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As somebody who’s helped to grow a company from 13 people to nearly a thousand, I know very well the excitement that comes with having a mindset focused entirely on growth. Every newly acquired customer, every new office and every milestone means the gap between you and your nearest competitor is that much bigger and that much harder to overtake.

As the travel industry begins to rally, technology companies are taking steps to help their customers get back to business. Strategies run the gamut from complimentary webinars and virtual learning events to special promotions and discounts, all designed to enable hotels and other hospitality venues to reopen confidently and economically amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Room Service and the New Normal - Food always has been, and always will be, a major part of the travel experience. But in a post-pandemic world, change is inevitable. Crowded restaurants and menus which have been handled many times may well (even temporarily) be avoided by wary travelers.

Over the past few years, there has been much media hype around the concept of a voice-controlled hotel room. It’s not hard to see why: voice assistant devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home achieved remarkable penetration in the consumer market in just a few years. Statista reports that about 157 million smart speakers were installed in U.S. households as of December 2019, an astonishing 1.22 devices per household. I haven’t found hard numbers on penetration in hotels, but based on the companies in the market and what I know of their size and success, it’s still very low, probably still under 1% of US hotel rooms. Is that about to change? Should it?

As we examine and develop new strategies for the changes that we can expect to see in the hospitality industry post-crisis, we are also starting to envision the world beyond the pandemic and to the new normal of radically shifted travel consumer expectations and preferences. The probability of guest technology expectations worldwide significantly changing becomes high as guests prefer a more touchless and fully mobile-enabled hospitality experience post-COVID-19. The future of hospitality has always been mobile–but COVID-19 will accelerate this trend from a nice-to-have to a must-have for hoteliers.



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How Hotel Chatbots Will Change Guest Experience

by Brendon Granger

The world loves to chat. Today, more than 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed, with predictions that the number will hit 3.6 billion within a couple of years. As travel becomes increasingly mobile-centric, travel brands are realizing that messaging platforms represent the future of customer communication. And many are starting to see the huge potential of chatbots.

Utilizing AI (artificial intelligence), chatbots deliver a text-based service that seeks to replicate having a natural conversation with a human. Chatbots are nothing new – emerging back in the 1960s – but the technology has advanced quickly in recent years. Today, they’re being used to do everything from booking a taxi to paying bills, and increasingly, they’re becoming more prevalent in the travel industry.

The Explosion in Travel Chatbots
Recently, a flurry of metasearch sites including Skyscanner, KAYAK, and Hipmunk, have created their own chatbots, integrating them with Facebook Messenger and Slack. Hipmunk’s chatbot is particularly advanced, providing suggestions to questions like, “When’s the best time to fly between New York and Paris?”

Dedicated travel bots are starting to pop up more frequently, such as personal travel assistant, Taylor. While relatively limited, this AI bot is designed to provide digital nomads with suggestions on where to sleep or work in a city. A “Nearby” and “City Lookup” feature also offers information on the suitability of other cities, including things like living costs and internet access.

And now, chatbots are slowly beginning to find their way into the hotel industry.

Chatbots Being Used by Hotels
Earlier this year, Booking.com announced the rollout of an SMS-style chat tool that lets guests communicate directly with the hotel they’ve booked with – all via their Booking.com account. Hotels are able to initiate the conversation too, and the tool also has a series of translation templates to enable hotel employees to send standardized messages to overseas guests in their native language.

Hotels themselves have started building their own chatbots. Just recently, Edwardian Hotels in the United Kingdom launched an AI chatbot Edward at 12 of its hotels. As well as offering tips on local tourist sights, restaurants and bars, Edward can deal with requests for amenities and services such as fresh towels and room service.

The hotel’s chatbot can even handle complaints, and it also features live assistance so that issues can be escalated to a staff member. Edward is designed to respond within seconds, cutting out the delay that might occur through traditional methods.

While impressive, chatbots like Edward still have a long way to go. New developers are entering the marketplace all the time, pushing the technology into evermore exciting places.

Exciting Evolution
In terms of where chatbots might go, advancements within artificial intelligence promise big potential. Powered by machine learning, chatbots can learn through each and every interaction. As this learning constantly grows over time, and AI technology progresses, they’ll become increasingly adept at making relevant recommendations.

As they improve their grasp of conversational context, chatbots will also be better at understanding intent and meaning, grasping the subtlety of language while being able to predict where the conversation is going.

Voice-based technology used by the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri® could also soon be integrated with chatbots to create a more seamless interface. Instead of tapping away at a screen, a hotel guest could make a request simply with their voice.

The Future of Guest Communication?
By offering a more natural form of communication and near-instant responses, chatbots can help hotels elevate the guest experience. From an operational point of view, they could also free up hotel staff by dealing with requests that hectic front desks would otherwise need to manage themselves.

Yet for all their promise, it’s highly unlikely that chatbots will replace the need for human conversation. Even if the technology sufficiently develops to offer flawless service, guests will always want a person to deal with in certain situations – especially complaints. While a machine might appear to show empathy and understanding, nothing can replace the genuine emotions expressed through personal interaction.

That said, there’s no doubt that chatbots can become a huge asset to hotels when used in the right way, especially given the exciting ways they continue to advance.

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About The Author
Brendon Granger
Director
Technology4Hotels


With a great passion for all things hotels, but in particular technology and a desire to help others, his role as director at Technology4Hotels allows him to do both.

Brendon has worked with hundreds of hotels to help them with their in-room technology. In the last few years he has helped them to increase guest satisfaction, strengthen guest loyalty and encourage repeat bookings as well as win awards such as the best business hotel, best city hotel, best upscale hotel and best luxury hotel in Australasia.

Always going the extra mile, Brendon began his hospitality career over 25 years ago working in five-star hotels whilst completing his bachelor of business in hotel management. He has held various management positions within five-star hotels, worked as a consultant in both hotel feasibility and technology and has an extensive background in hotel technology.

 
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