AI Gains Momentum in Hospitality but Majority of Travelers Still Value Human Interaction

Guests most appreciate personal interactions with staff in advance of arrival when planning their trip, and then onsite, as well, with any questions they may have or if an issue arises.

The same day leaders in the tech community asked for a pause on AI, travel company VacationRenter executed a nationwide survey to see if travelers would trust AI to book their next vacation. While the majority of respondents were “unsure” at this time, almost 1/3 replied “yes.” The number of yeses jumped to nearly 50% if respondents had already tried AI software tools like ChatGPT. (Only 17% said no.)

Even more interesting, perhaps, is that even as artificial intelligence gains momentum in the travel & tourism industry, the vast majority of respondents still say that interacting with humans is key to travel with 35% of respondents saying it’s “very important” to interact with actual people (airline workers, hotel desk staff, etc.) and another 38% saying it’s “somewhat important.” Only 9% said it wasn’t important.

Here, Heath Hammett, CEO of VacationRenter, shares his thoughts on the intersection of hospitality, travel and AI.

When do guests most want to interact with staff on hotel properties?

Guests most appreciate personal interactions with staff in advance of arrival when planning their trip; and then onsite as well, with any questions they may have or if an issue arises. We are seeing more digital and seamless check-in and check-out services which help facilitate ease for travelers as they arrive and depart. But when it comes to problem-solving or onsite issues management, there is still a strong preference for personal service.

Why are guests hesitant to use AI for planning vacations?

Travel is incredibly important to people and thus they want to minimize any risk in planning the perfect trip. As it pertains to AI, it's still relatively unknown and thus untrusted. I think people are more likely to take AI as a source of input but not the ultimate deciding force. As trust is built over time, some of those barriers to adoption may come down.

In the future, will hoteliers promote the use of AI as a service for guests?

Some properties are already doing this. For example, being able to send a SMS to get towels or other necessities brought to your room, providing basic support during the stay and being able to answer simple questions such as the weather, rules for parking, and hours of operation. This will increasingly become more commonplace and expected by travelers. More complex use cases for AI - such as loyalty benefits - might be possible, but historically travelers tend to want to have control over details. Thus, AI would likely be more of a way to provide pointed recommendations vs. taking over control.

What effect will AI have on hospitality: for good or bad?

Like most industries, we are learning how to best leverage the capabilities of the technology to add value for real people. Over time, AI will be able to help recommend destinations based on personal preference, itineraries in different locations, and book transportation at lowest-price points via monitoring and tracking. The most obvious benefits in the near-term will be outsourcing simple questions and support needs that 1) gets customers what they want faster (answers, towels, booking a dinner reservation, etc.) and 2) allows hospitality providers to focus their employees on more complicated, higher touch areas. That's a win-win.


Heath Hammett has been CEO of VacationRenter since 2020. Prior to that, he spent a number of years with as VP of Acquisition Marketing and part of the Expedia family of brands. Prior to that, he held executive roles with Travel Meta Search and TripAdvisor.

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