Food for Thought at #HITEC: Is AI like Kale?

Written by: Jennifer Jones — Official HITEC® Minneapolis 2019 Guest Blogger

The big buzz word this year at HITEC is all about AI. It is the latest trend in the hospitality tech stack and as you walk the aisles on the show floor, you’re bound to find multiple providers who offer some flavor of AI technology.

To settle the score on what AI actually is, I grabbed this definition off Google. It reads:
“Artificial Intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

Now, there may be some people who read this and disagree with me, and that is absolutely okay. However, I think many of us need to walk before we run and make sure we have the basic fundamentals of good guest service and processes down before we race to develop a chat bot for our property or another AI tool. There are some places that are not ready for it. And there are some areas in our industry we may find that it just does not work.

Recently, I stayed at a resort that is part of a brand with properties around the world. Every day at the same time for six days straight, I would call Guest Services and ask for a bucket of ice. I’m not saying it was a hassle to call, but I was just hoping that by the third day someone would recognize that pattern and anticipate I was going to call for ice and actually have it in my room already.

We have all had experiences where we’ve encountered great service when a housekeeper notices something and starts leaving you extra shampoo or another helpful amenity because they recognize and anticipate you will need it. Or, the server in the restaurant greets you with your favorite drink in the morning after he recognized you’ve ordered it the last two mornings. This kind of service, where staff watch and learn guest behavior, and react by going above and beyond is not easily trained. It is an acquired talent that you find in only the best employees.

However, it makes you wonder if this whole AI thing could actually provide us tools that embrace this kind of talent? Maybe if I was having these conversations about getting ice delivered to my room with a computerized attendant via an app, my requests would be stored somewhere and it would learn my behavior and proactively advise staff on what they should do.

But the main issue I have is there is still the concept that the request needs to be fulfilled, and that is where I find most hotels will drop the ball. I can chat on an app, call on the phone, or actually talk to staff in person. But if the request is not fulfilled, the whole process is broken. And that is not AI’s fault per se, but the point I’m trying to make is there is still a whole other part of the equation that has to be considered before you implement a tool. And I do agree that using AI as a conversational tool to quickly get answers to a guest is definitely effective for most everyday questions.

So at the end of the day, I kind of feel this AI trend in our hospitality tech space might be a bit like kale. It will stay around for a little while, make you feel good, be a little rough around the edges, but will eventually be taken over by something else. Like a sweet potato.

Jennifer Jones is president at J2 Hospitality Solutions. She is an official event guest blogger for HITEC Minneapolis 2019, taking place June 17–20 at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota USA. Check back on HFTP Connect for more of Jennifer’s experiences at HITEC this year.

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