Why hotels have nothing to fear from robots or AI

Androids may one day dream of electric sheep, but hotels shouldn’t lose sleep over it—so long as they have their data ducks all in a row.

SiteMinder and IDeaS Revenue Solutions suggest that a future of properties with robots handling guest services and AI managing operations might be just right for delivering optimal product and service personalization.

After conversations with sector thought leaders at World Travel Market in London this past November and a subsequent webinar in December, the two firms found that that hoteliers generally agree that robots could not fully replace genuine human hospitality. They conceded that these technologies might be able to better process data gathered about guests—faster than humans—and learn from cumulative data to deliver more consistent service.

AI could help tailor pricing during the booking process, and support service at the property through voice and face recognition.

Monica Or, consultant at Star Quality Hospitality Consultancy, who facilitated both dialogue sessions says:

“Hoteliers desperately need to get on board with the technological advances that we all, as consumers, are seeing and experiencing on the day-to-day. Guests today are more tech savvy, so what they have in their homes they now expect in the hotels where they stay.”

Ruairi Conroy, managing director – EMEA at SiteMinder says:

“Hotels have a wealth of guest intelligence at their disposal. They have the opportunity to understand and analyze every point of the guest experience—and to make more innovative, more informed decisions—but they need information to flow seamlessly through their systems in order to make it work.”

Fabian Specht, EMEA managing director at IDeaS adds:

“There is a clearly identifiable trend within the hospitality sector of leveraging technology to maximize both performance and the guest experience. While inevitably there will be IT challenges that will need to be addressed, Artificial Intelligence will play an ever-increasing role in delivering bespoke services to guests—just as it does in other consumer-facing industries.”

Though participants agreed that the future will likely include AI, robots and humans working in harmony, many hoteliers still lack the adequate systems and data integration that would allow them to deploy robot and AI services the firms suggest.

Ay, robot

Not all robots will be built alike. Current technology trends suggest that they might be less humanoid animatronic creatures and more high-functioning appliances.

As tnooz editorial director, Nick Vivion, witnessed first-hand at CES, the shape of robots may continue to be function-oriented.

“There seem to be two categories of bots at the moment: companion bots and task bots. The companion bot category is actually quite entertaining, and has developed rapidly over the past year. These are robots that might greet guests with a tune while they check in, or snap a photo of an event happening around property. These bots exist to entertain and act as an additional personality.

“The task-based bots are the ones used to make deliveries in hotels, to check on wifi signals, and to fetch items for staff. These bots have a set purpose, usually limited to a few functions. There’s yet to be the major Swiss Army knife of bots, that might actually replace an employee. These task bots perform a few functions, usually quite rote, that then frees up staff for more value-creating activities. Think greeting a guest rather than waiting on the elevator to drop off a toothbrush.”

After interacting with a Relay robot appliance during a recent hotel stay, the most impressive feature was the robot’s ability to find its own way back to the charging station. But it’s easy to see this technology evolving to more complex functions which might genuinely support customer service, and emergency services—even make the property more accessible for guests with disabilities or limited mobility as recently demonstrated by Boston Dynamics.

But if we really wanted to blow your mind, we’d point out that AI and robots are like peanut butter and chocolate. We should not expect that robots will work as stand alone units each with its own independent limited consciousness. Instead, they are just as likely to be part of an intelligent network that is continuously learning and sharing so that no two robots make the same mistake and so that they can—along with non-corporeal intelligent digital systems—anticipate guest needs and deploy services without a “robocall” being required.

Have you left your toothbrush at home in a mad rush out for the past four trips? Maybe a handy hotel maid will know that you’re prone to need one and have put a dental kit in your room as you walked through the door. If all of these systems were granted (permission-based) access to personal sensors on smartwatches and clothing, perhaps they can know you’re feeling poorly and bring you a fizzy tablet before you have to ask.

This may seem a bit intrusive—perhaps even frightening—but some futurists predict that robot butlers will be a common home appliance soon enough.

Just like Alexa and Google Home today, the rise of robots will ultimately set guest expectations. The key thing for travel brands will be to ensure that IT infrastructure can support this next small step in tech.

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Marisa Garcia

About the Writer :: Marisa Garcia

Marisa Garcia is the tnooz aviation analyst. She has covered travel technology, design, branding, and strategy for leading publications, including Aircraft Interiors International Magazine, APEX Magazine, AirlineTrends, and Travel+Leisure. She also shares industry insights on her site Flight Chic. Fly with her on Twitter.



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