IHG, Baidu collaborate on AI rooms in Greater China

INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Through a partnership with Baidu, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts has launched artificial intelligence (AI) rooms for hotel properties within Greater China.

“Many hospitality brands are embracing technology with hopes to enhance both the leisure and business guest experience,” said Lin Wang, VP of marketing at InterContinental Hotels Group Greater China. “InterContinental Hotels & Resorts is one of the pioneers in the industry and looks to technology to bring guests a new level of satisfaction during their stay. We also understand that technological services do have a limit. It is important to note there is no intention for the AI Smart Rooms to replace the role of the concierge, but guests can ask the AI to call the concierge—that ‘insider’ knowledge is still facilitated by human touch.”

Supported by a hardware upgrade and cloud service, the AI solution integrates AI technology with hotel operations. In an attempt to deliver a more natural human-computer interaction experience, the AI Smart Room fully embraces voice-control technology. “The program recognizes a command of ‘Xiao Du Xiao Du’ (Xiao means little and Du means Baidu) before guests say, [for example], ‘going to bed’; it knows that it needs to shut the curtains and turn off the lights in the guestroom,” she said.

Baidu’s AI solution also enables guests to do more than just typical commands. For example, guests are able to freely switch between work and leisure modes. “Settings between work and leisure modes differ,” Wang said. “For instance, when a guest wants the curtains closed for leisure mode, [the curtains] will black out the room entirely; however, during business mode, the curtains will not entirely close to keep some natural light in the room.” Baidu designed the new solution to fine-tune the current back end management system, including customizing information and resetting devices.

When asked whether the technology is always monitoring guest conversations, she responded with the following: “…Guests who wish to not use the technology can book a guestroom without the service. For those who wish to book an AI Smart Room and not use the technology, they can shut the program off to ensure it does not pick up conversations.”

IHG began working with Baidu, a Chinese language internet search provider based in Beijing, last year. “When InterContinental Hotels & Resorts was offered the opportunity to collaborate with the brand, we found it a perfect fit to launch a new wave of enhanced guest experience in China,” she said. IHG first unveiled the mockup room of the AI Smart Room at InterContinental Beijing Sanlitun a year ago. After receiving positive feedback from media and the industry, IHG solidified its relationship with Baidu by officially launching the AI Smart Room project in InterContinental hotels throughout China.

“From now on, guests staying at InterContinental Beijing Sanlitun and InterContinental Guangzhou Exhibition Center will be amongst the first to enjoy the AI Smart Rooms,” Wang said. “A total of 100 AI-powered Club InterContinental suites will be available at InterContinental hotels in gateway cities and key destinations across China within the year. We are planning to roll out this AI solution to all upscale hotels across the region as long as owners see the value and want to install the system. The cost varies depending on the cost of RCU, which is minimal compared to the return it will generate.”

The two companies only spent six months on the preparation for the launch of the AI Smart Rooms from the very first mockup room to actual products. “Part of the AI Smart Room experience, including the lighting and air conditioning switch, is realized through a room control unit (RCU), which processes and analyzes voice commands,” Wang said. “And the hotel operations team manages the website specifically designed by Baidu to understand the need of the guests and provide the requested room services.”

One of the challenges with the AI Smart Room right now is with regard to language. Baidu’s device currently doesn’t recognize languages other than Chinese.

The partnership between IHG and Baidu is expected to grow, according to the hospitality company. In the future, together, the two companies will continue to explore and innovate in intelligent hospitality solutions in an attempt to create more smart options and experiences for guests. With regard to what IHG has planned for the future in technology, there’ll be a continued emphasis on developing AI solutions for its guests.

“IHG keeps exploring the AI technology to provide the best experience for guests,” Wang said. “In addition to the AI Smart Room, we are also looking at other possibilities to ease the hotel check-in process and improve the stay experience.” HB