Why the hotel industry needs to get some bots

Pranjal Prashar | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 09, 2017

Hotels are making room for AI to improve business.

Artificial intelligence can speed up many aspects of the business, from communication to personalisation

When Agent Smith (a humanoid) in the movie Matrix addresses the entire human race as “feeble minds with no purpose”, he shouldn’t be taken very seriously. In fact, the very reason every industry needs to accept artificial intelligence (AI) is to be able to use the human mind efficiently for a faster and scalable growth plan. Google Search, which pervades every aspect of our life including hospitality, is in fact artificial intelligence. In the future, it is expected to become more mainstream in the following ways.

Simplify travel search

The search for travel plans, itineraries, best hotels, attractions and airfares is slowly migrating from the conventional text-based search on search engines to conversational systems with bots. Interestingly bots used today (like the one provided by IBM Watson for travel company Thomson) are actually being perceived as humans and sent appreciation by guests, indicating the level of maturity these algorithms have achieved in understanding the guest’s needs and providing relevant results. Such AI-based voice-activated internet search also has the potential to do away with the reliance on travel apps. A frequent business traveller will not need to register on each of the travel apps; instead he will just speak to a bot (that can understand travel specific commands) which in turn will search the web and suggest the best property to stay at. The warfront is not just a popular online travel agent but the whole web. Marketing, distribution and customer retention strategy for hotels will be crucial to emerge winners in this new scenario.

Delight guests

Big data powers AI. There is no limit to the amount of data that is available about a particular guest who is expected to check in tomorrow at your hotel. He may be the Vice-President of that particular global firm whom you have been eyeing for bulk MICE bookings during the lean season. He also may be a vegan who is allergic to chickpea and needs The Hindu Business Line at breakfast. Several other data points such as frequency of travel, period of stay, price sensitivity of the guest and stay preferences sit isolated across multiple platforms (booking engines/ channel managers/ property management systems/ internal feedback at hotels). AI brings this together to create a guest profile that can allow hotels time to be prepared for delighting their guests. Even the check-in process can be completed during the transit allowing the guest to straight away head to his room. On arriving, based on the profile, AI helps hotels know how to communicate with a certain type of guest – the front office behaviour in dealing with a couple on honeymoon has to be different from that of a family on vacation.

Increasing revenue per guest

The last time a guest stayed at your property, he had enquired about your spa services but not booked it yet. His wife lists herself as a liquor connoisseur on social media. Whether it is building loyalty or getting an upsell opportunity on premises, the marketing campaigns have to be targeted using AI such that the former can claim a voucher on spa and the latter a wine-tasting session on their next stays.

Decrease operational costs

Cortana, Alexa and Siri have already been deployed in multiple hotels to provide virtual assistance to guests during their stays. Real-time feedback integrated with workflows in the hotel ensure that when a guest isn’t happy with his room, availability of other rooms are checked automatically and instructions passed on to the hotel staff to relocate the guest. AI also keeps a tab on the maintenance schedules of amenities and equipment. Stay conditions (for instance, ambient temperature set), requests (laundry/ airport pick up) and complaints powered through AI ensure quality services during the life cycle of the guest stay. In all these cases, hotel operations can be made more efficient and staff can be empowered to use their time in delivering exceptional service just in time.

Though there have been a few successful cases of concierge robots aligned to front desk in some hotels, we are nowhere looking at humanoids replacing humans (picture Matrix) in hotels. If its power is understood and leveraged well, the hospitality industry is poised to compete on experiences rather than prices which bodes well for the guest. The millennial traveller expects the same experience in Madrid as in Manila and hence drawing boundaries on data through legislation isn’t realistic. AI guarantees some level of privacy by not exposing raw data but intelligent output for better targeting. The only question still unanswered is – how is such a system that captures data across platforms around the world regulated and who finally owns the data?

Pranjal Prashar is the founder and CEO of Repup, a customer experience management platform

Published on June 09, 2017
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