There’s a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the hospitality industry and it’s easy to assume the latest tech is the preserve of the big chains. But an independent Scottish hotel is proving this assumption wrong by adopting the very latest AI and chat technology.
The Pitbauchlie House Hotel in Scotland is running a live pilot using AI technology as you read these words.
A new audience
900 million people around the world use Facebook Messenger every month, so it’s safe to say this promises to be an important audience. Using AI, it’s possible to ensure that interacting with this audience imposes a minimal overhead on the hotel itself – because most questions can be automated by an AI system, rather than needing staff intervention. This is the basis of the Pitbauchlie system; one that allows guests to ask questions over Facebook Messenger, using AI to scale the hotel’s ability to answer.
An AI future?
For the hospitality industry, AI might feel a little alien; after all, the industry has traditionally been built on the ethos of high-quality personal service. To most of us, robot-centric hotels like the “Henn Na” in Japan feel more like novelties than the mainstream future. So how did the Pitbauchlie respond to this?
AI + Humans
The latest evolution of AI technology is beginning to recognise the issues of robots not being good, or even desirable, for everything. At the Pitbauchlie, the hotel has deployed a solution from Humanise.AI that allows both “AI bots” and traditional human members of staff to chat with guests.
If the guest has a particular question that makes more sense for a member of staff to answer, they can. The AI can automatically transfer guests to one of those humans when the topic is complex, it’s struggling to understand what’s needed, or it’s just one of those topics that humans are better at. And, yes, for those of us who don’t like the idea of chatting to a computer, you can just ask “please can I talk to a real person” and the AI will find someone to help.
Efficiency = Guest Satisfaction
The use of an “AI Bot” allows guests to get answers to their questions on a self-service basis – obviously increasing efficiency in the hotel. But it also increases guest satisfaction – most of us just want our questions answered efficiently, without having to wait for a member of staff to become available.
Improving the guest experience
The main focus of the work has been on improving the guest experience – providing more self-service capabilities and easing access to hotel information and facilities.
But the bot is also able to help increase the sale of rooms, upgrades, restaurant reservations and room-service. In fact, the very first guest conversation with the Pitbauchlie bot resulted in a table reservation in the hotel’s restaurant – so early indications are strong that this is a channel that guests value.
The bot is available directly through the Facebook Messenger app that many guests will already have installed on their smartphones. But it’s also available on the hotel’s website, enabled by a Facebook website plugin that provides a neat “web chat” experience. At the recent “Opportunity 2018” conference, Triptease showed evidence supporting the idea that having a web-chat experience helps to increase web-site conversions during the booking process, so this is an important place for the bot to reside.
Some features in the bot are only relevant when the guest is physically in the hotel – for example, requesting room-service. The bot has a check-in process that needs to be completed before in-hotel features are unlocked, making the bot aware of the guest’s context (are they in the hotel or not) and able to adapt it’s responses as necessary.
How do you create a hotel AI bot?
An AI bot is taught, not programmed. This happens through a well defined process along the following lines: 1. Collect examples of questions the bot should be able to respond to. 2. Create the knowledge base of answers (the “ground truth”). 3. Use (1) and (2) to “teach” the AI system. 4. Test the result by getting people to ask questions in different ways and adjusting the training data to ensure accurate responses.
During the training period at the Pitbauchlie, hotel staff had great fun dreaming up questions to test the bot’s capabilities. One favourite question was “Can I bring an Elephant into my room?”, to which the bot sensibly replied explaining that pets are allowed, but there might be an additional cleaning charge!
This was a good example of where the bot had never been taught about the hotel’s elephant policies, but the AI made an association between two different animal species (Elephant and Dog) in an attempt to answer the question.
Alexa, can I bring an elephant into my room?
The Pitbauchlie Facebook Messenger bot is just the start; plans are being hatched to extend the bot so that it can be used through voice devices – like Amazon Alexa and Google Home – in the hotel.
The sky is the limit with AI, as the Pitbauchlie and Humanise.AI are proving. Experiences like AI Bots, Facebook Messenger and Amazon Alexa do not have to be the preserve of the big chains with large IT teams – it’s possible for hotels with more modest means to also get onto the cutting-edge of guest experiences.
Whilst AI can help with efficiency, us humans still have an important role to play in building guest relations and providing the level of empathy and service that many guests require. The latest trends in AI deployments recognise these needs and create environments where both AI and humans can help guests – allowing us to get the best of both worlds.