Technology

ITB 2019: How AI will help hospitality sector re-imagine the customer experience

Posted by Lee Hayhurst on
ITB 2019: How AI will help hospitality sector re-imagine the customer experience

The Hilton hotel group will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to match guests with specific features of their room they prefer.

Chris Silcock, chief commercial officer of the global hospitality chain, told an ITB session on the future of AI that the sector has an opportunity to “re-imagine the whole travel experience”.

“We have taken the decision to invest heavily in data science as part of our business,” he said. “Over the last couple of years we have built a team 150-strong of data specialists.

“This is not something you can just pick up and do as a job. You have to focus on data quality, data governance – you have to keep data secure. These people are focussing on advanced analytics, and machine learning.”

Silcock said Hilton has built a cloud-based platform that is collecting around one billion data points a day. “You need machines to help integrate that data,” he said. “Where it gets really interesting is the process. How do you start using this data to enhance the customer experience?”

Hilton is looking to enhance its operations through the application of data science by taking friction out of the experience, said Silcock, but he said it was also looking to break down the experience to a much more granular level to “connect those to really specific customer needs”.

“Rooms have hundreds of features, whether it’s the view or the walk-in show or bathtub. We are going to break down and granularise that content so we can connect customers to the exact experience that they want in the hotel.

“We will give our customers the opportunity to tell us what they like about the rooms. Through natural language processing we can pick out 23 million comments a day and make connections if they are willing to share with us.”

Clinton Anderson, Sabre president of hospitality solutions, said the GDS and technology supplier can play a role in this as it can work through masses of data and push that through algorithms to help hotels deliver a better experience based on what the data is saying.

“I get most excited about being able to understand the guest better,” he said. “If you think about the average experience a lot of times you are booking hotel rooms but the hotel does not know a lot about you.

“It’s hard to pull that disparate data from different systems to have a real understanding of the guest. What machines will allow us to do is process a very large data set. Even if you do not know who your customer is you can see similar shopping patterns and infer what it is they would probably like.

“Big data and machine learning can really get good at making a recommendation based on who that traveller is.”

Lutz Behrendt, Google industry leader for travel in Germany, said the biggest opportunity for the hospitality industry was in mobile. “The majority of searches in travel now come from mobile devices, maps use is primarily on mobile.

“Moving forward it’s unlocking the data that is there. We know from different studies that 90 per cent of the data that companies have is unstructured and not used.”

Silcock said hotels can use mobile to enhance the physical experience in properties in ways that no other sector can. “We have looked at ways we can take friction out of the experience using that device. You can look at exactly what room and location you want and then use that device to open the door.

“Once inside the connected room seamlessly has your entertainment transferred on to devices in the room, and the temperature and light setting will be configured. We will solve some of the pain points such as the early morning knock on the door from housekeeping. We will know which rooms are empty.”

Anderson described using robots in properties to deliver services as a “gimmick” and not where the real opportunity is, but he said machines could automate tasks starting with the ecommerce experience to make relevant recommendations, increase conversion levels, basket values, ancillary sales and repeat custom and loyalty.

Silcock agreed: “It’s a win, win, win. We get to grow out network of customers we can serve everyday and by automating parts of their experience our experienced customer service agents can get to engage more deeply with what’s most important to the consumer which is connecting them more closely with what to do in and around the hotel.”

Behrendt said: “The human touch won’t go away. Some people still like the store experience. There’s a reason why stores are still there. Digital helps to change the experience but the human touch in hospitality will stay.”

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