In a 2019 survey, McKinsey discovered that 58% of global executives said their companies had incorporated AI into at least one process or product but the value of AI wasn’t fully understood, resulting in slow adoption. Then came the pandemic and investment in AI skyrocketed, moving the technology from a “nice-to-have” initiative to a complete business must-have.
The digital transformation initiatives that were started before the pandemic ran smack into a lack of human resourcing and it became increasingly clear to businesses worldwide that AI, with its automation capabilities, could be a great solution to help alleviate some of the problems COVID made bare.
No industry has been more adversely affected by COVID than the hospitality industry. McKinsey claims business recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels might not occur until 2023—or later. Like many other industries, hospitality will also see both subtle and significant shifts in their business model once COVID subsides and there are several technologies that will revolutionize the industry as well as make it safer for patrons to return. These include:
Gartner defines AIOps as a platform that utilizes “big data, modern machine learning and other advanced analytics technologies to, directly and indirectly, enhance IT operations (monitoring, automation and service desk) functions with proactive, personal and dynamic insight. AIOps platforms enable the concurrent use of multiple data sources, data collection methods, analytical (real-time and deep) technologies, and presentation technologies.”
An AIOps solution executes real-time analysis on mass quantities of data, inferring the root causes of problems as well as potential problems, keeps things running smoothly as well as proactively predicting upcoming operational issues. AIOps reduces system noise, cuts down on unnecessary alerts, limits unwanted notifications that might divert engineers from tackling real service issues.
AIOps brings order to what can be a chaotic environment, working in both a forward- and backward-looking way to ensure acting like a doctor who watches over a system, ready at a moment’s notice to remedy a technical issue or solve a potential problem that threatens the operation. AIOps has been called ‘The next big thing in IT operations and it is fulfilling its high promise, creating end-to-end visibility into a company’s operations, as well as automatically helping identify operational problems, optimizing the system, and reducing all kinds of business costs, including labor costs.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools can reduce a hospitality company’s labor needs by turning a computer into a “functioning human”, carrying out coded instructions on structured data. With an RPA solution, users can configure one or more scripts to activate and automate specific keyboard functions, resulting in applications that mimic or emulate selected tasks. RPA is software- not robotic-driven rather and the benefits include:
- Increased productivity
- Increased system reliability
- Optimized resource use
- Reduced operating and labor expenses
- Extreme accuracy and uniformity
- Error reduction
- Automatic alerting
- Increased employee collaboration
- Better system compliance
- Task performed on a consistent basis
- Expediting and optimizing task executions
Automation today isn’t only about robots and factories, it can also remove the boring, day-to-day work that humans spend so much time doing – and not enjoying. AI tools can automate away repetitive processes, like cataloging images or video in a company’s marketing department. This lets humans do what humans do best — create.
Recent advancements in AI, machine learning, and Natural Language Processing (NLP) have led to the creation of highly intelligent chatbots that respond to customers with smart responses in a natural, human language and tone. Chatbots are everywhere today and are quickly gaining acceptance by the consuming public. Chatbots mimic human intelligence by interpreting a consumer’s questions and can answer basic customer service questions, offer product recommendations, provide stock detail, help users book tickets to a flight, a train, or even just an event, as well as order and pay for food.
There are two types of chatbots – transactional chatbots, which provide customers with a pre-programmed and fixed set of choices, and conversational chatbots one that use AI to understand and respond to a customer in human-like and contextually aware ways.
Today, chatbots are really where it’s at and there are several chatbots platforms available in the market that do everything from utilizing IoT, social, and geolocation data. Some connect to databases and then provide on-the-fly information to consumers or salespeople.
For hospitality companies, a chatbot can help in the following ways:
- Improve the customer experience.
- Drive customer engagement.
- Improve up-selling and cross-selling and increase intelligent customer recommendations.
- Quickly answer customer and product queries.
- Create one-to-one marketing experiences for each customer.
- Help customers find products they want.
- Increase customer service efficiency.
- Reduce customer churn.
There are several types of chatbots, including sales-focused chatbots that drive e-commerce, customer service chatbots, and recreational chatbots, which engage with a user’s emotions.
Virtual assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Samsung’s Bixby, attempt to converse with a customer, as well as provide information, and answer questions on a multitude of topics. Amazon’s Alexa even lets people order products from Amazon.com or book hotel reservations through Kayak.
The COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented to organizations worldwide, especially for companies in the hospitality industry, but from great challenges great opportunities come. Hotels in China are adding new touchless and contactless features to their properties, improving the customer experience with contactless check-ins and checkouts. Robots deliver food, beverages, or other sundries. Cashless payments are not only commonplace but becoming the payment method of choice because it’s considerably safer than paying with physical money.
As with all pandemics, the world will return to normal someday soon and when it does hospitality companies that have prepared themselves for this brave new AI world should find themselves with a business set up to thrive. Embracing technologies like AI should help hospitality companies succeed once COVID is under control. AI isn’t going to mean mass layoffs because AI needs humans as much as humans seem to need it.
According to Gartner, the increased use of AI might not mean redundancies at all, but could actually create 2.3 million job opportunities. AI-enabled solutions will help organizations move in the right direction, saving considerable money and time in the process.
The time for hospitality companies to develop an AI plan for a post-COVID world is now. Once shelter-in-place restrictions have lifted, once changes in company travel policies have been made, and consumer sentiment to travel has improved, it may be too late to jump on the AI bandwagon and collect the rich rewards of acting before anyone else. First-mover advantages mean a lot, especially when AIOps, automation, RPA, chatbots, and virtual assistants are part of that move.