What ChatGPT means for the hotel industry

Very few of us would say that we are actively participating in the evolution of artificial intelligence. That changed in November 2022 when the US research lab OpenAI made ChatGPT, its chatbot extraordinaire, freely available to the public, ostensibly to collect feedback.

ChatGPT remains free to use today, although there may be times when the volume of users – 13 million at any time - prevents new log-ins.

There is also an upgrade option at $20 a month which is available even when demand is high, gives faster answers, and priority access to new features. 

Use cases for ChatGPT

Short-staffed sales and marketing teams can literally start today by feeding prompts into ChatGPT to generate written content for websites, social media and emails. Chat GPT can help with even small tasks like replying to an email.

A common use case is to generate blogs for SEO purposes. The blogs may be a little bland, and ChatGPT can provide facts but not their sources. Some might say online content is already a sea of sameness and ChatGPT-generated blogs will just be more of the same. Still, at the very least, regularly publishing new website content should boost search engine rankings.

There is plenty of content on hotel websites that is tedious to write, such as room-type descriptions, and ChatGPT can help with that.

The quality of the output from ChatGPT is largely dependent on the quality of the input, and knowing how to write the most effective prompts is fast emerging as a new skillset.

As a Large Language Model, ChatGPT not only works in natural languages, but also programming languages, so IT employees can use it for problem-solving and writing code.

Barnaby Worrad, tech lead at Compuserve Services, a provider of IT support to several UK hospitality businesses, said ChatGPT has been an enormous time-saver.

“It just saves a lot of legwork of searching around the internet trying to find answers to stuff that you know is there,” he said. “Somebody has faced the same problem I’m currently facing and before ChatGPT I had to Google and Google and it could take me hours or days to find a solution. Whereas with ChatGPT, it’s like having an expert in that language sat next to you. And it remembers your conversations and builds knowledge. It’s very impressive.”

A combination of low code platforms and ChatGPT means applications can be produced much more quickly and cheaply than in the past, said Worrad.

For instance, a hotel might want to recognise guests arriving by car at the front gate so that the security guard can greet them by name. The data – licence plate, guest name - is already there and can be connected and packaged into an app for the security guard.

Or a hotel bar wants to keep track of its Champagne bottles in real time instead of doing manual stock takes. Again, by using low code and ChatGPT, it’s possible to create a simple inventory management tool integrated with the point-of-sale system.

In addition to its value as tutor, researcher and writer, ChatGPT and similar tools can be products in themselves or integrate with existing tech products, most obviously chatbots.

Almost three-quarters of consumers expect companies to have a chatbot or messaging option on their websites and apps, but the majority report disappointing experiences.

In a Zendesk survey, 55% of respondents said they didn’t receive accurate answers, 46% said it was frustrating having to start all over again with a human, and 50% said it took too many questions for the bot to recognise that it could not resolve their issue.

Indeed, a common mistake in customer service scenarios has been to think a chatbot can replace a human entirely.

Blended approach

A blended approach, where AI takes care of the FAQs and an employee handles the more nuanced requests, has proven more successful. Tristan Gadsby, CEO of Alliants, a provider of customer experience software to brands like Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Atlantis Resorts, and Nobu Hospitality, said: “Even in the luxury sector, where there has been the most resistance to chatbots, we are seeing automated responses to more than 15% of messages.”

Still, is ChatGPT a threat to companies like Alliants? “Quite the opposite,” Gadsby said. “AI is already the backbone of what we do. Overall, ChatGPT’s impact is likely to be positive as it could lead to more advanced and effective chatbot services that benefit businesses and consumers alike.”

ChatGPT runs off a neural network designed for natural language, an enormous advance from chatbots that rely on pre-programmed responses or rule-based systems.

As more businesses become aware of the capabilities of ChatGPT, it is likely that the general quality of chatbot services, and our trust in automated responses, will increase.

Other ChatGPT use cases for hotels include guest feedback analysis, payment processing, taking room service orders, and automated data entry.

To integrate ChatGPT into a CRM, for instance, would involve several steps: identifying the data entry tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming for hotel staff; training ChatGPT for data entry; developing an integration plan which might involve creating an API or integrating with an existing API like Zapier or Microsoft Power Automate; testing and refining the integration; and finally, deploying the integration and monitoring it.

Will ChatGPT remain free to end-users, and become an important everyday resource? Or will the “free research preview” end at some point? Time will tell.What is clear is that OpenAI has evolved from a non-profit to a for-profit organisation with several revenue streams in its sights: licensing ChatGPT to companies that want to use its technology for various purposes, such as chatbots; partnerships with tech providers; consulting and services; and research collaborations.

Microsoft invested a reported $10bn in OpenAI in January 2023. The software giant is currently embedding ChatGPT technology into its Bing, Edge and Microsoft 365 products.

It is still early days and the use of ChatGPT, especially in commercial settings, is the subject of much debate. Many hotel companies are evaluating the technology. Andrew Evers, group director of IT at Rocco Forte Hotels, said: “We are not using ChatGPT for work at the moment. I am sure there are many applications in our industry, but we haven’t figured out how best to package it yet. Watch this space.”