By Brendon Granger, Technology 4 Hotels
The world loves to chat. Today, over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed, with predictions that number will hit 3.6 billion within a couple of years. As travel becomes increasingly mobile-centric, travel brands are realising that messaging platforms represent the future of customer communication. And many are starting to see the huge potential of chatbots.
Utilizing AI (artificial intelligence), chatbots deliver a text-based service that seeks to replicate having a natural conversation with a human. Chatbots are nothing new – emerging back in the 1960s, but the technology has advanced quickly in recent years. Today, they’re being used to do everything from booking a taxi to paying bills, and increasingly – they’re becoming more prevalent in the travel industry.
The Explosion in Travel Chatbots
Recently, a flurry of metasearch sites including Skyscanner, Kayak, and Hipmunk have created their own chatbots, integrating them with Facebook Messenger and Slack. Hipmunk’s chatbot is particularly advanced, providing suggestions to questions like, “When’s the best time to fly between New York and Paris?”
Dedicated travel bots are starting to pop up more frequently, such as personal travel assistant, Taylor. While relatively limited, this AI bot is designed to provide digital nomads with suggestions on where to sleep or work in a city. A “Nearby” and “City Lookup” feature also offers information on the suitability of other cities, including things like living costs and internet access.
And now, chatbots are slowly beginning to find their way into the hotel industry.
Chatbots Being Used by Hotels
Earlier this year, Booking.com announced the roll out of an SMS-style chat tool that lets guests communicate directly with the hotel they’ve booked with – all via their Booking.com account. Hotels are able to initiate the conversation too, and the tool also has a series of translation templates to enable hotel employees to send standardised messages to overseas guests in their native language.
Hotels themselves have started building their own chatbots. Just recently, Edwardian Hotels in the UK launched an AI chatbot Edward at twelve of its hotels. As well as offering tips on local tourist sights, restaurants and bars, Edward can deal with requests for amenities and services such as fresh towels and room service.
The hotel’s chatbot can even handle complaints, and it also features live assistance so that issues can be escalated to a member of staff. Edward is designed to respond within seconds, cutting out the delay that might occur through traditional methods.
While impressive, chatbots like Edward still have a long way to go. New developers are entering the marketplace all the time, pushing the technology into evermore exciting places.
In terms of where chatbots might go, advancements within artificial intelligence promise big potential. Powered by machine learning, chatbots can learn through each and every interaction. As this learning constantly grows over time, and AI technology progresses, they’ll become increasingly adept at making relevant recommendations.
As they improve their grasp of conversational context, chatbots will also be better at understanding intent and meaning, grasping the subtlety of language while being able to predict where the conversation is going.
Voice-based technology used by the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri could also soon be integrated with chatbots to create a more seamless interface. Instead of tapping away at a screen, a hotel guest could make a request simply with their voice.
The Future of Guest Communication?
By offering a more natural form of communication and near-instant responses, chatbots can help hotels elevate the guest experience. From an operational point of view, they could also free up hotel staff by dealing with requests that hectic front desks would otherwise need to manage themselves.
Yet for all their promise, it’s highly unlikely that chatbots will replace the need for human conversation. Even if the technology sufficiently develops to offer flawless service, guests will always want a person to deal with in certain situations – especially complaints. While a machine might appear to show empathy and understanding, nothing can replace the genuine emotions expressed through personal interaction.
That said, there’s no doubt that chatbots can become a huge asset to hotels when used in the right way, especially given the exciting ways they continue to advance.