AI Strategy for Hotels goes Beyond Alexa

WayBlazer
The Intersection of AI and Travel
Photo of inside a hotel room

Proposals for new technologies are hitting hoteliers’ desks at breakneck speed: mobile kiosks, mobile keys and concierges, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality, even robotic staff. It’s a lot to digest when you’re tasked with figuring out which ones will bolster operations and guest experience. That is, which ones will make an impact on the bottom line.

Many hoteliers have understandably conflated AI with virtual assistants like Alexa or Google Home, so sometimes the notion that hotels benefit from AI adoption is heard as a call to add in-room virtual assistants. As a result, AI may have developed an unfair reputation… after all, the jury is still out on how much guests love the idea of a digital assistant hearing all the things that go on in their room.

Let’s set the record straight. AI is far more than Alexa. AI exists to provide solutions to fairly average problems through technological automation and big data. For hoteliers eager to stay on-trend with contemporary digital technology, understanding the potential AI offers operationally as well as to guests has never been more important, especially for hotels with a guest-centric approach.

AI technology includes possibilities such as digital concierges, travel experience enhancers, machine learning, and more. These capabilities create a unique opportunity to personalize and improve upon the guest experience, all while elevating service levels on a larger scale. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, for example, now features an AI concierge named Rose, a concierge with personality. Guests receive a calling card at check-in with a phone number they can text any time for answers to questions typically asked of a concierge. With Rose guests begin to have whatever they want, whenever they want it without lifting a finger. And with AI like this, hoteliers end up with a more holistic view of their guests: insight into their purchases, travel choices, location and accommodation preferences, travel inquiries, journey patterns, and much more.

Hotels are finding that chatbots can be highly influential in the booking and pre-stay phase of the guest pathway, as well. Using chatbots in the booking phase can “not only help enhance customer service but also result in flawless decisions based on the massive volume of data.” This can look like a guest service chatbot enabled through apps such as Facebook Messenger, a website chatbot for answering questions throughout the discovery phase, or chatbot ads that help influence guests early in the travel planning process.

While chatbots and digital concierges can streamline staffing, some AI actually eliminates legacy systems. For instance, Roxy is a speech-enabled device that serves as a personal assistant. It also replaces the hotel room phone by tapping into a hotel’s PBX, therefore eliminating one of the industry’s “least-used expenses.” The device can also be used to request a wake-up call, checkout, and call for a car.

And this brings us back to digital assistants. While information sharing is a concern with platforms such as Alexa, which delivers data back to Amazon, IBM has introduced a new option in which brands that white-label the Watson Assistant own all data. So, when using Watson Assistant, guests are speaking to the hotel, not to a third party such as Amazon.

Thomas Grundner, VP of Sales for JA Resorts & Hotels, calls this the age of assistance. He suggests that hotels in this new age must offer a “flawless digital experience.” Hotel guests, he notes, are “increasingly comfortable engaging with AI and talking to computers.” This means hotels must keep up. So even if you don’t want Alexa, it’s time to know how and where you will use AI.

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