Has anyone ever seen the movie Short Circuit? It was made in 1986 and I remember seeing it as a young kid. Long story short, there was a robot in that movie called ‘Number 5’, and that quirky little bloke seems to enter the front of my mind whenever I hear the words Artificial Intelligence. Weasel and The Russian are both Star Wars fans, so it’s no surprise that thoughts of C-3PO and R2-D2 enter their minds. But I’m not a Star Wars fan. A Princess Leia fan maybe, but let’s be honest, who isn’t? (sorry to our female audience but facts are facts).
Anyway, back to Artificial Intelligence, because it’s something that all hoteliers are going to have to get their head around, and soon. You see, we all pretty much understand that success now, and in the future, is determined by a properties ability to engage their guests. And more than ever before this guest engagement is dependent on personalization. You know the deal, better engage your guests and they increase their average spend, return more regularly, which allows for a decreased marketing spend with better ROI blah blah blah. This is not revolutionary stuff. But how do we improve and customize the guest experience and what part does artificial intelligence play in this?
Well, first of all, it is essential that all operators fully appreciate and are acutely aware of all aspects of the guest journey, from booking to checkout. Continually gathering and analysing information wherever possible to tailor an experience which surpasses a guest’s expectations. As The Russian would put it, enter C-3PO. Not literally of course. We haven’t quite reached the point where skinny gold plated robots replace us mere mortals just yet. Although, the Henn na Hotel in Japan is now totally run by robots! I know, but these clever cats have human-looking robots checking you in, robotic butlers to carry your luggage, face recognition software for room entry. I mean they have really taken it to the next level. Not that this will be for everyone of course. Nothing beats a little human to human contact. But the point is simply this, Artificial intelligence can be incorporated into almost any aspect of hotel operations, it’s just a matter of determining what technology will enhance the guest experience and what will detract from it. And given the huge volume of tasks artificial intelligence can be utilized for, this is no easy feat.
So lets just stick with the basics for now. The humble chatbot. Well maybe not so humble given many see them as the next frontier in guest engagement. And you’ve interacted with chatbots before, trust me. Ever landed on a website that has a conversation box appear? Where Steve the customer relations representative politely offers to answer any questions you may have? You didn’t really think that’s a human did you? Come on, you're better than that. That’s just one example of a chatbot. So what if something similar could automatically reach out to guests a few days before their stay, asking if there is anything they would like anything arranged prior to their arrival. Would that create a more personalized experience? And what if that same technology then acted as a 24/7 personal assistant during their stay, answering all guest requests automatically, without delay. Would that improve a guest’s experience. You bet it would.
And this is where the urgency arises. We’ve got a whole generation of travellers who no longer want to pick up the phone. They hate waiting for answers to simple questions. They want information, and they want it instantly. They perform almost all tasks on their phone. Want something to eat? Just Uber it. Need a question answered? Ask Alexa, the answer is instantaneous. Need a date, swipe right. Or is that left? I can’t remember. You see, people are no longer accustomed to waiting, they want instantaneous solutions to their problems. And chatbots can provide a simple solution to this generational shift across numerous scenarios at varying points in the guest journey. And the happy ending? They require limited resource allocation from the hotels perspective. So you not only deliver a better guest experience, but you also reduce staffing costs. That’s right, the panacea for any business, a better offering at a lower cost!
And while a chatbot is like dipping you toe into the artificial intelligence pond, it’s a great place to start, and can have huge operational impact. Personalization? Tick. Enhanced guest experience? Tick. Automation? Tick. Improved operation efficiencies? Tick. You are literally communicating with a whole generation of guests the way that they like to communicate. The ability to provide immediate feedback to guest requests will increase retention rates, and the personalization options are endless, allowing a property to deliver custom offers to guests, on or off property, using intelligence gathered throughout the guest journey.
The guest experience and guest engagement landscape has changed, and the question hoteliers should no longer be asking themselves is “Do I need artificial intelligence in my hotel?”. It should now be “How are we going to use artificial intelligence to personalize and enhance the guest journey?”. And a chatbot may be the logical first step in that process.