Marielys Pagan

How AI is Transforming the Guest Experience In-Person and Online

Although artificial intelligence and machine learning are technically nothing new—recent innovations in this technology (like the introduction of GPT-3 and similar machine learning models) have made AI the buzzword of 2023. As more businesses realize the benefits of this kind of technology, adoption rates are soaring across the globe.

The hospitality industry is no exception. In fact, according to research by Global Market Estimates, the demand for AI in the hospitality market alone will grow with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% between 2021 and 2026. Meanwhile, another study by InsightAce Analytics found that the global market for AI-enabled eCommerce solutions is valued at nearly $4 billion, with a CAGR of a whopping 15.7% between 2021 and 2030.

All of this is to say that businesses are adopting AI-enabled solutions at incredible rates to improve the guest experience both in-person and online.

AI in Luxury Hospitality

In hotels and resorts around the globe, the use of AI is creating a better customer experience in a number of ways. AI-powered concierges, for example, can perform many of the same front-desk duties as a human concierge—but faster and with less margin for error. Meanwhile, many luxury resorts have begun to adopt AI technology in individual rooms, allowing guests to easily adjust thermostat settings and even order room service.

AI-Powered Concierges and Front Desk Staff

AI and machine learning technology can (and is being) used to elevate the guest experience upon checking into hotels, checking out, and everything in between. Many of the duties of a human concierge, such as offering local recommendations, answering questions, booking taxis, and even making dining reservations can now be handled by AI. In fact, this technology is nothing new.

Meet Connie

Back in 2016, the Hilton hotel chain actually experimented with its own AI concierge, a robot named "Connie" that stood about two feet tall and relied on cognitive computing to answer customer queries. Using a combination of IBM's innovative Watson platform and the WayBlazer travel database, Connie was able to provide customers with real-time answers to questions. The robot was even able to literally point guests in the right direction when asked to locate something (such as the hotel's elevators).

Although 2016 may seem like a lifetime ago, the reality is that AI technology has come a long way in seven short years. At the time Connie was introduced, very few people could anticipate technology such as GPT-3 on the horizon. While Hilton's robot concierge never did become a permanent staple, newer AI and machine-learning technology is effectively being used in hotels and resorts across the globe to enhance the guest experience today.

Can Robot Concierges Ever Replace Humans?

The question on many people's minds when it comes to the idea of robot concierges is whether they could ever replace the smiling faces and charming personalities of a real-life human at a hotel's front desk. This has yet to be seen. Consider, for example, that Hilton no longer employs wide-scale use of its robot concierge. Meanwhile, Japan's Henn na Hotel (which implemented a group of robotic concierge dinosaurs back in 2015) also scrapped its AI concierge technology when it turned out that these robots couldn't answer the specific questions guests were asking.

Still, with AI technology improving all the time—and with recent and groundbreaking innovations like GPT-3, it is very likely that hotels and resorts will see success implementing AI concierge technology as a supplement to human staff. For example, machine-learning technology may provide valuable information to a front desk employee when a guest checks in, alerting the staff member that the guest is a loyalty club member who stays at the property regularly. The AI model can then provide personalized recommendations on interactions to make with the guest who is checking in, such as:

  • Thanking them for being a returning loyalty member.
  • Offering them a complimentary room upgrade.
  • Asking them if they'd like to make the same dining reservations as they did during their previous stay.

Meanwhile, many hotels and resorts are also finding success when it comes to implementing a sort of digital concierge, where guests can download the resort's app and text questions to a virtual chatbot. With this type of technology, guests can get personalized recommendations on things to do in the area, ask questions about the property itself, and much more without having to call or walk down to the front desk. Meanwhile, this type of technology reduces physical contact, which is still on many guests' minds in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AI-Powered Room Controls and Other Requests

In addition to AI-powered concierge and other staff, some hotels are also beginning to use AI technology to improve guests' experience once they're in their rooms. Smart speakers (such as the popular Amazon Alexa) can now be used by guests in some hotels to carry out a wide range of functions, such as adjusting the temperature within the room itself and even ordering room service. This can be done using voice commands or through an app that allows the guest to text requests to an Alexa bot.

Either way, hotels leveraging this kind of artificial intelligence can provide guests with the convenient experience they expect in today's evolving world. This is especially true when you consider the fact that a 2020 study revealed that 85% of travelers were more comfortable using technology than they were communicating directly with hotel staff. Being able to order room service or make other requests through a smart device rather than interacting with staff in-person makes guests more comfortable and thus enhances the overall experience, keeping customers coming back time and time again.

AI in eCommerce

Of course, artificial intelligence and machine learning aren't just taking the luxury hospitality realm by storm—they're also revolutionizing the guest experience online. This is especially true in eCommerce, where chatbots and conversational AI are being used more than ever to deliver personalized shopping experiences to guests.

Chatbots and Conversational AI

Research predicts that by the end of 2023, up to 70% of chatbot conversations will be related specifically to retail. Ultimately, the goal of these chatbots is to improve the customer experience, improving their chances of coming back for another purchase.

So, what are some of the unique ways in which AI technology is being used to do this? Today, chatbots can assist with a wide range of tasks when somebody is shopping on an eCommerce site, including (but not limited to):

  • Answering common questions.
  • Providing personalized product recommendations to customers.
  • Automating returns and/or exchanges.

Of course, AI chatbots can't always replace assistance from a live human. Even in these instances, AI technology can be useful in the form of human agent-assisted chats. Sometimes, customers want to speak with a live agent right away; they simply don't want to "deal" with a chatbot. Machine learning is quickly making it possible to gauge a potential customer's sentiments about speaking with a chatbot and immediately deploying a human agent as needed. This, in turn, can provide an improved customer experience.

Meanwhile, with technology like ChatGPT and conversational AI, it is likely that online shoppers will soon have a hard time determining when they're speaking with a live human versus a chatbot. And as these bots become more and more "the norm," customers might not even care. Already, online shoppers tend to prioritize efficiency in response times over speaking with a live person. Specifically, studies have found that 82% of online shoppers expect an immediate response when they reach out for help.

Combine this with the benefits of being able to process returns/exchanges more quickly, answer questions, and handle many other tasks that would otherwise require time from a live agent, and it's easy to see how AI is improving the customer experience while saving businesses time and money. AI can be a great way to streamline customer support in an eCommerce setting, cutting down on ticket times and freeing up human agents to handle tickets that do require human attention. It's a win-win.

The Final Word on AI and the Guest Experience

While only time will tell what the future holds for AI as it relates to the guest experience on- and offline, we're already seeing some incredible and innovative use cases across the globe. Likewise, as the cost of this technology inevitably drops, it's only a matter of time before artificial general intelligence (AGI) technology is accessible to more businesses. Consider, for example, that the current cost of an AGI model is an estimated $120,000; however, research suggests that by 2030, consumers will be able to purchase an AGI for just $1,000.

However you look at it, times are changing—and the companies that make the leap to embrace AI and machine learning technology are likely the ones who will find success in the coming years.

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