• The hospitality industry is all about delivering the best guest experience. Whether this is in the local restaurant around the corner, the five-star beach resort that you visit during your holiday or the conference venue where you attend an event. Superior guest experience is what differentiates the winners from the losers within this great industry.

    I have always had a passion for the hospitality industry. Ensuring that your guests have a great time is a very rewarding job. With the data era now upon us, delivering personalised service becomes increasingly easier. Moreover, thanks to technologies such as AI, IoT and analytics, it becomes possible to bring guest-centric hospitality to the next level. Welcome to the era of smart hospitality.

    It All Starts with Data

    Artificial intelligence requires data, a lot of it. The more data you have, the better your AI systems will be. Hence, delivering superior customer experience starts with collecting and storing large amounts of data, at every customer touchpoint and process in the organisation.

    This datafication is the process of making a business data-driven, by transforming social action into quantified data. It involves collecting (new) data from various sources and processes using IoT devices or creating detailed customer profiles. Datafying a hospitality business starts by making your hotel/restaurant/conference centre, your processes and your products and services smart. This will make previously ‘invisible’ processes traceable so that they can be monitored, analysed and optimised.

    Already several years ago, the InterContinental Hotel Group understood this. They started collecting data from over 650 sources, ranging from their reservation systems, surveys, social media data or their loyalty program. However, with the availability of low-cost sensors, hotel and restaurant owners can bring it to the next level. Sensors can be used to enable predictive maintenance to reduce downtime of services and to monitor for example food stations to ensure the right temperature and quality of food. Sensors can also be used to develop ‘connected rooms’ to give guest control over lights, heating, TV or other appliances in the room from a single location (for example their own smartphone).

    Many organisations have been working on datafying their business processes resulting in additional services for their customers:

    • Hilton’s Connected Room allows guests to change their TV, set the optimal room temperature and turn the lights off in the room all from their own mobile device. Hilton allows guests to connect to their room through the Hilton app.
    • Marriott allows guests to skip the front office desk and go straight to their room upon arrival. Using virtual key cards, guests can check in through the Marriott app and open their hotel room with their own mobile.
    • Hyper personalised offerings are the next step in connected restaurants. The London restaurant Vita Mojo allows their guests to select their own ingredients and choose their own meals. This allows guests to completely control the number of calories or carbs they want in their meals.
    • Orchid Hotels uses sensors to collect data on energy consumption to reduce the amount of energy used within the hotels. Thanks to real-time monitoring of occupancy rates in, for example, banqueting areas, they are better able to control temperatures and save on energy.

    Creating a Smart Hospitality Industry with AI

    Once data has been collected across the organisation, it can be used to develop AI systems and to make your guest experience truly smart. Artificial intelligence can bring organisations the capacity to offer tailored recommendations, increased personalisation and constantly learn from guest interactions thanks to machine learning.

    Although the hospitality industry is generally slow to adopt new technologies, it seems different with AI. Various larger and small organisations are experimenting with and implementing AI applications in hotels, restaurants or conference centres. Let’s have a look at several examples of AI in the smart hospitality industry:

    • Avvio, a technology provider for the hospitality industry, developed the world’s first AI booking platform called Allora. Allora uses reinforcement learning to derive insights from every online interaction and to determine the best price strategy for hotel rooms. By understanding individual booker behaviour, Allora allows hotels to optimize their conversion.
    • A few years ago, Hilton introduced Connie the Concierge. Connie is a robot that is powered by IBM Watson to offer tips on attractions, restaurants or activities that best match the guest asking the question.
    • Chatbots and the hospitality industry are a clear match. Hilton’s Connie was the first virtual concierge, but since then many companies have implemented a chatbot. Basically, all large booking engines use a chatbot to improve customer experience. The company Bespoke developed the chatbot Bebot that can recommend local restaurants, fun activities or answers questions about the hotel, airport or train station.
    • The fast-food industry is adopting robotics to reduce the number of staff in fast-food restaurants. The company Miso Robotics has developed an AI kitchen assistant called ‘Flippy’. This robot can assist in grilling, turning, prepping and frying burgers.
    • The company Allset allows restaurant guests to pre-order their meals and be served almost instantly when they arrive. Currently available in 2000 restaurants, the company relies on AI and machine learning to analyse, for example, peak hours and capacity at participating restaurants, preventing sending orders to busy restaurants.

    These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more examples of the smart hospitality industry benefitting from artificial intelligence. All the big hotel chains are experimenting with AI, but also with blockchain or the Internet of Things. However, also the individual, small, hotels and restaurants should start collecting data and experimenting with AI to deliver a smart guest experience. It could be the difference between remaining relevant in a data-driven future or being forgotten.

    Image: Wasant/Shutterstock

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    Dr Mark van Rijmenam

    Dr Mark van Rijmenam is Founder of Datafloq. He is a highly sought-after international public speaker, a Big Data and Blockchain strategist and author of the best-selling book Think Bigger - Developing a Successful Big Data Strategy for Your Business. He is the co-author of the book Blockchain: Transforming Your Business and Our World, which details how blockchain can be used for social good. His third book, The Organisation of Tomorrow, will be published in Q1 2019. He is named a global top 10 Big Data influencer and one of the most influential Blockchain people. He holds PhD in management from the University of Technology Sydney on how organizations should deal with Big Data, Blockchain and (Responsible) AI and he is a faculty member of the Blockchain Research Institute in Canada. He is a strategic advisor to several blockchain startups and publisher of the ‘f(x) = ex‘ newsletter read by thousands of executives.
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