December 6, 2018
You know artificial intelligence is going to have a big impact on consumer behavior, but do you know how big? Or even just how? At HSMAI’s 2019 Digital Marketing Strategy Conference — being held at the New York Marriott Marquis on Jan. 23 — David Atkins will fill in some of the blanks with a general session on “The Promise of AI.” Principal and co-founder of Digital DNA Infusion, Atkins will explore when we might see a “killer app” for AI — and how it might affect hospitality, travel, and tourism. Recently he gave us a sneak peek at his presentation.
To what extent is AI already a part of hospitality sales and marketing?
Like everything in our industry, we’re probably nowhere near where we need to be, both in terms of thinking about it and preparing for it. Anyone that can tell you exactly what AI’s first real killer app and its implications will be at this point — it’s sort of like telling you what mobile was going to deliver before Steve Jobs gave us a true smartphone. But I think there are some early indicators, at least in the consumer marketplace, which I think will drastically change as a result of how consumers are going to use AI.
So how are consumers going to use AI?
The early forms we’re going to see true AI drastically impact the landscape that we call hospitality is with voice interface — Google Home, Alexa, take your choice. In the U.S. at least, Google and Amazon and Apple will probably own that market. Then voice interface in an autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle is foreseeable. When? Assuming no regulatory barriers, within a decade there will be a material amount of consumers using voice interface in semi-autonomous or fully autonomous vehicles, which will change the landscape of how people travel for leisure or business. And if you’re not thinking about that and you’re in the hospitality space, you’re going to end up in another codependent relationship like people have ended up with the OTAs and Google.
What are some of the implications for the hospitality industry?
Let's just talk about leisure-travel day trips, which matter to most hospitality companies. Just like the interstate [highway] system changed the way people used their cars and changed as a result the way hotels operated — Marriott rose, Howard Johnson’s fell — now imagine an environment where instead of planning your weekend trip the way you’ve always planned it, you get in your car after a long week and you say, “Take me somewhere fun for the weekend.” Does your car take you to the place you’ve always been going? If it does, you’re great as a hospitality company. If it doesn’t, how do you raise the consciousness of your offering?
Now let me layer another factor on that. If it’s an autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle and I can sit back with my electronic device of choice and relax because I’m not driving — A, traffic might move faster, and B, we can envision a world where there’ll be special lanes for autonomous vehicles that may move faster. So you can go further: If you're in Las Angeles, does your autonomous vehicle say, “Oh, we’re taking you to Palm Springs”? No. Why stop at Palm Springs? The reason that people drive two hours or less for those weekend getaways is because they don’t want the stress.
But if there’s no stress because you’re not driving, do you go three hours? Do you go four hours? Can you sleep in your car? If I’m a hotel that makes all my money because people stop between Las Angeles and Las Vegas and they stop for one night and I’m a $39-a-night hotel or I’m a $59-a-night room and they’re just doing one-night stays, well, now they don’t need to stop at all, do they? These are the sorts of things we’re going to talk about.
What is one takeaway you want your audience to leave with?
The number-one takeaway is that we need to experiment, and we need to develop a culture in the hospitality industry that embraces risk and is not risk-adverse. And that’s really hard when you’re dealing with equity ownerships and brands and day-to-day quarterly challenges. The folks that do embrace that — and I’m not necessarily talking about Airbnb or HomeAway — are going to own that space.
How do I get my team, when I go home, to say: Okay, some amount of my time, I’ve got to be thinking about two years out, three years out? And how do I explain that to the people who I report to, whether it’s a board of directors, an executive team, a general manager, a P&L owner, an asset manager? They’ve got to understand that the right way to protect the place that I work — the brand, the company, the hotel — is, I can’t just focus on this quarter, this month, next quarter. If I do that as a leader in hospitality sales and marketing, I’m not being a leader. I’m executing for you, but I’m not being a leader. And that’s the message that I want them to take away.