AI in Hospitality: A Threat or An Asset?


Nargis Jafferali

AI in Hospitality: A Threat or An Asset?
"Scary! Inspiring! Unbelievable! Impressive! Nerve-wracking!"

It’s just some of the phrases thrown around when thinking about Artificial Intelligence (AI), and it’s clear society still hasn’t quite made up its mind about this latest development.

The Benefits

In the past several years, advancements in technology have made AI far more reliable and we are therefore seeing it being used across a wide array of sectors to improve productivity, efficiency and overall quality – and the hospitality industry is no different.

The ability of AI to carry out ‘human tasks’ at any time of the day means that hospitality managers can have an overall superior customer service being offered to the patrons within their hotels and restaurants etc. AI can assist in offering an increased personalisation of the service being offered as well as making bespoke recommendations. It can also assist in one of the biggest challenges of this market: quick responses to customer feedback – and by not only managing the enormous data more effectively, AI enables systems to “learn” and adapt to customer interactions. For managers, these types of advancement reduce human error and save considerable money long-term.

AI at work

In 2016, an AI robot called ‘Connie” (pictured above) was launched by Hilton. Connie can give tourist information to customers who interact with it, and can learn from human speech and adapt to their needs – essentially the more people that speak to Connie, the smarter it becomes. At the time, Jim Holthouser, EVP for Global Brands at Hilton said the company was “hoping to accomplish three things: to get rid of customer pain points such as waiting in line to ask an employee a question, to help the hotel operate more efficiently and to surprise and delight customers.”

Chatbot technology has become the ultimate disruptor to call centres, and major companies have successfully started using automated systems (run by AI and cognitive technologies) to save on customer support costs and ensure the overall success of their brand. As customers, particularly in hospitality, rely so much on being responded to on a 24/7/365 basis, research has shown that they will increasingly choose to speak to a ‘human voice’ only if self-service options have failed them, which means the role of a call-centre representative is swiftly becoming more customer retention based than customer service.

A report by Colliers International in 2018 found that “the next generation of technology is moving across the hospitality industry, with facial recognition, virtual reality and biometrics expected to be mainstream by 2025. AI is anticipated to increase hotel revenues by over 10% and reduce costs by more than 15%, and 73% of manual activities have the potential for automation.”

The Future

So, it’s clear that hospitality will undergo major change in the coming years, but where does that leave the staff?

Rob Paterson, CEO of Best Western Hotels and Resorts said: “I’ve had loads of people come to talk to me about robots and all sorts of things, but for me it takes the personality out of hospitality.”

Meanwhile Erik Brynjolfsson from MIT, highlighted that: “We’re having the wrong debate when it comes to AI: instead of pondering how jobs will be wiped out, people need to focus on the redesign of jobs and re-engineering of business processes.” There’s certainly room for both to work together – AI to eventually replace or enhance the day-to-day time-consuming tasks, and employees to rise up to higher responsibilities and complete jobs that are enriched and elevated by AI and machine learning.

The future of hospitality is a hot topic right now, and with so many innovative processes being launched into the market, it will be interesting to see how the landscape changes and how the industry reacts to these changes.

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