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BW Businessworld

AI In Hospitality: Say Aye!

AI has propelled its inclusion across various sectors especially when social distancing measures are a necessity in the hospitality industry, which cannot compromise on service and experience deliveries to its customers while ensuring safety for all.

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In your next visit to a hotel or your favourite restaurant, a face-recognition machine checks you in, a robot delivers your luggage to your room and a QR code lets you select your dinner and place the order too. Sounds like a scene from some Hollywood sci-fi movie? Not really. Such tectonic shifts, like large scale adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in the post-Covid-19 world, would help businesses stay afloat. AI shall have far-reaching implications on customers, the workforce and corporations.

AI has propelled its inclusion across various sectors and gained significant importance during the lockdown. This has become essential, especially in the contact-intensive hospitality industry, which is service-driven, experience-based, and caters to its customer’s minutest needs. Adhering to the present circumstances, AI can bridge the gap of personalisation, driven by high quality and integrated with luxury to suit the customer’s palate.  

The hospitality industry identifies itself with personalised services which entail much higher human-to-human contact and, therefore, needs the most innovative ways of using technology to deliver similar pre-Covid customer experiences. Needless to mention, that the recent spate of incidents worldwide have resulted in immediate on-boarding of AI to fill in for the mandated service requirements, and then augment demand to ensure sustainability, profitability and survivability while controlling costs and remain viable.

The Big AI Impact – Already Here
A significant application of AI in the hospitality sector is already integrated into systems; for example, searching a tourist destination or looking for a hotel stay. This is coupled with an array of services like online customer support, payments, and real-time feedback. It is worth noting that conversational AI (a technology that can be spoken to, such as chatbots or voice assistants) lets one engage potential leads, qualify them, and convert them into sales as well while recording necessary information for service level improvements. 

The disruptive changes caused by the Sars-Cov-19 pandemic has also opened up the industry to quickly adapt to AI – the usage of which is slated to grow by enormous margins during the next decade and a half. The Accenture report on ‘AI-Driven Economic Growth in India’ released in April, this year, states that the technology has the potential to add USD 957 billion to India’s economy by 2035. It has also been viewed that the start-up industry in India will widely onboard AI into their constitution and spread their businesses to a wider range of customers.

Microsoft’s USD 5 million investment in Ritesh Agarwal’s entrepreneurial budget hotel start-up Oyo is an example of how the hospitality industry is realigning its goals as part of its operations.

The Indian government has already laid a roadmap to this regard and in its 2018-19 budget, emphasised the need for AI. The NITI Aayog has also released a strategy – ‘AI for All’ which lays the potential for economic and social growth. Even the IRCTC portal has enabled a chatbox - ‘Ask Disha’ to address customer queries to boost its response rate for the travel and hospitality sector.

Out Of Box Thinking
Due to the pandemic, the hotel and allied tourism industries had to dig deep into their coffers that led to the retrenchment of employees to save operational costs. The hospitality industry had to find viable and effective options to ensure the engines kept running. Integrating AI into the operations of the industry by analysing big data and deep learning became an important aspect to reach out to customers.

The hospitality industry is trying to keep pace with consumer demands and promoting contactless service by getting robots to address queries and providing services of a concierge, clearing or laundry. Virtual assistants, BOTS, and extensive use of algorithms heavily aided by the Internet of Things (IoT) have brought in greater efficiency and enabled new models to reach out to potential customers. 

The hotel and travel industry across the world have already started using AI effectively in their day-to-day operations. For example, ‘The Henn-na Hotel’ in Nagasaki is the world’s first hotel fully staffed by multi-lingual robots primarily used for check-in and checkout processing. Another innovative AI solution is ‘Connie’ the robot concierge deployed by Hilton hotel in the USA. It not only uses natural language processing to understand the sentences but can also move its arms and legs to show directions to guests and express different human emotions by lighting up with different colours.

Today, innovative practices, products and services are aiding the company’s growth by offering its customers something unique. Artificial intelligence is supporting marketers to understand the effectiveness of their plans and strategies, and how to course-correct with a minimal time lag. Understanding customer behaviour has always been on the radar of businesses to gauge the preferences of the end-users and tailor-make services for customer retention. 

Making Data Work Harder
Gaining access to demographics and psychometrics of user behaviour while browsing the internet has helped companies to target their consumers more accurately. It also helps the industry in analysing data in real-time and switching to variable pricing to garner traction of their audiences especially from booking websites powered by AI and other software. This is akin to how the airline industry resorts to pricing strategies by addressing demand that is tapped through the use of AI. 

What is also increasingly getting challenging these days, is the amount of data collated from various sources to gauge consumer behaviour. Analysing such huge data after removing the noise, becomes tedious for humans and may also potentially contain more errors. Thanks to software like ‘R’ and ‘Python’ which can work with such voluminous data to give you desired outputs. Topping up with AI, such outputs can be analysed on a real-time basis to enhance business. For example, London headquartered Dorchester Collection hotel, uses AI to sort through multiple customer feedback from surveys, reviews and online polls, to build a clearer picture of customer opinion, in real-time which helps them improve on their offerings.

Not only this, but AI has also resulted in reduced pilferage attributed to human error and helped bring down the losses. Machines are also being trained to identify emotions and respond appropriately to give a personalised touch. They are also programmed to gauge the tone of the customer and if required, redirect the call on request to an executive for a personal interaction to address queries.

Investment, Not Cost 
Getting AI may not be a cheap affair however, businesses with a limited CapEx base should view this as an investment that shall not only improve efficiency but also reduce OpEx in the long run. Moreover, in a world, which is progressively moving towards a cleaner and environmentally friendly way of doing business, using AI shall only help in reducing carbon footprints. It is also expected that the workforce replaced with the implementation of AI shall be retrained for enhanced skill-sets and can be efficiently deployed in higher value-added activities. We at Tourism Finance Corporation of India (TFCI) can play a significant role by associating and providing our services to boost the sector, which is slated to witness a resurgence over the coming months. 

As dynamic and disruptive changes in technology are widely adopted, AI has complemented and filled in for human presence thereby showcasing its potential and versatility. It is slated to change the entire gamut of operations for the hospitality industry and will support the sector in unforeseen events like Covid. This will ensure uninterrupted services and maintain continuity with a people-first approach to deliver the best services integrated with innovation, customisation and blended with AI. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Tags assigned to this article:
artificial intelligence hospitality internet of things

Rajeev Tomar

The author is CTO at TFCI Ltd.

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