The Hospitable AI: Robotics & Automation in the Hotel Space
But what really is AI?
The term has been bandied around so much that the real concept has been lost behind grandiose descriptions and farfetched applications. It’s better to start the article with a clear definition of what AI is and what it means to the hospitality sector
Understand Artificial Intelligence
Put aside all your notions of AI. Banish thoughts of robots becoming sentient and taking over the world and just focus on this one thought – intelligent machines. That’s what AI is about – machines that are capable of thinking like human beings and performing cognitive tasks like them.
AI only enhances existing usability and functionality. In the hospitality sector, there are a surprising amount of use cases where artificial intelligence will bring about some healthy innovative disruptions.
To understand the inroads AI is making in the industry, let’s take you through a few facts and figures.
- PWC estimates that 25 per cent of the jobs in the accommodations and food service sector in the U.S. would be automated by the early 2030s.
- According to that analysis, 73% of the activities performed by workers in accommodations and food service have the potential for automation.
- Digital travel sales, backed by big data and machine intelligence, grew rapidly over the last several years, totaling $496.21 billion in 2015. And the number is expected to reach $817.54 billion by 2020.
All these trends and estimated growth is already being seen throughout the hospitality sector, with hotels increasingly realizing the potential big data and AI has, and how they can enhance all areas of the hotel experience with the same.
AI Helps Crunch Numbers
Data is primarily responsible for shifting the idea of how hotels work. Segmenting guests and tracking their habits, preferences, and potential revenue opportunities are being utilized by managers with the aid of this data.
AI can automate the process of data analysis, and continuously augment the sales and operations processes, so that they improve acquisition, streamline hotel working, manage the consumption of resources, and boost revenue. In effect, you proactively get into the mind of the guest instead of simply guessing, and the process is already in place before you realize it!
Recommendation engines already utilize AI online, which is the most mainstream application of all the mined data. Be it Netflix, or Facebook, all of them throw up intensely personalized feeds based on your activity and preferences.
Online travel providers are the same, and provide customized suggestions based on your past, recent and search-based preferences. So, if you stayed in Dubai on your last holiday, the engine assesses your preferred budget, location, room-type, feedback and other variables to give you this recommendation. Flight fares and hotel pricing can also be made variable and forecast-based for the customer according to extraneous conditions.
Another excellent use case is the travel assistant. Smart concierge services are becoming common on hotel and travel websites, where they enhance the travel booking experience without the need of a human to hand-hold the consumer. These are called chat bots, which you’ve no doubt heard of, or experienced, first-hand.
Instant messaging has become a really infectious mode of communication, which makes this medium all the more lucrative. Chat bots can provide 24/7 mobile support to consumers, which can be taxing for human and financial resources. They can handle research, booking, nearby attractions, utility recommendations, time-based queries and more, depending on their complexity. We don’t need to tell you how invaluable this can be for both the consumer and the provider.
Tied in with the above point is the concept of customer service using automation and AI. More than half the consumers value speed and response timing, citing it to be the most important component in the support process.
Effectively, what takes some trained professional 15-20 minutes can take an AI virtual assistant as little as a minute. Automated search and recovery can do away with unnecessary paperwork and annoying bureaucratic channels that customers might have to go through.
Guest In-room Services and Engagement
Several aspects of customer engagement and in-room services can be outsourced to AI in its most advanced form: Robotics. While this seems fantastical, most of you would do well to remember that an AI robot named Sophia received citizenship from Saudi Arabia in October, and even gave witty responses to questions in an interview that lasted almost an hour.
If Sophia can exist, here’s a quick look at where robots can assist in serving hotel guests:
Reception & Check In
The robot, in all probability, will be able to interface with your cell phone and verify your identity using facial recognition. Rooms will also be assigned according to your preferences. Cell phones are already being used as keys, and all they would need is the right machine-based authorization. Since AI can harness an immense memory bank, it will even remember the way in which your room looked, and keep it ready just the way you like it when you check in.
Room Ambience, Service, & Maintenance
The Wynn Las Vegas and Aloft have already installed virtual assistants in their rooms, which are responsive to guest requests. Stay conditions (for instance, ambient temperature and lighting), requests (laundry/ airport pick up) and other services can all be availed already.
Hilton McLean also tested a robot called ‘Connie’, which is powered by IBM’s Watson AI entity. Connie can understand a great degree of natural language-speak, and can answer all queries related to the hotel, in addition to pointing out tourist attractions and so on. Connie also ‘learns’ like a human, based on experience, so she continuously expands her database with each interaction – which makes programming redundant.
AI can also be used to monitor the status of amenities and equipment inventory. With the right sensors (IoT technology harnesses this), the AI can be invaluable in solving problems to do with these aspects.
AI in the Kitchen
The robotics company Moley unveiled a prototype that could cook over 2000 meals. Its arms have 129 sensors and a 3D camera. Combine this with an app interface, and it can execute gourmet style meals in a pinch. There are also cocktail bots, the ‘foxbot’ that is being used in a Chinese restaurant called ‘Dazzling Noodles’ and a bot that produces 400 tasty burgers in one single hour. I don’t need to tell you what all these inventions imply for all the processes that occur in the kitchen.
Room Service and Delivery
Delivery bots have also been operational, or in their testing phase for a while now. Robotic butlers made by Savioke deliver amenities to guests in Starwood’s Aloft hotel, Cupertino. Called ‘Botlrs’, these can navigate around guests, obstacles and hallways alike to deliver towels and whatnot after being loaded by a human agent.
While reception to the use of AI in the hospitality industry has been mixed, it is mostly favorable. Guest may not be too open to the idea of using robots in place of human interactions inside the hotel itself, but when it comes to processes and optimization, AI is the go-to technology, especially in the realm of intelligent automation.
We can only wait for further developments in this field, as hoteliers develop yet other use cases for AI and further disrupt the hospitality industry that was lying stagnant for a long, long time.
Ram Gupta, the author is a hotel management graduate from India and Germany; He is a certified Hotel Administrator from U.S. and MIH from U.K. He has over 40 years of sound experience in the Hospitality, real estate industry in India, Dubai, U.K, Europe and Japan and is well versed with all areas of business including acquisitions, mergers, joint ventures, diversification, strategic planning, development and operations. He has been associated with over two dozen luxury and boutique hotel projects and has launched two hotel chains in India. He is currently an independent hotel consultant and could be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.bcgglobal.com