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Dear hoteliers,

Today, we are going to talk about artificial intelligence in the hotel industry. Lately, I have noticed that discussions and feelings get pretty heated when the subject comes up.

To a certain extent, it makes sense! Influenced by popular works such as I, Robot, Terminator or Blade Runner 2049, the world’s collective imagination has massively distorted our notion of AI. Fantasy has sometimes replaced fact and common sense. And a lack of understanding on this topic has spread fear and doubt.

That’s why I thought it might be helpful to restore AI to its proper place and address its application in the hotel sector.

Enjoy reading!

Artificial intelligence doesn’t write books…

It is pretty obvious that artificial intelligence has not reached the kind of level you see in most works of fiction that appear in pop culture. I should also add that AI doesn’t necessarily look like a humanoid robot that can do everything, just like you and me. The “Sophia” robot that has recently been in the media spotlight, created by Hanson Robotics, is just one example among many!

AI appears in lots of different things, such as facial recognition via your smartphone and connected watch or even your car’s voice command tool.

Before we proceed any further and I go into the ins and outs of the subject, I thought it would help to start with this short definition:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the set of theories and techniques used to create machines capable of simulating intelligence.Wikipedia

A little further down on the same page, we also learn that, while achieving perfect AI is raising a lot of questions from most people right now, there is also a natural brake at work:

There are lots of barriers in real life to artificial intelligence achieving anything like the performance of living creatures, so AI is still far below a cat with all its natural abilities.

This will reassure some and disappoint others, but at the moment AI is a path. It tries to simulate human intelligence using many different techniques (algorithms, cognitive science, etc.).But it is still unable to compose decent music, dream its own dreams or to write a novel. However, this doesn’t prevent us from pointing to all the technological developments that have made writers’ lives easier, for example, such as instant searches, remote printing, marketing in 2 clicks, etc.

What does the hotel business have to do with all this?  

The article’s title was slightly provocative and was meant to show the contradiction between AI’s alleged purpose – replacing humans – and the purpose for which I see it being used in the hotel industry, which is helping humans to increasingly improve the customer experience!

You may have read somewhere that the Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, has created an almost perfectly self-contained hotel. In this hotel, guests are able to book their room via an application and enter it without a key or card, thanks to facial recognition. And the options don’t stop there. They can control the temperature, brightness, music, shutters and everything else using a voice assistant. They can also order food or drink via this assistant and wait for robot room service to arrive and deliver their order. Basically, it’s all very futuristic.

It is still of interest to me though because, reading between the lines, with hotel staff not being as busy with the usual tasks, they can fully concentrate on the visitor experience. This gets you one step closer to the perfect stay!

Limitations of AI in the hotel industry

Because that’s what your core business is all about – providing a pleasant place and a dream experience for your customers. With this goal in mind, you need to mobilise all of your staff’s intelligence and strengths. AI will never be able to replace the Human Touch.

A few examples to clarify my point:

Restaurant recommendations will always be better when they come from a flesh-and-blood receptionist who knows what “eating” means! Artificial intelligence is unable to say, “Go for the magret and the house red for a truly delicious meal.”

From another angle, while artificial intelligence is able to notify you that a couple is coming to your hotel for their wedding thanks to an online reservation, it is still the flesh-and-blood staff who know how to make the best use of this information. They are the ones who will decide to sprinkle rose petals in the room and offer free spa entry to the newlyweds. This fantastic experience is bound to be positive for the hotel’s rating.

One final example: you are just finishing some renovation work to your hotel and a reservation arrives online. The client comes in and has not been notified that any work is in progress. They complain, leave, and write a review that almost makes you want to close the whole hotel down because it’s so nasty. Artificial intelligence isn’t capable of handling a situation like that. But an actual human can. The hotel manager could, for example, offer the guest the opportunity to return to the hotel free of charge on a future stay, or even offer them the comfort of a suite. The client will come back, see the renovations are done and will quickly change their comment and instead post a rave review. Better yet, the guest could become a loyal hotel guest.

This might sound a little dramatic but it’s actually a true story. It was my friend François Dapremont – who manages the 4-star Balmoral hotel, located 100 metres from the Arc de Triomphe – who had the wonderful idea of inviting his client back.

AI is a helping hand

In a previous article, I wrote that the amount you need to pay to win over a new customer is 6 to 7 times more than the amount you need to keep a customer you have already acquired. Without a human presence and these special attentions, without a smile from the concierge and the receptionist’s warm welcome of the receptionist, I am convinced that the loyalty rate would drop drastically. It is Human Touch itself that makes all the difference during a stay.

AI must be seen as an aid, as a means of collecting data so that flesh-and-blood staff can improve the comfort of their customers more and more. With smart software, you will be able to remember that this or that customer swears by champagne, that another likes to have their bed at a certain angle, or that yet another appreciates it when their room is at exactly 18C°, and never under or over.

It wouldn’t therefore be a good idea to consider replacing your staff with machines! I don’t think anybody that does will remain in business in the long run.

Conclusion

I admit that sometimes I may have slightly overexaggerated. Artificial intelligence is genuinely capable of performing miracles and still has surprises in store for us. You just have to remember to act in symbiosis with it and use it wisely.

Think about integrating it into your hotel operation with, for example, a chatbot on your site, smart software that remembers helpful information or possibly luggage carrying robots – it’s up to you!

I am convinced that this will only improve your results and your customers’ experience.

But don’t be afraid either, real humans have never been so important in the hotel industry as they are today.

Thank you for reading!

Tony LOEB
Author

Tony Loeb started his career in Hotel marketing in 2001 as a webmaster, then quickly became the Technical Director of a web agency specialized in the hotel industry. Passionate about the tourism sector and attracted by the idea of taking on new challenges, Tony took over the management of a team of hotel consultants until 2014, when he decided to make hotel marketing his core business. In 2014, he co-founded the company Experience Hotel and is now responsible for its international development and deployment, improving tools for automating and optimizing customer relations, from booking to customer loyalty.

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