The hospitality and tourism industry is constantly evolving, with new technologies and trends emerging all the time. One technology that I believe is set to have a major impact on the industry in the coming years is generative AI.
What is generative AI? The name refers to algorithms – probably the best known being ChatGPT – that can be used to create new content, including audio, code, images, text, simulations and videos. This powerful technology has the potential to transform the hotel guest experience, improve the efficiency of hotel operations, and enhance staff working experience.
Before we delve into the potential of generative AI in the hospitality and tourism industry, it is worth looking back at history for a moment. The first industrial revolution, which took place in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was a time of great uncertainty and fear. So much so that for many it was more akin to a crisis than a positive experience. Manual workers, in particular, were concerned about the impact that new technologies such as steam engines and spinning machines would have on their jobs, with many fearing they would be replaced by machines. However, as we know, the first industrial revolution ultimately led to improvements in working conditions, increased productivity and economic growth. Rather than replacing workers, new technologies enhanced their capabilities and improved efficiency.
Similarly, the second industrial revolution (also known as the technological revolution) saw the rise of mass production and the assembly line, leading to significant improvements in efficiency and productivity, including in professional kitchens. The third industrial revolution, known as the digital revolution, ushered in the widespread use of computers and the internet, transforming the way we work and communicate. This revolution had an especially significant impact on the hospitality industry and, indeed, many of today’s important hospitality services would be almost impossible to perform without access to computing and internet services.
Although the fourth industrial revolution (or industry 4.0) started some years back (AI is not new), the change being brought about by technology such as generative AI, web3 technology and robotics – industrial revolution 4.5 if you like – will be truly transformative. Again, as in any period of major change, society in general, and the hospitality and tourism industry in particular, will need time to learn and adapt to new tools and services. However, I believe the final outcome will again be positive.
Generative AI can be used to improve the hospitality guest experience in a variety of ways, from providing personalized recommendations to enhancing safety and security. For example, AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can provide guests with tailored recommendations for local attractions and activities, while also improving communication between staff and guests by allowing additional channels to open up.
Especially when combined with robotics, generative AI can also be used to improve the efficiency of hotel operations. Automated systems can take care of routine tasks such as room cleaning and maintenance, freeing up staff to focus on more important tasks such as delivering the best possible service to guests. Furthermore, AI-powered systems can optimize the use of resources such as energy and water, reducing costs and improving sustainability.
Beyond these benefits, generative AI can also enhance the working experience of staff in the hospitality and tourism industry. By providing customized training experiences based on individual staff members’ strengths and weaknesses, staff can learn at their own pace and in a way that suits their learning style. This can lead to better trained staff, who possess a more diverse range of skills and knowledge, ultimately leading to improved customer experience and revenue growth for the business.
Les Roches, a world-renowned hospitality management school, is at the forefront of research and development in this field, exploring the potential of generative AI to transform the industry. We want to see this happen in a responsible and ethical way, recognizing that advancement in technology could produce exciting and better solutions to enhance the working conditions of staff and improve the guest experience.
Spark, the innovation sphere by Les Roches, brings together students, faculty and industry partners to collaborate on research projects that explore the potential of emerging technologies, including new generative AI software. Through these projects, Spark is exploring how generative AI can be used to improve customer experiences, enhance operational efficiency, and support staff training and development. Most importantly, we are looking how it could support human beings (i.e. hospitality employees), to act as human beings, avoiding repetitive and boring tasks with little or no direct value from a hospitality point of view.
As with any emerging technology, it is important to consider the ethical implications of generative AI. Les Roches takes a holistic approach to exploring the potential of this technology, considering not only its potential benefits but also its potential risks and drawbacks. One key consideration is ensuring that the use of generative AI is transparent and accountable. Guests should be made aware of when and how their data is being used, and hotels and other hospitality providers should be transparent about how they are using generative AI to enhance the guest experience.
Another consideration is ensuring that generative AI is used in a way that is fair and equitable. This means ensuring that the benefits of the technology are distributed fairly across different groups, including staff and guests, and that the technology is not used in a way that reinforces existing biases and inequalities. Despite the many benefits of generative AI, some hospitality and tourism staff will naturally be hesitant to embrace this new technology. However, it is important to note that generative AI is not meant to replace human employees, rather to enhance their capabilities and improve their efficiency.
To embrace generative AI, hospitality workers should take a proactive approach to learning and training. They should seek out opportunities to learn about the technology, attend training and workshops, and collaborate with colleagues to develop new ideas and solutions. Staff should also be open to new ways of working, such as using AI-powered tools and software, and be willing to experiment with new techniques and approaches to improve their work.
One specific area of research that Les Roches’ Spark center of excellence is focused on is the use of generative AI to improve the hotel check-in process. Traditionally, hotel check-in has been a time-consuming and often frustrating experience for guests, requiring them to wait in long lines and fill out numerous forms. By using generative AI-powered systems, hotels can streamline the check-in process, reducing wait times and enhancing the guest experience.
Of course, this new service/procedure will not be appropriate to all hotel categories. I would expect luxury hotels, in particular, to retain a more human-centered approach that befits their higher staff-to-customer ratio and elevated guest expectations. Therefore, as always, we should not generalize.
It is a natural human tendency to fear change, and especially when it comes to technological change. Look back through history and the stories will be familiar – one classic example being the UK’s Locomotive Act of 1865 (and not repealed until 1896), which stipulated that any self-propelled road vehicle had to be preceded by a person walking at least 60 yards (55 meters) ahead, carrying a red flag! In the century and a half that followed, motorized transport came to be regarded as a gateway to freedom, opportunity and prosperity. If handled correctly, I see no reason why the fruits of industrial revolution 4.5 will not be just as rich for humanity.