The future of artificial intelligence for the hospitality industry has been a buzzing topic for a couple of years now. Hard hit by the COVID pandemic, hoteliers and other industry businesses have been forced to look for solutions. However, this was initially to minimize human-to-human contact, more or less. This report is about taking care that opportunism does not transform a welcoming industry negatively. There’s a bit of push to deploy robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to make operations more “efficient.” But, as we’ve seen, efficiency comes with sometimes insufferable costs.
In a recent release by Global Market Estimates (GME), AI for hospitality is growing geometrically. These experts say that this growth will be at least 10% each year between now and 2026. The big push to replace humans with machines accelerated during COVID. The reasons were obvious, to keep down human contact and to reduce operating costs. In the US alone, some 40 million jobs were lost at the peak of the pandemic. Some economists say a big percentage of these jobs are gone forever, lost to solutions like AI (Time Magazine).
Robots could replace as many as 2 million more workers in manufacturing alone by 2025, according to a recent paper by economists at MIT and Boston University. More and more we see authoritative reports like this one by technology guru Sanksshep Mahendra entitled “The Future of Hospitality with Artificial Intelligence.”
The big problem with all the AI hype is that it’s just that. Companies with vested interests in creating the systems and machines they want to sell to hotels spend millions promoting tech to an industry that has always depended on real people to provide the ultimate value. Reading it all these past decades since I started covering tech, I have this vision of a weary traveler coming into a hotel lobby out of a pouring rain, being greeted by a stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator with lipstick.
Okay, I am sure the cyborg-ish receptionists and desk managers will end up being a lot prettier and more human in a decade or two, but the reader gets my drift here. But let me point something out that most consumers do not have time to dig for.
Let’s start with GME above. Few will know that their primary tool for gleaning all this industry growth data is, as their website points out, a “Patent-pending Artificial Intelligence powered Real-time Competitive Analytics Tool.” Can you imagine a report by them questioning the validity of AI over humans at hotels? I cannot. To enhance my point, Sean Chou, former CEO of AI startup Catalytic, says AI robots are still too stupid to do the more complex jobs humans do. Futurists like Anton van den Hengel agree. The Director of Applied Science at Amazon and Director of the Centre for Augmented Reasoning at AIML, he told Cosmos Magazine:
“They are really, very, very stupid. They can’t do what a toddler can do. While they may be performing millions of tasks every day, the truth is they are incapable of understanding what needs to be done. You still cannot ask one to bring you a spoon.”
Now, let’s skip to tech guru Sanksshep Mahendra, who’s the Global Chief Technology Officer for a company called Ingenovis Health. This company is, ironically, a medical staffing company with deep tentacles in the healthcare industry. Their methodology goes something like this:
“Through a trifecta methodology comprised of shared services for economies of scale, technology maximization to create unsurpassed efficiency, and deep established relationships with clinicians and clients.”
This company, under CEO Bart Valdez, experienced exponential growth during the pandemic because of the emergency staffing needs of hospitals across the US. So Mahendra is not going to be geared up to explain the downside of AI taking over hotels, now is he? While his points on the benefits of AI are valid to an extent, his resume has absolutely nothing to do with hospitality, travel, or even supportive industries. Maybe I missed something on LinkedIn, tell me I am wrong.
Let’s finish up with the major problems AI salesmen are going to have in the coming months and years. First, the highly touted “personal experiences” tech people harp on involve huge data privacy issues that vary tremendously where international rules variations are concerned. Second, AI at the moment is just not that smart. Let’s be clear, the AI these technology enthusiasts are harping about is perfect for fast check-ins and doing the light work, maybe it can even hail you a cab. But running out of the hotel doors holding an umbrella over a guest’s head is not an option. Even if we do have robot doormen soon, they will require expert upkeep, repair, and software updates. I am visualizing a Windows update that causes my robot desk clerk to fall face-first in front of the guest asking for suggestions for the best Paris cafe nearby.
Finally, it’s fair to say that very few hoteliers have figured out exactly how robots or other forms of AI are going to add to the experience of their guests. Sure, AI for hospitality has plenty of potential advantages, but if the industry quandaries constantly about what guests want at any given time, how can a robot be interjected? What value is added when a guest interacts with AI versus a real person? I see plenty of speculation and the use of terms like “efficiency.” Maybe the next travel ad you see will be something like “Come to Crete and Experience the Most Efficient Holiday of Your Life!”