AN INTERVIEW WITH HANNU VAHOKOSKI, HOTELWAY CEO
Meet Sam. Sam is a bright, AI-based chat bot designed by Finnish hospitality startup company Hotelway. Hotelway provides professional management of customer engagement for hotels.
What can Sam do? In addition to answering general questions and providing automated customer service, Sam is a great tool for up-selling additional services for hotels. When Sam finds a question too difficult to answer, it automatically forwards the conversation to a guest care specialist at Hotelway.
Sam helped Hotelway capture the Judge’s Choice Award during the Entrepreneur 20X (E20X) Europe 2019 startup pitch competition in Mallorca, Spain this past April. The Judge’s Choice Award is determined by a panel of hospitality experts that includes CIOs, angel investors, serial entrepreneurs and industry insiders and offered a €2,500 EUR prize.
Hotelway competed in a selected group of eight ambitious hospitality tech startups in the competition that took place during HITEC Europe 2019. HITEC Europe is part of the world’s largest hospitality technology conference brand.
“Started a couple of years ago, Hotelway is a true startup,” says Hotelway’s CEO Hannu Vahokoski. “This is sort of a third attempt at what we do now — which is that we provide the chat, plus bot, plus the actual outsourced chatting service.
“So, we really take care of the guest conversations on behalf of hotels. That is what we do now.”
What makes Sam special from other bots currently on the market?
“There are so many companies out there that now provide chat bots, but no one actually provides the chatting service on behalf of the hotels. A good chat bot can only take about, say, half of the questions. There is still another half that the hotel needs to respond to, and they usually don’t have the time to do that … and we do. We do the chatting for them — that is how we are unique.”
It is that extra level of support and service that sets Hotelway apart and brought them to the forefront of the competition.
So, who is on the other line answering the questions that Sam sends to Hotelway?
“Our team is made up of experienced hospitality and travel professionals,” explains Vahokoski. “And we have an advisory board that is in very close contact with us; they have international service design and business development experience.
“We have a few millennials in place performing back office functions, so we also get the younger perspective on things. And, all of the people who man the chats are hotel professionals; they have worked in hotels before, or they are at least studying hospitality. They are not just random people — they are really industry familiar.”
What feedback did Hotelway get from the E20X judging panel following the competition?
“There were three things they said,” says Vahokoski in regards to Hotelway’s appeal. “First, that we are tackling a genuine problem [in the hospitality industry] and solving it. Secondly, we are really concentrating on what is important in hospitality, and that is people. And finally, we are using an AI-based bot, so there is scalability — meaning that we can scale our service. We are not relying only on people, and as our bot learns and understands things further, the percentage of chats that the bot can manage will increase.”
E20X is a popular program produced by HFTP that seeks to recognize and promote the unprecedented innovation taking place in hospitality technology today. Ambitious entrepreneurs are selected to present their breakthrough business concepts to a room full of HITEC attendees as well as a panel of judges.
The next competition, E20X North America 2019 sponsored by Amadeus, will take place during HITEC Minneapolis on Monday, June 17 at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minnesota, USA. Participating startups will compete for the grand prize of $5,000.00 USD. At each E20X competition, there are two E20X awards given — the Judge’s Choice Award and the People’s Choice Award.
While the Judge’s Award recipient is selected by the judging panel, the People’s Choice Award (also known as the “crowd favorite”) is determined by HITEC attendees, who cast their votes via the HFTP Multi-Events mobile app.
Briana Gilmore is the HFTP Communications Coordinator.
Briana can be reached at Briana.Gilmore@hftp.org or +1 (512) 220-4017.