When planning a trip away, there can be great pressure to organise a memorable and enjoyable time. Our weekends and annual leave are precious to us, so we want to ensure that a good time is had by all. The easiest way to do this? Re-book a place that’s been enjoyed before. It’s true that great hospitality drives customer loyalty. And AI might just be the key to great hospitality.
As we’ve covered many times in our blog, artificial intelligence is no longer the scary creation of a wacky genius as depicted in the movies. It is now recognized as a reliable and intelligent business tool that can be used for a large number of functions – from basic customer service to complex problem solving.
Today we’re taking a quick look at how AI is driving changes in the hospitality industry, focusing on the hotel sector.
AI never sleeps – compete and upsell
This is one way smaller businesses in particular can compete with larger chains. Smaller hotels aren’t always able to offer 24-hour reception desk cover, answering questions regarding bookings etc. In its most simple form, AI can be deployed as a chat bot service, providing customers with the 24hour interactions they’ve come to expect, without the cost of employing out of hours staff.
There are a number of companies developing bespoke applications whereby your smart phone can be used as your room key. With no need to check in with a man behind a desk, customers could arrive at any time, log themselves as arrived on the app and access a virtual room key.
To supplement this, either contained within an app or delivered through a chat bot, hotels could provide useful information on the locality, vouchers for local restaurants or days out, or promotions for services within the hotel.
Data, Data, Data!
Hotels can now map guest journeys – both digitally and in person. Having systems in place – whether bespoke applications or off-the-shelf – that can communicate with each other can help identify patterns around guest preferences, as well as highlighting areas for improvement and further revenue opportunities.
Data captured from bookings, transactions, satisfactions surveys or third party providers, or even the staff themselves, is incredibly valuable. AI can assist in analyzing this data to determine guest personas and create customized services.
Every potential customer, actual customer and lost customer is a source of valuable data to you as a business owner. Even if you’re not employing AI at the moment, by saving all the data you can, you will put yourself in an advantageous position to take advantage of AI in the future. Engage with your customers, know your customers and appeal to their exact needs.
Perhaps you’re a hotel owner looking to expand. What are some of the key pieces of information you’d like to know? AI can analyse data to show where there might be hotel ‘deserts’ of where demand is exceeding availability. Local review data could reveal what type of hotel you should build, and the facilities that will most appeal to your target audience.
In October of this year, Alibaba A.I. Labs deployed a robot that could deliver food and laundry to hotel guests. The robot is just under one metre tall and moves at a speed of up to one metre per second. It houses a navigation system able to identify and avoid obstacles and a communications system that amongst other things, controls the lifts. Guests can interact with the robot using voice commands as well as touch and hand gestures. The idea is to reduce response time to guests’ needs and free up staff.
At the extreme end of the AI scale is Connie, the first robot concierge. Released in 2017 to a small number of Hilton hotels, Connie is a 2ft tall robot that stands at the check-in desk. Using computing power of IBM’s Watson AI and travel database WayBlazer, Connie can advise guests on local attractions and interesting sites. The operating system learns from frequent requests and can converse with customers in their own language. The robot can supposedly even sense their emotions and their level of emergency. Initial reports were that customers and staff were ‘delighted’, but there have been no recent reports regarding Connie’s success and subsequent roll out to other sites.
To interact with Connie, customers have to visit the check-in desk to interact with the service. ‘Edward’ however is a chat bot for guests staying at Radisson Blu owned Edwardian Hotels, who can be accessed from anywhere. The bot delivers local information but also deals with complaints. Personally, if I had a complaint, the last thing I would want to deal with would be a robot! I would want to know that my concerns were being listened to, understood and acted upon. Can we really trust a robot to provide that sort of service?
A report from the American Hotel & Lodging Association last year found that, since 2014, the number of concierges in luxury US hotels had fallen by one-fifth. There is no official date for the UK but trends said to be similar. Are we due to lose the concierge service to a new generation of bots?
Can AI win back the AirBnB generation?
Whilst the hospitality industry makes leaps and bounds embracing modern technology and analyzing its customer base, the biggest disruptor of all continues to grow. AirBnB operates on the basis that what customers really want is not just a place to stay, but to ‘experience’ a place. Customers will put up with a lack of parking, no-one to meet them on location – or alternatively, a host sharing the location with you – all to have a ‘genuine’ experience of a place. It seems to contradict the trend that customers want personalisation and familiarity.
Is it that the customer base is now forever split – one half wanting the hospitality industry to understand their needs and meet them head on, and the other, wanting the unknown, stepping into the shoes (and homes) of someone else?
I believe there is room for both to coexist happily, and both areas of the industry could benefit from exploiting AI to know their customer base, gather data and find new ways to engage and communicate with them. I’m not sure robots can truly replace the human touch provided by people who have lived and breathed their hometown, but it’s fun to watch the experiments play out.
Do you work with multiple platforms that don’t yet talk to each other? Is your data fragmented? Kaleida is a bespoke software development house in Manchester, serving clients across the UK. To enquire about a free software review, please feel free to get in touch with our team, or find out more about our services by exploring our website.