The hotel complex “Izgreva” is a place where the guests feel like they are at home. Behind the peaceful and comfortable atmosphere and the multitude of small details that delight the eye and that predispose to real relaxation, there are daily efforts and years of work and development. An AI chatbot contributes even more to making the hotel an attractive place loved by tourists. We talk to the owner who prefers to be away from the spotlight and let her work speak for her – Mrs. Mariana Terzieva. She is also the manager of the hotel complex “Izgreva”. Mariana trusted a technology unknown to her until a few months ago – the hotel’s chatbot with artificial intelligence, with which she placed “Izgreva” among the innovators in tourism in the region.
Mariana has been in the hotel industry for a long time – 11 years, but she has not always been a hotelier and restauranteur. She left behind more than 28 years of experience in a telephone factory to open a coffee and sandwich kiosk with her husband in the small village of Banya, Bansko. Step by step, the kiosk grew into a restaurant, and the restaurant grew into a hotel complex with 24 rooms, with a warm mineral pool for year-round visits. Today, “Izgreva” has many regular customers due to the wonderful atmosphere in the complex and the hospitality of Mariana and her team.
The symbol of the complex is the sunrise, which everyone can watch in the morning, immersed in the warm healing water of the outdoor pool. The celestial event has given the name to Izgrevcho, the hotel AI chatbot created on the Umni platform at the end of 2021 together with the hotel’s new web page (Izgrevcho means Sunrise boy in Bulgarian). The conversational AI module of the hotel chatbot was pre-trained to recognize over 8000 customer questions on over 700 hotel topics in Bulgarian and English – a smart assistant from Day 1 in the hotel team.
Elitza Stoilova, CEO of Umni and former hotelier with over 20 years of experience in the industry, met with Mariana for this interview:
Elitza: You are an example in the tourism industry in our country, and not only in this industry. Many businesses, especially smaller ones, do not understand the technology and seem to fear it. You said yes to an AI chatbot knowing next to nothing about the two technologies. When you heard the word “chatbot” for the first time, were you worried about the technology?
Mariana: For me, it was something unknown, I had no contact with such technology till now. People like us, in the villages, do not get information about various innovations and technological possibilities, and we are behind in their use. I first learned about the chatbot last year just before Christmas. I still don’t fully understand it, but the important thing is that the chatbot helps us.
Many of our customers of all ages use the chatbot, which means it’s useful for them. Younger people and foreigners are more active because for them this technology is more familiar and easier to use. It is very convenient for us both in the hotel and in the restaurant, especially since we included the restaurant menu with photos in the chatbot. People who are not our guests – locals, from other guesthouses in the village, and others have started ordering take away from us.
Elitza: The chatbot statistics show that in the last 8 months the chatbot has helped people from 13 countries to make reservations. How much has the AI chatbot eased the communication with foreign guests?
Mariana: The chatbot really makes it easier for us to communicate with them, we don’t need to have long conversations on the phone. This help is felt especially when one of us does not know the language the client speaks, and we must look for a colleague to translate. Through the chatbot, room reservations are made directly, and everything happens very quickly and easily for customers. We respond when it’s convenient for us and we can use digital translation tools as well. Also, the chatbot answers 24/7, which we can’t do because we have other hotel obligations and can’t be on the phone all the time.
Elitza: As far as I know, most of the time you answer the phone calls to the hotel. What we observe in the chatbot is that over 40% of the communication in it happens outside of working hours. Have you personally noticed a decrease in phone calls after implementing the chatbot? Have evenings become more relaxed for you?
Mariana: For me, this is a huge advantage, it really decreased the number of phone calls. I can now take a coffee break uninterrupted and deal with the more complex hotel tasks that require more time and attention.
Elitza: What do colleagues in the hotel team think about the chatbot? How did they react to its implementation?
Mariana: The chatbot is a huge relief for everyone. It answers questions that before its implementation the staff had to answer every day: where the ATM is, about the hotel surroundings, where is the pharmacy or other. It also helps simplify and speed up restaurant services by providing guests with a digital menu. Customers can scan a QR code from a sticker on the room door or elsewhere with a link to the menu beforehand to check it and decide what they will have for lunch or for dinner.
Elitza: Naturally, when implementing a chatbot, our first thoughts are about the benefits for customers, then about the savings of resources that occur because of its work, and finally how this affects the work environment for employees. What do your guests say about Izgrevcho?
Mariana: Oh, yes, almost all customers note how digitalized we are and how convenient is the communication with us now. We have a long-time client (former Minister of Environment and Water) who constantly checks the news around the hotel and immediately congratulated us on the new website and the chatbot when we launched them. She was very delighted and said that she had never seen such a thing before.
Elitza: Hotel Izgreva is the first among hotels in this area to introduce a hotel chatbot with artificial intelligence. How much does the chatbot help to promote the hotel?
Mariana: What I have noticed is that since we started sharing a link to the chatbot or particular information sections of it in posts on our Facebook page, the number of shares of the posts has increased and our customers are more active on Facebook now. On the one hand, this helps to promote the chatbot and the hotel, and on the other, it provides our guests with quick access to information and the possibility of self-service. Recently, with the help of Umni, we also added a small chatbot in Messenger, which redirects for answers to the website’s AI chatbot. By connecting the Facebook page with the site’s chatbot through posts and Messenger, things have become even easier, everything happens quickly and easily for our guests as well.
Elitza: Before the implementation of the two chatbots, did you have a problem with maintaining your Facebook page?
Mariana: Yes, we have not maintained it at all. We didn’t have time to maintain it and answer the customers who asked their questions there. After this automation, we see how our work has become easier, the interest of customers has increased, who at the same time do not wait a long time to receive an answer, because they receive it immediately from the chatbot.
Elitza: We talked earlier that the chatbot has decreased phone calls significantly and freed up time from questions and inquiries. What do you use the time the chatbot saves you for?
Mariana: To develop the hotel complex. We have expansion plans and are working on this project. From a coffee and sandwich kiosk, we have evolved over time to a hotel complex, which we want to upgrade even more. When we started 11 years ago, we had no idea we would get this far, but we liked it, and we keep improving. We had completely different professions from what we do now, but it worked out quite well for us, the complex has its regular customers all year round.
Elitza: Can you say you love what you do?
Mariana: In the beginning, it was very difficult for us, but after so many years I can proudly say that I love my job, communicating with people, and with friends. I see all guests as my friends, as part of one big family. And regular customers also say that they feel comfortable here, like with their grandparents in the summerhouse.
Mariana: I have a question too. What do you like about the technology?
Elitza: Exactly what you like. I also like communicating with people, but I like it to be meaningful. In the hospitality industry, I started from scratch and worked my way up to a General manager of a hotel, I’ve been through the daily routine of answering the same questions from guests from morning to night. There have been many days when I locked myself in my office at 18:00 to do my work undisturbed, while everyone thought I was already drinking a cocktail somewhere on the beach and enjoying the sunset… By the end of the day, I always felt tired from this routine communication, and I have often asked myself what the meaning of my life and my work was. I have no problem communicating with people for 8 hours or more a day, but the communication really needs to be meaningful for me to feel satisfied with it. FAQs and any service requests are part of this routine, which is draining rather than motivating. Technology, and specifically the AI chatbot, helps with just that by automating the routine and thereby removing it from our work, from our lives, and allowing us to be more human. When we communicate, it should make sense for both parties, so that the motivation for work and development is not lost. For this reason, I also love what I do and I’m glad that we can help different businesses and their teams grow.
When routine questions and tasks are taken over by technology, the freed-up time allows you to do what you want – like now we are talking calmly and your phone hasn’t rung even once, although the hotel is full.
Mariana: I agree, before guests often asked me what is the temperature of the water, where is the ATM, and now they ask the chatbot. Only the more personal and friendly conversations are left to me now.
Elitza: That’s how it should be. The only resource that cannot be bought, is non-renewable and we are losing it every minute, it’s this very minute. The value of this time must be spent differently by the people in their workplace. My motivation is not so customers oriented, although the benefits to them are really great. It is more for employees who work 8-9 hours a day and it matters how those hours are spent – whether they are routine, or they grow and help develop the business they work for by having time to do it. This applies not only to the hospitality and tourism sector, where Umni started 5 years ago but to every other industry.
For the first year (2022), over 16,222 potential customers and guests of the hotel complex Izgreva had over 82,500 interactions with the hotel AI chatbot, Izgrevcho. 42% of communication occurred after 6:00 PM and before 8:00 AM. 41% of the booking requests via the chatbot happened at the same time. Although Izgrevcho only assists in Bulgarian and English, it has helped users from 17 countries, including Romania, Belgium, Germany, UK, even Israel and the United States.
For the chatbot case study about the Izgreva AI chatbot, Mariana commented:
“We had an old website with limited and old information about the complex. The only way for customers to ask us a question or contact us was to call me directly, which took up a lot of my time. I was on duty almost 24/7! I’m glad that our customers really like the chatbot and use it very often, and that it’s now available 24/7 instead of me. The AI digital assistant really helps and saves a lot of time!”