Opinion.

Will Artificial Intelligence kill hospitality?

Adrienne Enggist, Director of Product Development at Booking.com, argues that Artificial Intelligence can strengthen the connection between guests and providers

by Adrienne Enggist, Director of Product Development, Booking.com

Topic: Innovation Trends

Click. Takeaway

  • AI has a broad definition, many facets, and a long history, but at the core is the idea of a machine mimicking human decision making
  • A virtual host can be connected to vast stores of information and access it on-demand. It could even make instant recommendations based on what it knows about the guest
  • …while a machine might be designed to deliver the simulation of ‘warmth’, it’s unlikely to replace the human element

Hospitality is an ancient concept: greeting visitors or guests with warmth, generosity, and kindness. When we open our home, or hotel, to paying guests, we continue the long tradition of being a hospitality provider, with all the noble connotations associated with the trade.

I’m fascinated by the idea that, in theory, this very human-centric interaction seems to be completely at odds with the cold, calculating nature of technology, and the looming onslaught of super-powered Artificial Intelligence (AI). And yet, if we look a bit more closely, we can find opportunities to supplement and even intensify the human connection between provider and guests using technology that was previously unavailable to our industry.

jason-leung

Photo: Jason Leung. ‘AI has a broad definition, many facets, and a long history, but at the core is the idea of a machine mimicking humans 

AI has a broad definition, many facets, and a long history, but at the core is the idea of a machine mimicking human decision making, and potentially learning from mistakes. Availability of the increased processing power needed for tackling complex tasks has made this type of machine learning more accessible than ever before.

However, while a machine might be designed to deliver the simulation of ‘warmth’, it’s unlikely to replace the human element. Rather, let’s consider how you can use AI to make that human element scale, and as a result scale your business, and your guests’ satisfaction levels.

AI in practice

Before a guest arrives, do you struggle to answer simple questions in a timely way? With a ‘virtual host’, AI can use Natural Language Processing to understand the topic of those questions, be they via email, phone or a messaging app, and answer them immediately with information you provide – even in your own, branded tone of voice.

But what happens when the question isn’t a simple one? That same virtual host can potentially ask clarifying questions, or detect when the guest is unhappy, and then decide which human should answer, and when. Connecting the guest quickly with the right sympathetic ear, and avoiding a long wait that could only make matters worse, is a potentially simple decision flow that reaches right into the heart of the concept of hospitality.

How about giving directions, or recommendations, for things to do locally? A virtual host can be connected to vast stores of information and access it on-demand. It could even make instant recommendations based on what it knows about the guest, either from explicit preferences or from previous interactions.

Importance of data

At the core of these simple yet ‘intelligent’ behaviours is the ability to access huge amounts of data quickly, make sense of it, and surface it in a way that is easy to understand. While we might not yet have ready access to the technology that will allow for an extended interaction with the emotional sensitivity of a human, there are still opportunities to use data and processing power to craft a better hospitality experience when speed and accuracy are more important than empathy.

This can save your time, and staff time, for those deeper interactions that benefit most from a human touch – driving loyalty to your property with your own special style of hospitality. Best of all, it allows you to scale your time to handle more guest interactions, and more guests.

Check out our two part series on AI here:

AI: are chatbots really changing the travel industry? 


AI: the next frontier

Adrienne Enggist is Director of Product Development at Booking.com

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