As the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors gear up for peak season, they are also still coping with a shortage of labor. With increased demand and fewer workers available to help them meet it, hoteliers need to find solutions that don’t place an undue burden on the staff that they do have in place.
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation are rapidly changing the way businesses in all sectors operate, and the hospitality industry has certainly been no exception.
In recent years, hotels have begun to adopt these new technologies to enhance customer service and elevate the guest experience, but the potential benefits extend beyond just the guests. AI and automation can also create a better employee experience for hotel staff.
Here are a few of the ways automation and AI technology can help hotels operate more efficiently and create a better working environment for their employees.
1. Streamlining operations
One of the primary ways that artificial intelligence and automation can improve the employee experience in the hospitality industry is by streamlining operations, which can increase efficiency and productivity and ultimately result in cost savings for hotel chains.
Hotel employees are often responsible for fulfilling a number of repetitive and time-consuming tasks, such as checking in guests, answering common questions and managing reservations.
Having these repetitive tasks automated enables hotel staff members to spend more time on higher-level responsibilities, such as providing visitors with excellent customer service and addressing more complex guest issues.
Artificial intelligence can analyze guest data
Interviewed by Business in Vancouver for a recent article, BC Hotel Association CEO Ingrid Jarrett said artificial intelligence can make hotel operations more efficient when it comes to planning events, such as a 200-person banquet.
"You can analyze who is in this group, and anticipate how many vegetarians," she said. "It could analyze guests based on age, gender, where they're coming from and what their travel patterns are like."
Armed with this customer data, a hotel could better assess how many servers it will need, limit food waste and provide better service, ultimately elevating the customer experience.
Chatbots can answer queries from hotel guests
For example, AI tools such as chatbots can be used to respond to common guest questions and handle basic requests. This allows front-desk staff to focus on more pressing issues, such as guest complaints or emergencies.
In a previous blog post, we highlighted the ways that hotels can leverage the WhatsApp Business app or WhatsApp API's chatbot functions. With more than 2.2 billion users, WhatsApp is the world's most popular messaging application, and hotel businesses can use it to provide customers with service in their native language and answer queries 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The WhatsApp chatbot can also assist customers during the booking process by sharing important info (including room availability, cost per night and discount offers) and enabling potential guests to search for and book hotel rooms, directly from the app.
When guests arrive, automated check-in kiosks can reduce the time it takes for them to check in, which can help alleviate staff workload during peak hours.
2. Providing personalized service
Today's travelers aren't looking for just any generic hotel stay.
They are also looking for a journey that is theirs alone. Members of the millennial generation, in particular, have been vocal about their desire to seek experiences built specifically around their unique interests and stay with hospitality providers that accommodate their personal preferences.
A recent study found that 78% of travelers are more likely to book with properties that offer personalized experiences, with almost 50% willing to share the personal data necessary to promote an individualized stay.
Artificial intelligence and automation can help hotel staff provide guests with the personalized service they crave.
By collecting and analyzing data about guest preferences and behavior, AI-powered systems can provide hotel staff with personalized recommendations for guests, such as restaurant options or lists of local attractions. Staff members can then use this information to deliver more tailored recommendations and create a more personalized experience for each guest.
Personalizing guest experiences with AI
Leveraging OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4 capabilities, DuveAI will use guest profiles from within the platform to, the company promised, "deliver a completely new level of personalization and automation that will transform the industry".
Among other functions, DuveAI will enable hoteliers to rely solely on artificial intelligence to respond to guest queries. It will also be able to auto-generate content that is personalized to individual guests' preferences based on their profiles.
3. Improving training and development
AI and automation can also be used to improve training for both hotel management and staff. Managers can use AI-powered systems to create personalized training and development plans for staff members. By analyzing data about staff performance and behavior, among other factors, these systems can suggest areas for improvement and provide customized training plans to address these issues.
Virtual-reality or augmented-reality training programs, for example, can be used to simulate real-life scenarios, allowing staff members to practice their skills in a safe, controlled environment. This can help them feel more confident and prepared when faced with challenging situations.
Many hotels already use artificial intelligence
Advances in artificial intelligence have been making headlines for the past few months, but the truth is that AI tools have been in use in the travel and hospitality industry for years. Indeed, the average hotel’s tech stack already includes software that employs artificial intelligence and machine learning.
A hotel's property management system or customer relationship management software may not be as flashy as customer-facing chatbots (or room-service droids, for that matter), but these tools can certainly be used to automate processes in a way that can save hotel staff a lot of time and effort and reduce operational costs.
As BC Hotel Association CEO Jarrett noted, "For data analysis, booking patterns, et cetera, we have technology that was doing this."
According to Jarrett, machine learning and data analytics have been evolving in the hotel industry for more than a decade. In addition to freeing up staff time, Jarrett credits this powerful technology with improving customer service by helping guests in ways that people cannot.
The hotel industry is still in the people business
As beneficial as artificial intelligence can be, however, it's important for anyone running a hospitality business to remember that it can't do everything.
As Jarrett told Business in Vancouver, as much as hotels may come to rely on AI to give them a competitive advantage, smart technology is not poised to replace human employees anytime in the near future.
"We're in the people business," she said of the hospitality industry. "[Guests] still need service, and a person needs to do that service."
There are things artificial intelligence can't do
After all, as Josiah Mackenzie writes at Hotel Operations, there are things artificial intelligence can't do. Artificial intelligence can employ natural language processing to respond to customer feedback, and it can analyze data in order to suggest ways to maximize revenue, but it is incapable of thinking critically or developing new theories based on original insights.
Moreover, a machine can't empathize, which is a significant consideration when it comes to customer service, and one that will ensure human involvement remains a key factor in the hospitality industry.
What all of this boils down to is that even the most sophisticated computer lacks the human capacity for actual intelligence when it comes to being able to draw conclusions from available data and make wise choices.
In other words, there will always be jobs for human beings in the hospitality sector, from the front desk to the back office. The function of any new technology in the hotel industry should be to make the burdens on those human beings a little lighter so they can focus on what really matters — creating an even better customer experience.
What AI technology does your hotel use to enhance the guest journey and improve the employee experience? Let us know, and learn more about how we’re partnering with hotel operations to help their properties stand out.