Have you heard about Edward from Radisson Blu Edwardian London? 3 years after his creation in 2016, he could reply to over 16 000 hotel guests’ questions and perfectly cope with the duty of the Concierge. He was so popular among the hotel guests that they nominated him for the Employee of the Month and even looked to tip him.
Edward is a smart concierge chatbot. According to a case study about Edward, up to 75% of the questions it replied were the ones that Front Desk staff replies, 24/7.
Robot-concierge at the hotel lobby, voice assistants at “smart” hotel rooms, messenger based chatbots of hotels, restaurants, leisure companies, and travel agencies – they were already common before COVID-19 at such global chains as Marriott, Hilton, Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, TacoBell, Burger King and others.
COVID did not bring the need for automation, digitization, and robotization to the tourism industry. It only forced the adoption and sped up trends, behavior, habits, and technology usage that were already here in the past years.
Nearly half of the questions related to reservations at Booking.com, which means millions of questions, are processed by a chatbot. It was implemented by the company after the research conducted in 2017 in 26 countries among 19 000 customers. It found that up to 80% of the customers preferred a self-service to receive information or service, and for some 50% of them it didn’t matter who answered: a human being or a chatbot.
According to a report by Software Advice, an organization engaged with research in technologies, 91% of travelers would use a smart platform for self-service that would provide them with necessary information or service. According to another survey by Google 3 years ago, up to 60% of customers thought that Artificial Intelligence (AI) must be utilized in the tourism industry and 36% of them were ready to pay for such service.
The growing digital-first habits and the constant acceleration of everyday life brought customers to the „see, hear, try and buy right now and here“ mode. Even before the pandemic, a few years ago already over 50% of the customers were convinced that businesses must be present online and be ready for communication 24/7 via chat in addition to a phone call, e-mail, or SMS. Salesforce published a report in 2019, according to which 78% of the customers used text messaging for communicating with a company and 81% used online chat… Customers became more mobile, experienced, digitized, and high demanding. Their needs could not be fulfilled without the assistance of technology. Those expectations called for digitization and the automatization of communications.
Pandemic opened the door to technology
Tourists confirm it. A few months ago, in the Autumn of 2020, Amadeus did global research in Europe, the United States, and Asia. According to the survey, 84% of the travelers responded that the usage of technology in all touchpoints of travel is the key to the decision making if, when, where, and how they will travel in the next months and year. They expect technology to help them:
- Avoid queues and crowds
- Keep social distancing
- Avoid the need for face-to-face contact with staff
- Ensure cleanliness
- Ensure safety
- Provide instant up-to-date information
Technology added an important layer of benefits on top of the one we already are aware of – such as convenience, time and resource savings, speed of service, better customer experience. This is the layer of bio-safety digitalization provided through touchless, contactless, digital, mobile self-service solutions and robotics. The pandemic put self-service on the focus of the businesses in many industries, including tourism, because digital self-service was the fastest way to adapt many aspects of the business and service to the pandemic situation.
Digitalizing the communication with customers - ASAP
In a webinar last year, Gartner named digital self-service as the core activity businesses needed to maintain their business and recover. Chatbots were listed in the top 5 solutions to implement. CBInsights also included AI chatbots among 24 technologies that will shape and change the world and the business in the post-covid time. We saw chatbots being implemented in various tourism businesses due to such major challenges to solve as face-to-face communication between customers and employees and the need to decrease the fixed costs, as well as lack of staff at the reopening.
Traditionally in tourism, chatbots automate routine tasks such as various inquiries, forms, requests for accommodation and services, requests for events, room service, massage, table at a restaurant, or search for offers, products, and services based on user-selected criteria, and answer frequently asked questions.
Because chatbots work 24 hours a day and respond instantly, bots also help increase direct sales – especially for those customers who send requests or look for assistance at night. Due to remote work, home office and other changes in personal and business life, today’s customers are online for work and personal matters much longer, stay online at night, and expect an immediate response. According to statistics collected by Umni.bg in their AI chatbots, the time between 7 o’clock in the evening and 8 o’clock in the morning in the past 12 months was almost as active as the daytime chatting with the businesses, with 11 o’clock to about midnight being a peak hour.
Upgrading the chatbot with conversational AI allows to collect the questions and turn them into data, train the conversational AI with the proper answers and gradually increase the number of questions that can be automated. The more customers ask, the more they use the AI module, the smarter it becomes, the more data and statistics are collected, and business knows more about customer behavior and can make intelligent decisions. For example, Umni.bg has developed and offers hotels an AI module to start with that already has over 500 hotel topics in it with over 5000 common customer questions in it. This means the hotel chatbot can recognize hundreds of customer questions and answer them from Day 1 while adding more and customizing the AI module for the specific property needs.
What the chatbots can do?
A good chatbot can start at a considerably basic level when users just click on the buttons in it to navigate the information and tasks, but this is the stage where feedback is collected on how customers use it and what they are looking for to identify the future direction of chatbot development. For customer service and support, planning for conversational AI in the chatbot is a must. Chatbots are long-term projects that require attention, analysis, and upgrades so that one day the business can have a fully developed smart digital assistant.
Here are some of the duties that could be performed by a hotel chatbot, 24/7, in one or more languages, while servicing multiple customers simultaneously and instantly:
- Provides prospect customers, guests, and corporate clients with information about the hotel, hotel services, and amenities, surrounding hotel area, etc.
- Assists with room reservation inquiries
- Assists hotel guests with reservation of a table at a restaurant, massage, room service, shuttle, vouchers, and various other inquiries and services
- Notifies the hotel Front Desk or other departments about a new inquiry
- Communicates with clients and staff
- Answers frequently asked questions, etc.
At a restaurant, the chatbots work is similar to their hotel colleagues:
- Providing information about a restaurant
- Providing a menu based on a client’s preferences
- Assisting with table reservations
- Accepting requests for a food delivery
- Promoting vouchers for future visits, promoting campaigns, etc.
The usage of chatbots in tourism is not limited to hotels and restaurants only. The software solution can be in service at SPA centers, tour agencies, and other providers of tourism services, parks, entertainment centers, museums, city info centers, and other services. A virtual assistant as a City Concierge is a part of the Smart Tourism Strategy of many destinations and cities.
Because of the variety of tasks and services that an AI chatbot can perform and automate, today the question is not about the technology – could it do it or not, but to the business that add a digital assistant to the list of service solutions: what the chatbot will do, what tasks or processes it should optimize, is the business ready to implement a chatbot into its daily operations. Companies with a focus on creating, maintaining, and training AI chatbots for hospitality businesses like Umni.bg can help answer these and many other questions in the case that your business plan to have its own Edward for customer service and support.
Take your time to set up and grow your hotel or tourism business AI digital assistant personalized to the needs of your business and customers but do not delay the implementation. To have a successful fully developed smart digital assistant in a year from now and achieve the desired business results, today is the day to lay the foundations of such an AI chatbot project for your business.