When it comes to utilising artificial intelligence (AI), the hotel industry used to lag behind the times. However, that is no longer the case, particularly with respect to the guest experience. Donald Gasper cites extracts from a new research study.
Meeting guest expectations is moving into artificial intelligence (AI) territory. AI-enabled devices assume a myriad of different forms, says a report by Oracle Hospitality and Starfleet Research, How Artificial Intelligence Enhances the Hotel Guest Experience: Robotic butlers, concierges and luggage handlers have generated significant media buzz, it says, but more for the “surprise and delight” novelty aspect than for the actual benefits they deliver. Over time, these robotic additions to hospitality guest services teams, whether resembling Star Wars droids or lifelike humanoids, may come to play a valuable role in enhancing the guest experience. For now, the bigger opportunity (and primary focus area for most hotels) is mobile and voice-activated assistants that offer guests an easy and intuitive way to interact with hotels.
The report says a large percentage of people today actually prefer to interact with a machine, given the choice. In fact, according to recent surveys, 40 percent of American internet users today say that they would rather use digital customer services than speak to a human CSR on the phone. In a hotel setting, that preference may be even higher. Nearly all segments of hotel guests are now reasonably comfortable with using guest-facing technologies. Even guests who normally like to interact with hotel staff are often happy to augment those interactions with technology options.
Powering Guest Personalisation
Guest personalisation is the North Star toward which every hotel group today is navigating. Most hotels have no choice but to move rapidly in the direction of guest personalisation, given the need to not only meet rising guest expectations, but also to maintain competitive parity. Some degree of guest personalisation is quickly becoming table stakes, the minimum ante that hotels have to put on the table just to stay in the game. In past years, many hotel groups have invested heavily in creating more unique and differentiated physical places, including upgraded guest rooms with the latest comforts and amenities, some of which are technology-enabled. Now the focus has shifted to providing guests with exceptional and memorable stay experiences enabled through the power of personalisation.
Fuelling the Guest Journey
Friction is desirable in many circumstances. Land vehicles, for example, need friction in order to accelerate and decelerate. When it comes to guest satisfaction, however, friction is rarely desirable and hotels strive to put the brakes on any friction that may impede or otherwise negatively effect the guest experience. Guests may experience friction in their interactions and transactions with a hotel across all parts of the property, all touchpoints and all phases of the guest journey. The guest journey is the record of every interaction and transaction, both digital and in-person, that a guest has with the hotel throughout the entire course of their stay.
Hoteliers have become increasingly focused on tracking and analysing the guest journey, from the moment guests first step foot in the hotel lobby to the time they check out of the property. Arguably, the guest journey begins much earlier, at the point when guests first set out to research and explore their stay options and on through the booking process. An argument can be made that the guest journey continues even after they check out of the hotel. By meticulously mapping the guest journey at an individual or narrowly-defined customer segment level, it becomes possible to identify patterns that speak to shortcomings with the current state of the guest experience and pinpoint specific opportunities for improvement. Of course, conducting this exercise is no easy feat.
Working Hand in Hand with Hotel Staff
Artificial intelligence has been disrupting and transforming various industry sectors for years. While the hospitality industry as a whole may not have been at the forefront of AI-enabled technology adoption, hotel operators are now paying close attention to the potential benefits as well as the potential threats that artificial intelligence may present to them. In many cases, they are investing significant resources in AI-related technologies, particularly ones that allow them to take advantage of the evolution in guest experience management. At the same time, they are seeking to understand the potential impact of artificial intelligence on front desk personnel, customer service reps, concierge and other guest-facing hotel staff positions and support resources. For most hoteliers, regardless of the size or type of property they operate, it seems clear that, sooner or later, they will need to embrace the fusion of AI-enabled speaker systems and personal assistants, IoT advanced in-room controls, consolidated service devices and even robots that might appear to be straight out of Star Wars to transform their properties and redefine their guest service standards.
While it may be early in the game, AI is already changing the guest experience across the travel life cycle, including the on-property experience. As the research makes clear, this transformation will only accelerate over the next few years, ushering in the future of the hotel guest experience.