In a recent EyeForTravel by Reuters webinar, experts said artificial intelligence is increasingly becoming core technology in hotels as the benefits are essential to enhancing both business and the guest experience.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Artificial intelligence continues to be a driving force behind creating frictionless travel, from easily navigable booking websites to personalized experiences on property, according to experts.
In a recent EyeForTravel by Reuters webinar titled “Customer experience lab – automation, partnerships and the human touch,” Lindy Andersen, director of global accounts at Expedia Group, said frictionless travel will be a focus for the travel technology company in 2020.
“We’re harnessing the power of innovative technology, using AI to alleviate stressors and drive better efficiencies of our entire platform,” she said.
Hoteliers are following suit.
Tata Crocombe, managing director at Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort, said understanding the customer on a more granular level is key in today’s industry. But the amount of data available exceeds the capacity of the human brain, he said, and AI is the answer to converting data into knowledge his hotel can act on in real time.
The Watergate Hotel, an independent property in Washington, D.C., uses AI in a variety of ways, starting with converting lookers into bookers via the hotel’s website, said Debbie Johnsen, VP of marketing.
“It’s really the first touch for our customers before they even arrive at the property,” she said. “We’re using a couple of different tactics to drive them through the experience (and) understand more about our property.”
Through its partnership with a company that uses AI to track its customers, her team has information on which guests respond to certain incentives, their geolocation and the number of people in their travel party. Her hotel can then use nudge messaging throughout the website based on that knowledge. This type of data is also helpful in upselling the guest, she said.
“If we’re seeing that somebody has a party of three or four that they’re traveling with, how do we upsell them to suite level or a connecting room? Doing that all the way through the booking path, then hopefully they will convert,” she said.
Once the guest arrives on property, the messaging should continue, along with high-touch personalization from the front-desk staff, she said.
“There’s a lot of ways that we can use personalization tools that might already exist. It doesn’t have to be a huge investment at this point,” she said.
The Watergate Hotel is considering implementing other tools, such as voice assist, for the booking phase as well as for on-property requests. The main challenge is making sure staff can operate and execute it flawlessly, Johnsen said.
One thing that AI is already doing for Crocombe’s Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort is mining data to understand micro trends or things that might be flying under the staff’s radar but are important to the guest, he said.
For example, data showed that guests enjoyed the hotel restaurant’s fish and chips, and amenities such as stand-up paddleboards. Sifting guest reviews through AI, the hotel was able to determine that guests wanted to paddleboard at night and have translucent kayaks so they could see the fish below them.
“These were things we were only really able to identify and quantify through using AI tools,” he said.
Matching guests with the right hotel
Crocombe said he hopes AI will make it easier for guests to find and book their perfect hotel stay.
“Generally, if a guest is unhappy, they’re in the wrong hotel,” he said. “That’s, again, where AI should really be (helping) a guest make the right match.”
Booking sites show available hotels in a city sorted by price, which he said is still very rudimentary and not particularly useful.
“What I really want is for AI to tell me that this is the one or two hotels that I should really consider, because AI has a deep understanding of my requirements and has a very deep, granular examination of the market,” he said.
Where AI is being developed
Crocombe said AI is increasingly becoming a core technology, and hotel teams, in-house or outsourced, must have an understanding of how it works.
He said his team is actively upgrading its knowledge on how AI can be deployed to enhance overall the business.
“The question becomes, should we build in-house? The simple answer is there is just so much going on, so many players coming into the market and no one really knows where the technology is going on a week-to-week, month-to-month basis,” he said.
His strategy is to first define what AI technology the hotel needs and then look for partners to develop that. In the future, he foresees having a mix of both in-house and outsourced solutions.
Make sure to analyze the ROI
Crocombe said profitability must remain top of mind, and the best way to calculate return on investment for an AI project is net profit.
“There’s lots of things that are unknown about the technology. … Applying a strict financial metric to it, you’ll get a better answer. … When you do that, it makes AI projects we’ve identified look even better than we had anticipated,” he said.
One of the great potentials of AI is to free up time for staff to focus on creating more hospitable interactions with guests, he said.