes will have to catch up with the technology before in-person customer service can utilize AI to its full potential.
3. Data Analysis
AI has its uses behind-the-scenes of the hospitality industry too. Machine learning can be applied to harness the data generated by customers so businesses can tailor the experience they offer individuals. AI can sift through data a lot quicker, and automate the resulting actions must faster and more reliably than their human counterparts. AI technology will be able to make strategic decisions about guest characteristics and behaviour, automating the process to enhance efficiency.
Luxury Hotel Portfolio Dorchester Collection has begun using machine learning for their data analysis to identify what guests want using the AI Metis Platform. 'Metis reads thousands of customer reviews and tells us what really matters to our customers,' says Ana Brant, the Dorchester Collection’s Director for Global Guest Experience and Innovation in an interview with Marketing Week. 'Think of Metis as a giant focus group that not only facilitates the sessions in multiple languages but also summarises key findings, puts the findings in [context] with competitors and tells us stories worth listening to.' The brand recently completed a comprehensive, brand-wide Metis study, which contained 7,454 guests reviews from 28 different hotels and 10 major hotel brands across 18 cities and regions. Using AI has created a system for more efficient and reliable data collection which will allow them to improve their service in the future.
4. The Smart Hotel
In 2017, the British chain Village Hotels revealed their plan to install the Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker and the virtual assistant Alexa in their rooms. The intention is to make the experience of staying in one of their 28 locations more convenient, giving guests the ability to control features in the room, such as the lighting, with just their voice. The introduction of the technology is supported by the creative agency Equator. Speaking to Real Business, Martin Jordan, the Director of Innovation at Equator stated 'equipping its hotels with Alexa is a huge innovation for Village and the UK hotel industry in its entirety.'
It's an innovation that will inevitably be copied by their competitors. Moreover, it's a move that signals a trend towards 'Smart hotels' where the service is streamlined by connected IoT devices, powered by AI software. A smart hotel would increase efficiency and security, as an AI could instantly sync up with guests' mobile phones or use facial recognition, so there would be no need for formal identification or check-in. As such, Oracle's report found that 85% of hotel operators believe that smart door locks will be mass adopted by 2025. Using IoT to power the hotel will also increase sustainability, as sensors will establish what lights and appliances are being used and will be able to turn off those that aren't to save power. And these are just a few things that could be streamlined using AI-powered IoT devices.