Artificial intelligence and the human factor in hospitality
Robotics and artificial intelligence in the hotel industry: an offbeat idea to attract curious customers or a real innovation? Technology definitely has the ability to speed up processes and supply valuable information about guests, which is extremely useful to personalise the service and improve the experience around their stay. Here are some of the areas in which these technologies are already being used to manage hotel stays.
Robots in the hotel. Robots guided by artificial intelligence are already a reality. One example is Connie at the Hilton, a robotic concierge that uses AI developed by IBM. It can recognise human speech and can therefore answer people’s questions, giving out tourist information for example. It also learns from the speech it hears and adapts to the person talking to it, so the more guests talk, the better the reaction.
The Henn-na Hotel in the Japanese city of Nagasaki is the world’s first completely robot-staffed hotel. The automatons give out information (there are various ones on reception set to different “modalities”, from a lifelike but rather expressionless female to a Godzilla-like crocodile), can file things away and can check you in and out, using voice and face recognition technologies.
Prompt replies with chatbots, always. Chatbots are often used by hotels on social media, because they allow customers to ask questions and get answers almost instantly, 24/7. A valuable service for hotels that could also be useful for restaurants, which are often contacted from various parts of the world in completely different time zones, so they can supply information in a way that would be almost impossible through human interaction.
Using the hotel as a showroom. More and more people are using their smartphones to shop, anytime, any place, including when they are travelling. So why not turn the hotel – the rooms and the communal spaces – into one big showroom, where products needed while on holiday or to take home can be tried out? This is something being done by Jd.com, the Chinese e-commerce giant, which has set up a partnership with a number of leading hotel chains, such as Sheraton and Wanda.
These kinds of technology have their advantages and their disadvantages. Robots don’t of course get tired, they don’t get bored and they can work around the clock, seven days a week. You don’t have to pay them and they can carry out many tasks more quickly than humans (especially repetitive, non-challenging ones) without making mistakes. They can also work in dangerous or hostile environments. At the same time, though, automation can alienate certain types of guest, who are put off by the cold nature of machines and instead want the kind of attention and warmth only human beings can give. On top of that, the initial outlay and maintenance costs associated with these cutting-edge technologies can be high. Finally, the artificial intelligence that exists today is not able to act outside its programmed parameters, so is incapable of dealing with any unexpected situations that may arise.