The seemingly sudden impact of ChatGPT took many by surprise.
But it was many years in the making, and a direct result of the failures of voice search and chatbots that ushered in this next era of conversational AI. You may recall the level of hype voice search once received in the travel sector.
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Throughout the 2010s, everyone was talking about the coming impact of voice search across a hotel’s marketing, distribution, and operations. Yet, the voice tsunami never landed on shore. Plagued by poor performance, to this day most voice assistants are barely capable of performing simple tasks — not to mention booking a trip.
Chatbots were also often praised as a new, exciting interface for travel. The original vision was that a chatbot would be able to help streamline hotel searches and make it easier for travelers to find what they sought while on-property. However, most of those language learning models never reached the level of sophistication needed to solve problems at scale.
Enter conversational AI, a solution that promises to combine the simplicity of chatbots with the depth of AI to surface information that previously required poring through search results. For guests, this means more efficient travel planning (with some tradeoffs) and instant communication with the hotel. For hotels, this means personalization at scale, improved productivity and streamlined customer service.
So, what’s the true impact of ChatGPT’s style of conversational AI for hotels? Here’s how the hype hits reality in hospitality. But first, let’s ask ChatGPT!
For operations: Improved productivity and optimized customer service
As more consumers experience the benefits of conversational AI search, they will begin expecting similar experiences when it comes to hotels. From the operations side, this will require a rethink of how guests interface with the hotel, as guests will be trained to use conversational search above other methods of communication.
That has massive implications for how hotels prioritize their customer service investments. By embedding a conversational layer across its systems, hotels can provide better service to guests (who overwhelmingly prefer self-service) without having to invest in more labor resources.
It’s a true win-win: guests have greater control over their experience, with support that’s personalized, relevant and in real time, while hotels can deliver those benefits without massive capital outlays or ongoing labor costs. Staff will also be able to communicate with hotel systems in new ways, asking for help and support conversationally, making it easier for new staff to on-board – and reducing training costs.
For guests: More relevant personalization
Chatbots have become a frequent fixture on most hotel websites. Yet they remain woefully underutilized because the functionality hasn’t kept up with consumer expectations. People want a helpful chatbot that serves their needs, rather than one that frustrates them with limited functionality.
Thanks to AI’s deep reach across disparate systems, conversational interfaces will transform chatbots into actual free-flowing experiences that build on existing data to drive deeper impact. Guests should be able to make and change bookings, receive personalized destination recommendations, and ask for relevant information on all aspects of their relationship with a hotel.
And, for international guests, those benefits compound, as the conversational interface functions across multiple languages. There’s something magical about communicating with a hotel in your native tongue, anywhere around the world!
For direct bookings: Opaque sourcing, personalized offers
The rise of conversational AI search has the potential to disrupt some of the progress hotels have made optimizing their websites for direct traffic. When travelers turn to chatGPT to research hotels, for example, there’s no way to know how it chooses which properties to display when asked, “What are the best hotels for a girlfriend getaway in New York City?” It’s a black box.
Thus, in addition to optimizing for query-based search, hotels need to optimize for chat-based search. This creates some conflict between machine-readable website copy that optimizes for solving specific search queries and a more conversational tone that provides context for conversational search engines like ChatGPT.
A hotel’s website may benefit from a more conversational tone, for instance, and a hotel blog should build credibility for likely traveler queries at the long tail of search. For a hotel in Vegas, “What are the best hotels in Vegas for a bachelorette party?” could become a blog post that also features reviews from past guests who recommend the hotel specifically for this purpose – and better positions the hotel for conversational search recommendations.
Conversational search also offers a major boost to direct bookings with dynamic personalization, across hotel websites, call centers, guest messaging and loyalty marketing. Consider the role of plug-ins, which integrate 3rd party platforms into conversational interfaces. Expedia’s recently released ChatGPT plug-in, for example, gives travelers the ability to ask for relevant hotel recommendations — and then imports them directly into the user’s Expedia profile. This conversational layer can become a pathway to personalization at scale that hotels have previously only dreamed of!
How the hype hits reality: Systems integration
To fully realize the potential of conversational AI across operations, the guest experience and direct bookings, there’s one core challenge for hotels and casinos: systems integration.
For a conversational interface to be effective, it needs access to the ideal inputs. These include guest profiles, guest rates, destination and property information, loyalty data and reservations systems. From there, the AI can do what it does best: synthesize information into a conversational flow that adapts in real time to guest prompts. And, as the AI learns over time, it can improve itself organically.
With proper systems integration, the results can be surprising. One example of how this works at scale is Cendyn’s new AI call center integration, created with Poly AI. The streamlined system embeds AI into the call center to respond naturally to certain queries, which reduces wait times and provides more personalized service at scale – especially for loyalty members.
With AI in place, call center and front desk teams are freed up to focus on more complex issues, such as identifying special offers or comps available to guests, while delivering better overall experiences and more personalized service.
The Poly AI example shows the potential of the conversational layer helping hotels in unexpected ways. And, as AI continues to develop, it will become a mission-critical tool for hotels to optimize operations, personalize experiences and deepen relationships with guests. The hype may be on overdrive – but the impact is only just beginning.