Nagesh Singh Chauhan
How Artificial Intelligence is Redefining Hotel Industry
The article contains an insight into the possible applications and trends of AI based methods in hospitality industry.
As computer technology has advanced, AI has become more reliable, enhancing its standing within the business world. Indeed, hospitality companies are increasingly using AI to carry out customer service tasks, which are especially important within hotels and resorts. In this article, you get a closer look at which way AI is revolutionizing the hospitality industry.
What does a smart hotel mean to a guest?
When arriving at a smart hotel, be ready to be greeted by a friendly robot at the front desk, not get a set of keys, and not fill out any paperwork. Also, don’t be surprised to hear your favorite Spotify playlist softly greeting you from invisible speakers as you step into your room where the temperature and lights are set to your liking.
Oh, and no more calls to the reception desk. Just ask your virtual assistant for another towel or the best vegan restaurant in the area — you’ll get your issue solved immediately.
A front desk Pepper robot. Image Credits
Okay, so where should we start? First, you have to book a room and check in. Instead of browsing through websites and waiting in line at the front desk, simply open the hotel app, take a virtual tour around the property, make a reservation, and check in remotely while you’re still on your way. The Hilton Honors app even allows guests to choose the room. Then, the same app will serve as a digital key to open the room door.
Digital concierge. Credits
Robots are being implemented more and more to work together with human personnel and relieve their workload by handling the most common tasks. They can work extra hours and don’t ask for tips — sweet, eh?
One of the pioneers in hospitality robotics was Hilton’s robot concierge Connie. It was developed by IBM and named after the owner, Conrad Hilton. Credits
Besides high-profile Hilton’s Connie, there are other prominent robotic workers. The Yotel hotel brand implemented the first robotic luggage handlers called Yobots in New York back in 2011. A few years later, they introduced the award-winning twin delivery robots, Yoshi and Yolanda, in Singapore, followed by a robotic butler YO2D2 in Boston.
Meet Yoshi and Yolanda. Credits
Recommendation engines are not a new tool for the hospitality industry. In fact, online companies such as Expedia and TripAdvisor have been utilising them for over a decade. The sophisticated mechanisms that sites like that use allow them to figure out what a customer’s likely budget and needs are and then suggest items that are rated as a good fit for that customer. For example, it is not just enough for a service to offer rental cars because you have booked a flight. A more tailored experience would offer specific brands or types of vehicle based on the customer’s individual profile. These suggestions are obtained by the system through analysis of other customer’s preferences who share a similar customer profile. This is a recommendation engine and is a very valuable tool to have in an industry that prides itself on anticipation of customer needs.
The benefits of recommendation engines are not limited to websites at the time of booking. In a hotel setting it is possible for staff to view an individualised preference sheet for each customer that has been compiled using a mix of data collected direct from the customer’s past visits but also from recommendations mined from similar customers using Machine Learning. In this way, a hotel is able to better anticipate a guest’s needs and create a better customer experience.
You can look how Oyo, one of the world’s largest hotel chains by the number of rooms is using recommendation system to rank its hotels based on user preference:
Evolving OYO’s Ranking Systems using Wide and Deep Networks
Artificially Intelligent Virtual Assistant
Apps are not the only way to manage your stay. Smart hotels are being equipped with voice recognition technologies such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Volara, or Alibaba’s Tmall Genie.
How Alexa works in hotels. Credits
Since their introduction by Aloft Hotels in 2016, multiple brands including Marriott, Hyatt, and Viceroy have adopted voice-based technologies.
Here’s what Rob Eisenberg, a General Manager of Synergy Hotel in New York, said about Volara: “Google’s hotel solution benefitting from Volara’s voice-based engagement technology offers our guests the power of the world’s fastest search engine along with specific guest service amenities via the convenience of intuitive voice interface.”
An example of ordering meal illustrates the use of Alexa. Credits
Whenever you want to ask for information, request services, or change the in-room setting, just speak out. The voice-activated assistant is connected to sensors and other devices as well as the internet, so it can quickly respond to your request or find the necessary information. So, why don’t you order a snack in your room? Hey, someone’s already knocking, well that was fast! As you open the door, you see…
If you plan to attend an event held in the hotel, facial recognition technology will make registration fast and simple. By scanning your face and matching it with provided credentials, it verifies your right to enter. The same technology is used to support check-in, detect VIP guests and provide them with special service, or identify troublesome or trespassing visitors.
In 2019, Alibaba opened the FlyZoo Hotel in Hangzhou, China, stuffed with tech novelties, including facial recognition. It basically replaced guest IDs and room keys, identifying visitors and allowing them access to their rooms and property amenities.
Later that year, other hotels in China, Vietnam, and Singapore started piloting the same E-Visitor Authentication (EVA) system to speed up check-in. It also enhances security by verifying legal presence in the country.
The elevator camera recognizes guests and takes them to their floor. Credits: Alizila
The key problem of a tourist when it goes abroad is related to the language barrier. Language translators are among the most critical technological software that helps a tourist to communicate with the local people and participate in tourism activities in the relevant destination by using the local language.
Kotozna Inc., a Japan-based software startup, debuted its latest digital concierge platform at CES 2022 that deciphers 109 different languages for hotels and travel markets.
Called the Kotozna In-room, the system allows guests and hotel staff to communicate in real-time in their native tongues but have the messages translated to whatever language the person speaks. The technology is intended for tourism organizations such as operators of regional visitor information centers, hotels, inns or other travel hot spots.
Tourism Demand Forecasting
Deep learning methods are widely used in forecasting tourism demand. Moreover, support vector machine, a composite search index, the fuzzy time series, Gaussian processes are used in forecasting tourism demand. Such methods allow one to estimate the demand for the region, destination, or businesses periodically, and businesses update their prices through dynamic pricing according to these estimations.
Architecture for the Web-based Tourism Demand Forecasting system. Credits
In this regard, destinations may intensify advertisement and promotion activities during periods when demand is expected to be low to increase the demand.
What the future holds for AI in hospitality industry?
It is a known fact that AI technologies will be the ones that people will frequently use in their daily and professional lives in the next few decades. In this context, it is predicted that the use of AI will become more widespread in the tourism and hospitality industry. Current practices point out that these technologies are used in the front office and food and beverage departments, which frequently interact with the guests. However, their usage is limited in the housekeeping department.
In the following years, it is foreseen that these technologies will be used in laundry and housekeeping services, such as room cleaning, folding sheets and towels, and moving and collecting dirty sheets to a particular area. With the transformation of the rooms into smart ones, it is likely that the guests will control the lights, curtains, air conditioning, TV, room temperature, and smart room systems through virtual assistants that are installed in the rooms and sensitive to the voices of the guests. The future also expects technologies such as detecting the guest's mood in the morning with AI visual and audio systems and creating scenes on the walls by its mood to make the guest feel of being awakened. Ordering via mobile applications powered by AI is another technology that is likely to become widespread in hotels. Keeping a record of the guest's past experiences on this technology will enable the guest to view the past orders once launching the application and place orders quickly by saving time, which can be considered a situation that increases guest satisfaction and quality of experience.
Furthermore, the use of AI, which emerge in the form of robot receptionists, robot bellboy, robot concierge, and self-service check-in and check-out kiosks in the front office department, will become more widespread in the coming years.
Although the adoption of AI applications and robotic technologies is not often welcomed by the tourism and hospitality industry, these technologies have gradually become a part of our lives with the effect of the developments in the technology age. At this point, the question is, “Will robots be able to offer the services at least as well as humans with the help of artificial intelligence?” This question should be responded to in light of the future developments with the AI applications and robotic technologies being used today, discussed comprehensively within the scope of this study. As a matter of fact, it is known that the aforementioned AI applications and robotic technologies are predominantly projected, developed, and implemented as a result of several scientific studies. Although the tourism and hospitality industry stakeholders still have difficulties in obtaining qualified human resources, they have difficulty accepting these technological developments.
On the one hand, a large number of people focus on developing themselves both theoretically and practically for such a human-oriented sector; on the other hand, it is an indisputable fact that unmanned technologies are being developed at full speed to replace these people. Another question that needs to be addressed is, “Is the main purpose to provide a completely unmanned service or to increase the service quality by helping qualified staff?” Although it is quite challenging to answer this question, any service provided without a human touch always fail to satisfy consumers' demands and needs due to the nature of the tourism and hospitality industry. Concepts, such as feeling, emotion, smile, and sincerity, are indispensable for hosting, and AI technologies and service robots cannot be expected to evoke such concepts, like a human. In other words, although there have been technological developments in the tourism and hospitality industry, it is not possible to talk about “service” and “hospitality” without people. Literally, it is most likely for AI applications and robots to be recognized as important elements that help tourism staff, not replace them, and even serve in new professional positions.