Introduction: The Future of Hospitality with Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Future of Hospitality with Artificial Intelligence is here to stay. The hospitality industry has been among the industry’s hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic over the past two years. As large parts of the world are once again opening up to travel and tourism, the industry has an unparalleled opportunity to build back better with the help of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
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AI is the future of hospitality. Whilst it may be hard to imagine, experts predict that over the next decade or so, humans will become less important within the industry whilst the influence of robotics and AI grows.
What Is AI?
Put simply, AI is a part of computer science concerned with creating smart machines that can perform tasks normally reserved for humans. The idea is to allow the software to learn from humans so that it can mimic their reactions and interactions.
We are already surrounded by AI-based applications. For example, if you are finishing a book on your e-reader, the device provides suggestions as to what you may want to read next. Its suggestions are based on your previous choices – so all it does is mimic your earlier behavior.
The Value of AI in Hospitality
Before we delve into individual areas of AI in hospitality, it is worth taking a look at the potential of this technology for the growth of the industry.
According to a recent report by Global Market Estimates, the future of AI in hospitality is dominated by growth. The researchers foresee a 10% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the course of their forecast period from 2021 to 2026.
Food and beverage, as well as accommodation, are the key drivers of the predicted growth. Whilst most technology is being deployed with the food & beverage sector at the moment, accommodation is likely to experience faster growth of AI within the segment.
Part of this growth is due to the pandemic. As customers prefer limited human interaction to minimize transmission of the coronavirus, AI is the best alternative. Mimicking human interaction without encountering the risk of disease will become a major factor in the industry’s recovery. In addition, the same concept will also support and speed up the expansion of AI within the sector.
Examples of AI in Hospitality
Within a few years, AI will be found in all areas of the hospitality industry. Here is a look at some of the segments leading the transition of the industry.
- Occupancy and Room Optimization
- Booking and Staff Interaction
- Updates and Maintenance
- Reputation Management
Outstanding hospitality has always been related to personalized service. A hotel concierge knowing the personal preferences of a repeat guest used to set the accommodation apart from its competitors. But as the concierge retired or moved on to another job, the information required to deliver this personal touch would often be lost.
With the help of AI, hospitality businesses no longer need to rely on one person’s memory. Instead, they can deliver a much wider range of personalized services.
Robotics start making a difference from the moment a guest checks in. Imagine you are reaching your hotel after a long journey, and now there is a queue at the check-in counter. No matter how friendly the staff is, waiting is annoying. How about the alternative? AI-driven check-in counters that use facial recognition to greet you by name and take you through the check-in process faster.
Hotels dealing with international guests no longer need to struggle with translations. Instead, real-time language software means the guest’s questions are answered in their language. The concierge remembering how you would like your breakfast cooked is replaced by a chatbot that will predict your preferences based on your last stay but will ask whether you would like something different this time.
While transitions to a more technology-driven way of working have often been connected to a loss of jobs, early indicators suggest that AI in hospitality has not yet had a big influence on turnover. However, using robotics has been shown to increase productivity.
Occupancy and Room Optimization
In an ideal world, every hotel would be fully booked every night of the year. Restaurants would be able to offer two sittings and fill every chair every night. Sounds like utopia? Utilizing the benefits of AI will help your business get closer to this ideal scenario.
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Technology has advanced far beyond the point where you can only look at past occupancy data and have to draw your own conclusions. AI-driven software not only produces numbers but also shows trends. That means, as a manager you receive an accurate prediction of when occupancy is likely to drop. With that information, it becomes easier to decide when to advertise or when to change your pricing strategy.
Of course, after a few years in the industry, humans understand when their company is likely busy and when it’s not. However, predictions based on technology can analyze more data faster than the human mind can. As a result, suggestions based on data analysis can take local and regional trends into account, analyze your competitors’ pricing and other factors. They are capable of delivering results within minutes rather than hours or days a human would need to analyze the same amount of data points.
As a consequence, you will find your occupancy and your revenue grows. In addition, your business avoids dropping prices when there is no need and losing income as a consequence.
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Booking and Staff Interaction
A customer’s experience with a hospitality business starts long before they make a booking. Let us assume, most of your bookings come through your website. Naturally, you have added a section for frequently asked questions.
The truth is that few potential guests actually read that section. They prefer sending an inquiry with their questions, even if the majority of answers can already be found on the website. As a consequence, your reservations team wastes a lot of time answering the same questions over and over. You may be able to mitigate this with template answers, but they are often just not quite personal enough.
Source: YouTube | Robot Hotel Japan.
Chatbots are the ideal tool to deliver a personalized answer in a timely manner. Your potential client does not need to wait until your team is back online. They can ask their questions while browsing your website and have an answer in real-time.
Combine that with AI’s language translation capability, and you will also avoid misunderstandings which then lead to awkward situations later on. By being able to answer a potential customer’s questions straight away, you are increasing the likelihood of this customer making a booking. On the other hand, if the customer needs to wait for a few hours, they are likely to find another hotel or restaurant which will answer their questions directly. Which one is more likely to secure the booking?
Using AI as part of your booking and reservations does not mean giving up on staff. The opposite is the case: chatbots excel at dealing with repetitive, predictable, and relatively simple tasks. That means they free up your highly trained, qualified team for more complex jobs. Rather than being slowed down by menial tasks, your human staff can focus on tasks that are beyond the chatbot’s capability.
Depending on the topics your prospective customers are raising with the chatbot, their inquiries may exceed the robot’s capacity. For that reason, most chatbots have a “human, please!” feature somewhere in their software. Understanding when questions become too intricate for the robot is important to help you use your AI-based tools efficiently. Remember, the future of AI in hospitality lies not in making humans redundant but in allowing them to use their time better.
Updates and Maintenance
If you are running a hospitality business, keeping the place looking clean and well looked after is a constant challenge. In fact, daily maintenance starts with housekeeping.
It may not seem obvious, but according to UCLA housekeeping staff has one of the highest injury rates not only in the hospitality industry but in the entire private sector. Moreover, some of the tasks housekeepers perform are routine, time-consuming, and do not necessarily require human input.
Maidbots are the answer. These robots can perform tasks like vacuuming, whilst your housekeepers concentrate on the more intricate parts of their job. Vacuuming robots have been popular for private households for a while, and they are starting to find their way into commercial environments including hotels.
Consider this: using a robot to deal with the floors of a room allows your housekeepers to clean a room in half the time. Plus, it keeps the team safer by reducing the number of work-related injuries.
AI can also support your facilities management team when it comes to regular maintenance and repairs. Of course, you could have a hard-copy calendar on the office wall. But would it not be much more efficient if you had technology that knows when regular maintenance is needed and does all the following:
- Remind facilities managers of upcoming maintenance
- Block the relevant room(s) for bookings
- Check your stock of spare parts, paint, or other cleaning supplies
- Prepare orders for required materials
- Double-check that sufficient staff is available to carry out the planned maintenance
Once again, technology is there to allow humans to work more efficiently.
The same goes for small, ad-hoc repairs such as broken lightbulbs, for example. Of course, your guest could phone reception, who could phone the facilities team, who could send someone up to the room after checking when it is convenient for the guest. But how much easier would it be if the guest could simply tell a concierge robot in the room or choose a few options on a tablet? All of this is possible with the right technology.
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Reputation management is arguably one of the most important aspects of running any hospitality business. Keeping a flawless reputation is directly related to managing revenue. So, how can something so important be left to technology?
There are several aspects in which AI can help you manage and improve your company’s reputation. Remember, AI is capable of analyzing and distilling huge amounts of data much more diligently and faster than a human could. That means you can use it to crawl social media sites, review platforms, and other outlets to look for comments made about your business.
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Not only does this allow you to see whether people are talking about you and where, but AI can also analyze the tone of the conversation. As a result, it can function as a type of early warning system, letting you know when there are critical comments you need to address.
At the same time, when your bots find positive comments, they can reply by thanking the customer for those comments whilst at the same time referencing those in your database. If the customer returns, the comments can be flagged before check-in. With the help of personalization, you can then choose to thank them in person or offer an upgrade as a thank you.
No hospitality business is perfect, and no matter how hard you work, you are likely to have the odd unhappy customer from time to time. If they choose to express their disdain publicly online rather than to your team, AI helps you spot those negative reviews or comments early. This gives you an opportunity to address the issue head-on and proactively, which helps avoid or limit damage to your reputation.
Conclusion: The Future of Hospitality with Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Despite a challenging economic environment, the future of the hospitality industry is looking bright. By embracing technology including robotics and artificial intelligence applications, hospitality businesses can stand out from the crowd. Industry heavyweights like Hilton and KLM airlines are already leading the way.
AI in hospitality will help business owners deliver a more personalized and tailored experience than ever before. This is possible thanks to data analysis and to robots taking care of routine, repetitive tasks whilst leaving staff to deal with the more complex areas of their job. As AI becomes more intelligent, its potential within the industry will expand. Getting started now allows your business to step ahead of your competition and build a solid brand.