Chatbots are already working hard in the hospitality industry, from taking fast food orders to helping travelers plan their trips. While conversational AI is very much in its infancy in the hotel sector, it certainly has plenty of potential, says Nigel Symonds, Hospitality Consultant at Avenue9. So how could chatbots change the hotel industry?
1. A new reservation channel
In August 2016, Icelandair launched a booking bot, leveraging Facebook’s chatbot development toolkit. Modelled on a text conversation with a real travel agent, the bot not only offers and takes reservations for flights, it also suggests a layover in Reykjavik.
Elsewhere in the travel industry, Expedia, again using Facebook’s technology, launched a basic bot to help travelers book hotels. According to Symonds, in order to stave off fierce competition from online travel agencies (OTAs) and encourage direct booking, hotels should be looking to follow suit. “From our perspective, hotels definitely want to start integrating this technology,” he says.
2. Enriching the pre-arrival experience
“Booking additional services is where the power is,” says Symonds. At the moment, hotels usually send out an automated email several days in advance of a guest’s arrival, suggesting amenities like spa treatments, airport transfers, and dinner reservations. “It would be great to have chatbots doing this,” he adds. “The benefit of a bot is that it can interact with the guest, asking questions such as whether it’s a special occasion, for instance, and responding with relevant offerings.”
3. On-resort interaction
London’s Edwardian Hotels were among the first to launch what they call a virtual assistant. Designed for those who prefer to engage with the brand digitally, the interface allows guests to order room service or get local recommendations from Edward the bot.
“It’s all about enhancing the guest experience,” says Symonds. “When integrated into the property management system (PMS), chatbots could be used to alert guests of real-time spa and restaurant availability, and offer last-minute rates.” Challenges include ensuring the offers are relevant to the recipient— including that your guest wants to get involved with the technology in the first place. “Certain generations will feel excluded if hotels abandon the more traditional routes of engagement,” Symonds adds.
4. Supplementing and supporting staff
With conversational AI able to answer straightforward questions, front-of-house staff are freed up to provide the kind of service only humans can. At the same time, “we’re seeing a shift in the desired skill set of hotel marketing and customer service personnel towards digital specialization” says Symonds. Chatbots aid guest interaction, but when a human needs to step in, that person needs to be both tech-savvy and able to embody the voice of the brand in a spontaneous and textually interactive way.
5. Leveraging data
A PMS-integrated bot that interacts with guests at all stages of the customer journey can gather valuable data, which can then be used by algorithms and hotel staff alike to provide personalized services. Unlike localized human interactions, entire chatbot conversations and outcomes can be stored and recalled for relevant future exchanges.
However, there’s a fine line between the impressive and the downright creepy. “If suggestions are too intuitive, you can risk alienating your guest,” says Symonds. As public perceptions catch up to the capabilities of technology, the solution, concludes Symonds, is a thorough and transparent permissions process.