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  • Stephan Busch

Artificial Intelligence in hospitality. More service or just profit? A blessing and a curse

original article published 2018 -

Artificial Intelligence is here

Development in the hospitality industry over the last decades show that we should - as always - change and advance and todays options are countless. Especially when it comes to AI – Artificial Intelligence.

However the same technologies which we praise and - as often suggested - should embrace are seen as curse in other areas.

In a recent article by Erick Kobres,Forbes Technology Council

“it is believed that artificial intelligence (AI) will create 2.3 million jobs in 2020 while only eliminating 1.8 million, for a net gain of half a million jobs added to American company payrolls.”

Reading another article it states:

"By 2025, 50% of today’s jobs will no longer exist because of AI. This will go up to 85% by 2030. This is a big shift from the traditional service-based model."

Introducing universal basic income in countries that could easily afford it like Germany would benefit hospitality and tourism, employees and employers. Instead the richest 1% percent get richer and the poor, or middle class moving into poverty are loosing more. For hospitality and tourism a strong developing middle class is important.

The current scenario regarding AI for hospitality reminds us of the industrial revolution. Machines doing the hard work instead of humans. Today it is computers and AI replacing the monotones, boring jobs with technology. The thought is good but will the benefits be distributed equally? Will hospitality prosper or just be faceless automated?

As with the industrial revolution it has to be secured that not everybody profits – which would easily be possible but instead the rich will get richer and the rest will be still under control. For hospitality, restaurants and hotels AI could mean that employees could receive fair wages, work decent times and thus more people would be choosing to work in the field instead – as today – many are just forced to take the jobs for survival. Quality could be delivered.

The word experience flows out of the CEO’s and top managers when they talk about AI.

“By allowing a virtual assistant to manage everyday mundane tasks, such as taking simple food orders, humans can dedicate more of their precious time toward meaningful customer service interactions and tackling more complex issues with guests.”

Erick Kobres,Forbes Technology Council

Cost cutting will be first

This might be possible but will it also happen? In hospitality every introduction of new technologies results first in staff being replaced, cost saved and profits raised.

What is missing then? Seems to be perfect?

The major problem is that they are only highly sophisticated computer programs yet unable to make emotional connections on human level.

Another statement from the same article:

“We are already seeing large restaurant chainslike McDonald’s moving to adopt this technology to build a more efficient and consumer-friendly model, ultimately helping customers accurately place and receive orders better and faster.”

Erick Kobres,Forbes Technology Council

The only server you can trust is yourself

“helping customers accurately place and receive orders better and faster”

Doesn’t that mean we shifted the job of placing an order and receiving it from the staff – that can now be laid off – to the customer who pays the same or more but has to do the job himself. “accurately” is even better. The staff didn’t do it right? You do it now! Any complaints you can directly address yourself! Like Starbucks educated us that for a lot of money we should serve ourselves.

Biometric authentication

Raising big concerns when practiced in China facial recognition is praised in other areas as an unavoidable advance.

“The nature of biometric authentication allows for consistent and seamless customer transactions that enable users to leave right after a restaurant meal with the confidence that their bill was paid automatically without the need for wait staff or pay terminal interaction”

Erick Kobres,Forbes Technology Council

Facial recognition exist already everywhere

Somehow that scares me more than it appears to be a service. And where is it all used? Recently in Germany I went into a supermarket to buy one Coca Cola and a bottle of water and paid cash. I had never been in this market before. On this day and for the next two days I received e-mails with advertising from this supermarket chain on my personal e-mail account. How is this possible without facial recognition? How will it improve the “experience” for guest?

Some hotels go the other way and try to keep their venues app and web free.

“The thinking is that if guests aren’t surfing the web, they’re more aware of their physical surroundings, open to other amenities and, ultimately, will utilize more hotel services and facilities.

Technology is no match for the warmth and personality of the maître D's welcome at your favorite restaurant or the hotel concierge whose 20 years of personal connections”

Erick Kobres,Forbes Technology Council

Does it get scary?

Artificial intelligence is not only a robot that is executing function instead of a human doing the same. The machines are learning to think, to learn and with the newest GO computer AlphaGoZero they seem to start mastering intuition. Ke Jie the current GO World Champion said that in 2016 playing against the former version felt like playing against a human with great human teachers. With AlphaGoZero it is like playing against God. A God that doesn’t need humans anymore. Its learning by itself. That’s where it gets scary. If this is already reality today reality in the future those computer are ready to find solutions for problems that mankind couldn’t solve. We might not understand the solution and result but it will function. But what else – which we don’t understand or can estimate can they do? They are not able of emotions but can manage intuition? When can they manage emotions? Or can they do that already?

Artificial intelligence has big advantages when it comes to managing big data and administrative task. But whichever way we go we should value human interaction and using new technologies as an assistance, a help - but not as a replacement as always mentioned. But what happens if we manage – and it seems we are on the way – to make them superior? Or we just use them to increase profits and forget about the human factor?

Author: Stephan Busch, Academic Director at the State University for the Humanities Moscow RGGU, Faculty of Tourism & Hospitality earned his Master Certificate in Hospitality Management from Cornell University, USA. He has a diverse experience in launching operations, business development and service training- for hotel and cruise companies in Asia, Europe, Canada and,

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