HB Exclusive: AI and machine-learning critical to hospitality

Most (66%) of IT decision-makers at hospitality/travel companies/organizations said artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) are technologies that are most mission-critical to their business strategy, compared to 64% who cited cybersecurity, 62% IoT/wireless, 56% data science and 55% e-commerce as key, according to a new survey sponsored by Rackspace Technology, a leading end-to-end, multicloud technology solutions company. The hospitality/travel sector was among the industries in the poll of 1,870 IT leaders.

A majority 62% of respondents in the hospitality/travel space said AI/ML technologies are a high priority for their industry and, specifically, 65% reported AI/ML has had a positive impact on brand awareness and on brand reputation (71%), as well as on revenue generation (72%) and on expense reduction (69%).

“As AI/ML budgets continue to increase, we are seeing projects proliferate across more areas of the organization, and it’s clear that the AI/ML is advancing in its importance and visibility,” said Jeff DeVerter, chief technology evangelist, Rackspace Technology. “At the same time, the research makes clear that many organizations still struggle with getting stakeholder buy-in, addressing issues of data quality and finding the skills, resources and talent to take advantage of the AI/ML’s full potential.”

According to the report—AI/ML is a Top Priority for Businesses, but are They Realizing Its Value?—AI/ML ranks among the top two most important strategic technologies for organizations, alongside cybersecurity. About 66% of respondents in hospitality/travel say they are employing AI/ML as part of their business strategy, IT strategy or both, while 66% of hospitality/travel respondents are allocating between 6% and 10% of their budget to AI/ML projects. This compares to a reported spend (as a percentage of overall budget) of between 1% and 10% in last year’s survey.

AI/ML projects are accelerating in the hospitality/travel sector
AI/ML are being used by hospitality/travel organizations in an increasingly wide variety of contexts, including improving the speed and efficiency of processes (58%), personalizing content and understanding customers (51%), increasing revenue (46%), gaining competitive edge (41%) and predicting performance (42%) and understanding marketing effectiveness (43%).

In an indication of the increasing maturity of the technologies, 66% of hospitality/travel respondents said their AI/ML projects have gone past the experimentation stage and are now either in the “optimizing/innovating” or “formalizing” states of implementation. Most organizations are also citing a wider range of use cases, including computer vision applications, automated content moderation, customer relationship management and biomedical applications.

Progress and challenges
With regard to AI/ML adoption, 31% of hospitality/travel respondents cite difficulties aligning AI/ML strategies to the business. “The fact that many organizations are having trouble aligning AI/ML strategies to the business and navigating the plethora of new tools available indicates that projects are often falling victim to poor strategy,” added DeVerter. “Garnering support from the right stakeholders, coming to consensus on deliverables, understanding the resources necessary to get there and setting clear milestones are critical components to keeping projects on track and seeing the desired return on investment.”

Organizational understanding
From a talent perspective, more than half of respondents said they have necessary AI/ML skills within their organization. At the same time, more than half of all respondents say that bolstering internal skills/hired talent and improving both internal and external training are on their agenda.

Comparing departments, 75% of hospitality/travel respondents say IT staff grasp AI/ML benefits while 50% in R&D, 47% in operations, 46% in customer service, 43% in senior management and boards, sales and HR and only 38% in marketing departments understand the benefits of these technologies.