If you’re up at night worrying that artificial intelligence (AI) advancements will replace the people within the hospitality industry, we say: only if you’re looking for them to. It may be easy to claim human labor is a thing of the past, but the truth is perhaps a bit more nuanced. Sure, AI can take on short-term rental tasks, but that’s a good thing. In doing so, it can help you scale your business, enhance the guest experience, and optimize your team’s time.
Where AI Is Limited Today
Before we get into the benefits of ChatGPT and other AI tools, let’s address the elephant in the room: AI software isn’t perfect and is no substitute for humans. ChatGPT functions by learning from existing (human-created) content. Regardless of accuracy, it spews forth regurgitated knowledge with maximum confidence. The harm is in treating AI like an all-knowing God. Just like people, ChatGPT has limits. Its knowledge base relies on sources—both vetted and not. In other words, ChatGPT and similar technologies are not yet sophisticated enough to think critically, to discern veritable facts and solid reasoning.
To understand the other, arguably more major limitation of AI, we went straight to the source. Because as it turns out, even AI is ironically smart enough to know that it doesn’t know everything. When we prompted ChatGPT with the leading question, “What can people do in the hospitality industry that AI can't do?” it provided an arguably cogent response, which I’ve shortened for space:
“While AI has made significant advancements in various industries, including hospitality, there are several aspects of the industry where human involvement remains invaluable. Here are some areas where human abilities excel over AI in the hospitality industry:
- Personalized Service
- Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
- Unpredictable Situations
- Cultural Awareness
- Complex Problem-Solving
- Human Connection
- Adaptive Learning
- Sense of Urgency
- Ethical and Moral Judgment
The underlying theme here is this: While capable of many tasks, AI currently cannot replace the personalization, humanity, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, adaptability, and nuances of first-hand interactions on which the hospitality industry relies to succeed. Moreover, AI generally lacks the warmth of human connection, and even when sophisticated, it tends to miss the mark ever-so-slightly and come off as out of touch and, well, robotic. This is why the strategic utilization of skilled team members is imperative. And AI can free up time for just that.
Where AI Excels Today
ChatGPT, Bard, and Claude (AI writing tools) can all be considered useful tools for generating efficient responses to guests. But what’s even more impressive are the ways some AI tools are already being implemented within property management software (PMS). Some digital guidebook providers have built AI-powered itinerary planners into their software. What does this mean? When a guest seeks out a specific suggestion or travel plan, the AI software can provide custom itineraries by sourcing maps, existing positive reviews, and targeted demos. While such suggestions can’t replace your own personal recommendations, they can fill in the gap—and, at times, discover local spots unknown to you and your team.
For example, when a guest asks, “Where can I get a bite nearby?” you can likely provide a list of restaurants. But if the question is more niche—say, “Hey, what’s a good vegan-friendly family restaurant in the area?”—you may, frankly, have no clue. In this case, wouldn’t it be great if you had a tool to do that instant research for you?
Where AI Is Headed
As AI technology progresses, sure, it’s easy to fear a takeover. Instead, why not re-frame these tools? Think of emergent AI software not as a threat but rather as a new team member. Hire, teach, and train it. Continue supporting it so it becomes a trustworthy partner, with the skills and knowledge to do more and more accurately. We all know there are innumerable new questions and challenges short-term property teams face day in and out. Let’s face it, there are also a number of common questions that require somewhat rote responses.
Let’s imagine a near future where you will be able to train your software to learn how your business works. From there, it will learn what you want it to, generating semi-automated guest responses. With reinforcements, these tools will adapt to building out templates based on various contexts common to your business, saving you and your team precious time. Wouldn’t it be nice to pass on some of those monotonous tasks?
Of course, you’ll want to know when and how to rely on AI for answers. No problem—we foresee the opportunity to test AI for accuracy, to oversee and understand what it can and can’t do. You’ll set the rules. Say your AI responses don’t meet the accuracy threshold you’ve established, you’ll know which questions should be relegated to your (human) team. And for whatever responses or tasks you determine AI is fit to handle, you can delegate away.
Here’s a potential example: You get the same repetitive question about check-out time. You can train your AI to register that your VRMC’s check-out time is 2 p.m. EST. Great! Now you can let the AI field this softball question whenever it hits your inbox. On the other hand, let’s say you receive a guest message that a neighbor’s dog keeps coming onto your vacation property’s back deck. In this case, at least for the foreseeable future, AI probably won’t have the empathy and critical thinking chops to respond properly and pass the query along to you.
As AI researchers develop new technologies, we can lean in. Embracing AI as a productivity tool to tackle humdrum tasks can free up valuable team members’ time and energy for dedicated guest experience management. Imagine how the day-to-day savings can add up, with big-picture payoffs. Soon you may be able to manage the same portfolio with fewer staff—or with staff dedicated to strategic tasks. Alternatively, if you’re looking to scale your business, the time and resources AI tools can and will save you could free you up to take on additional properties without additional hires.
There’s a delicate balance to be found—and that’s a privilege current and forthcoming AI tools provide. As any devoted host knows, hospitality is and hopefully will always be based on those undeniable, inexplicable, critically informed interactions between people, namely hosts and their guests. Or, in the words of ChatGPT, there remain “some areas where human abilities excel over AI in the hospitality industry.”
Brise Carpenter is the vice president of customer success at Hostfully. Carpenter has spent the last 12+ years exclusively in hospitality tech and customer success. He specializes in coaching property managers to grow their business using technology.