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Robots, AI and the skills requirements of tourism and hospitality employees

In the recent months, ChatGPT has become a trendy word, and a lot of provocative and even dark forecasts flooded the media. The power of generative AI to create content on a particular topic seems frustrating for many people. The general fear is that the AI will substitute many jobs, thus causing a huge unemployment. On the other hand, AI could significantly enhance employees, especially in service industries like tourism and hospitality.

AI has many applications in tourism that may lead to a substantial transformation of the sector. Starting from automation of many tasks and customer service, the AI is able to increase efficiency and improve customer satisfaction by providing immediate responses to inquiries and/or personalised recommendations. Nowadays, an online chatbot to communicate with customers is already a norm for many tourism and hospitality companies. AI is helping revenue managers to take pricing decisions, generative AI supports marketing managers in preparing the communication and promotion campaigns, while robots deal with cleaning, serving, room service delivery, and provision of information in hotels, restaurants, museums, and airports.

While AI can automate many tasks, it’s important to remember that the human touch is still crucial in tourism and hospitality. The integration of AI will transform tourism job profiles, and hence – the required skills and competences of the employees in the sector. How will this happen? Is the sector ready to address the AI-induced changes? What skills will be necessary for the tourism employees when working along with a generative AI and robots? Below are some directions to answer those questions.

 

Robots and AI in the tourism and hospitality industry will change the nature of work for human employees and will require upgrade of their digital skills.

  1. Shift Towards Complex Tasks: As AI takes over routine and repetitive tasks, human employees will be freed up to focus on more complex and strategic tasks. For example, while AI can handle simple customer inquiries, human employees will be needed to handle complex complaints or provide personalised service. Umni is an AI chatbot platform, that had developed and offers hotels a pre-trained AI module to start with 11,000 common customer questions on close to 800 hotel topics in it and recognizes over 95% of overall customer questions, it also offers voice assistance (speech recognition) in Bulgarian and English (Umni, 2023). Thus, the technology saves time for the human employees to provide a more customised service and personal attention to the guests.
  2. Increased Focus on Customer Experience: With AI handling many operational tasks, employees can focus more on enhancing the customer experience. This could involve personalising services, building relationships with customers, and creating memorable experiences. For example, sending personalised messages in the guests’ native language is a great improvement, but it also requires the employees to manage the settings and adjust the AI accordingly (Odeen, 2023).
  3. Data Analysis Skills: As AI becomes more prevalent, there will be an increased need for employees who can analyse and interpret the data generated by AI. There are many sophisticated predictive analytics platforms (e.g. like GameChanger by Duetto, and IdeaS) that could be integrated for the hotels. In any case, however, this will require training and upskilling for the hotel employees – not only for interpreting the data, but also for being able to request the proper data using the relevant metrics. For data analysis AI is invaluable, but still it works more as a tool, and the human employees should have appropriate skills to use it correctly (Bhattacharjee, Seeley and Seitzman, 2017).
  4. AI Management Skills: Employees will need to learn how to manage and work with AI and robots. This could involve training AI models, monitoring their performance, and troubleshooting any issues (e.g. malfunctioning of a pool cleaning robot). Even though the AI maintenance could be outsourced, a person from the company should be able to recognize any AI-connected issue and correctly explain it to the experts. In addition to classic digital skills, the employee is supposed to have some engineering knowledge as well.
  5. Adaptability and Continuous Learning: As AI continues to evolve, employees will need to be adaptable and willing to continuously learn new skills. This will be crucial for staying relevant in the changing industry. They will need to learn, unlearn and relearn new skills. Especially important will be the skills to use and work together with AI. The constant need for updating the knowledge and skills might place the managers in front of the trade-off to organize regular trainings, or to outsource the maintenance and operations of AI.
  6. Ethical and Privacy Considerations: With the increased use of AI and data analytics, employees will need to be aware of ethical and privacy considerations. This could involve ensuring that customer data is handled responsibly and that AI is used in a way that is fair, transparent and explainable (Ivanov and Umbrello, 2021). Therefore, tourism and hospitality employees will need skills related to AI ethics.
  7. Interdisciplinary Skills: The integration of AI in the tourism and hospitality industry will require a blend of skills, including technical skills, business skills, and soft skills. Employees will need to understand how to use technology to enhance business operations and improve the customer experience.
  8. In terms of digital marketing generative AI provides invaluable assistance for design, promotion, automated content creation, thus saving time for the marketing teams and ensuring of regular publications, posts and newsletters. Still, the initial marketing concept, ideas and entire framework remain within the capacity of a human employee. The AI would enhance the marketers mostly in the implementation of their ideas, so in order to benefit the most from its assistance, the marketing employees should be aware of how the AI works and could be adjusted (Sharma, 2023).
  9. Language and translation. The capabilities of generative AI in translation allow employees to communicate with customers from around the world, enhancing in this way customer service and satisfaction.

 

From operational point of view, the use and application of AI in the tourism companies will require basic technical and programming knowledge and skills from the employees. Those competences are quite far from the traditional hospitality-related skills. But this knowledge can help employees understand how to use the AI tools effectively and troubleshoot minor issues. The technical level is not necessarily high, because the ultimate point is to get a basic understanding of how AI and other digital technologies work and can be beneficial – for the company, the customers and the employees. In the future, we might see more interdisciplinary roles that combine the traditional skills with more technical skills. For example, a role might involve using AI tools to analyse customer data and then using that information to improve services or create personalised experiences for guests.

 

Then comes the big question – how the tourism employees could learn technical and programming skills, in order to work with AI in the sector?

 

The education and training institutions should consider an interdisciplinary approach that combines traditional tourism and hospitality courses with courses in technology. This can help students develop a broad range of skills that will be useful in the diverse tourism industry. Appropriate technology courses, that provide a basic understanding of AI, robotics, virtual/augmented reality, data analytics, and digital marketing should find their place in the curricula. To keep up to the latest developments and application of AI in tourism and hospitality, the training and education institutions should maintain strong relations with industry professionals for guest lectures, seminars, and workshops to provide students with insights into the current trends and future directions of the industry. Collaboration with industry partners for live projects, internships, and job placements will provide opportunities for students to gain practical experience with AI and other digital technologies.

 

While AI will automate some tasks, it will also create new opportunities and roles for human employees. The key will be to ensure that employees are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in this changing environment. And let’s not forget, that AI will mostly enhance human employees and will improve their productivity. Therefore, it will not be the AI to replace tourism and hospitality employees, but employees that use AI will replace the employees that do not use it. Hence, AI and robotics skills need to enter into the job descriptions of tourism and hospitality companies and the curricula of tourism and hospitality higher education programmes.

 

This blog is written by Pantour partner Zangador Institute.

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