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AI to help hoteliers operate more efficiently

Chatbots, price optimization, room security among ways the technology helping sector
BC Hotel Association CEO Ingrid Jarrett believes AI will transform her sector but that travellers will still want to interact with human beings

Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to disrupt the travel sector, with hoteliers reaping the benefits of better customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Online-travel booking websites have largely replaced travel agents for leisure trips, with corporate behemoths Expedia Group Inc. (Nasdaq:EXPE) and Booking Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq:BKNG) dominating the space and investing heavily in helping customers find preferred hotels and airline connections as quickly as possible.

Earlier this month, Expedia launched an in-app feature powered by OpenAI's ChatGPT for users to type in questions about travel logistics.

The AI feature responds with flight options and susses out what kind of accommodation the user wants.

Booking's Kayak has just started using a similar feature powered by ChatGPT.

AI has the power to do far more than simply help travellers find what they want.

BIV asked ChatGPT how hoteliers could use AI, and it responded with six bullet points:

• personalized recommendations by analyzing data from guests’ booking patterns;
• chatbots to handle guest queries and requests;
• predictive maintenance;
• price optimization by analyzing supply, demand and competition;
• in-room voice assistants to adjust temperature, order meals and provide excursion tips; and
• room security.

“Some of these are a reasonable assessment of how the industry can use AI," said BC Hotel Association CEO Ingrid Jarrett.

"For data analysis, booking patterns, etcetera, we have technology that was doing this," she said.

Jarrett views AI as the latest buzz-phrase for what is a continuation of machine-learning and data analysis software, which has continued to evolve in her industry for more than a decade.

There is value in that technology, she added, because it frees up staff time, and sometimes can provide improvements in helping customers in ways that people cannot.

While that means that hoteliers will use AI, the technology is not going to replace human beings, she stressed.

"We're in the people business," said Jarrett.

"[Guests] still need service, and a person needs to do that service."

She believes AI will help make operations more efficient when planning events, such as a 200-person banquet.

"You can analyze who is in this group, and anticipate how many vegetarians," she said. "It could analyze guests based on age, gender, where they're coming from and what their travel patterns are like."

The result could be that the hotel could better assess how many servers it needs, while limiting food waste and providing better service.

She said that her industry is in the nascent stages of adopting AI platforms and that hotel executives are keen to understand more about how AI can benefit them.

Her organization on May 1 and 2 is having its first summit gathering after a three-year hiatus, in Kelowna.

Keynote speaker Ken Patel, founder and CEO of EV Hotels, is expected to discuss the potential of AI on the sector and how smart devices can help luxury guest experiences.

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