by: Tim Blackwell
Software engineers are building artificial intelligence and automation into the latest versions of vacation rental software, helping take both operations and the guest experience to the next level.
These technologies are ideal for standard interactions with guests and for performing day-to-day functions in a socially-distanced environment. They are already assisting with simple tasks like answering frequently asked questions and verifying guests seeking accommodations, as well as adjusting pricing based on market conditions.
It’s important to understand the benefits of the new technologies, industry pros say, but don’t get carried away. The tools should complement property management and the guest experience without replacing the human touch.
AI and Automation Differences
It’s easy to confuse artificial intelligence with automation. But they are very different, even though each offers responses based on certain conditions and actions.
AI involves so-called “machine learning.” The software learns through past experiences to make decisions and reach conclusions. A common example would be a chatbot, which is a popular solution for answering guest questions automatically.
Automation is a technology that is designed to run itself based on specific patterns and rules to perform repetitive tasks. It doesn’t “learn.” It simply does exactly what it is programmed to do.
Both have uses in many aspects of vacation rental property management and are being widely adopted as travelers demand immediate answers and solutions when booking and staying at vacation rental properties. The technologies save managers phone calls and time and back them up when they are not available.
Beyond chatbots, AI can be used to monitor and predict when critical maintenance systems are ready for replacement or when parts are about to fail. The technology can also complement revenue management solutions in determining ideal rent pricing. AI gathers historical market information on rents, weighs current local market factors, and produces a recommendation.
Automation is also used to enhance the customer experience through predetermined responses that are triggered by an action, like the guest receiving an automated confirmation upon booking a vacation rental. Automation can be applied to accounting, maintenance, and other day-to-day property management functions as well.
Automation and AI don’t replace the human touch
Technology leaders see artificial intelligence and tools like chatbots as meaningful ways to assist in the guest experience, but a delicate balance is needed. Assuming the technology can do too much is a common mistake, said tech gurus at a recent vacation and short-stay rental virtual conference.
While chatbots offer an immediate means of communication, there is no guarantee a right answer will be given if the guest or prospect asks a detailed question, which can be a turnoff and possibly result in losing the lead. And programming for every imaginable response can be time-consuming; the benefit may not outweigh the effort.
Leave mainly the FAQs to automated responses within vacation rental software, says James Weatherby, who heads U.K. sales for Kigo.
“What Kigo helps with is simple automated communication with the guest,” he says. “This includes such things as understanding where to park or what the door code is, the information they need to know that you can be upfront and proactive with.”
And though not a replacement for human interactions, says Weatherby, the technology is very useful and a time-saver for things like verifying guests, especially in times like these. AI can retrieve expiration dates and capture other relevant information to authenticate travelers and reduce operator risk.
“One of biggest challenges right now is to maintain some distance,” Weatherby says. “Maintaining distance while checking the passport and I.D. is one area where AI can be helpful. It helps both the guest and property management team cut down on personal interaction.”
Automated messaging for booking and check-in/check-out will continue to provide travelers basic information without human intervention, which is attractive to newer generations, Weatherby says. Automated check-ins/check-outs also reduce contact, which can be a big marketing tool for properties as the pandemic continues.
In addition, automation can help operators increase occupancy and get the most from a market through revenue management. Kigo’s vacation rental management software integrates revenue management with a channel manager and reservation system, for a complete solution to maximizing revenue.
“This is a great application of automation,” Weatherby says. “It’s impossible for a human to calculate all the various factors that go into the perfect price for a property every day. But computers can weigh an array of inputs and suggest the ideal pricing.”
Weatherby’s conclusion: AI can be a big help in saving time and boosting revenue while keeping guests happy. Just be sure you know what it can and can’t do well.
Learn more about how Kigo Marketplace provides verified vacation rental businesses with a complete suite of products, which automate and simplify sophisticated, operational, and hospitality-centric challenges facing the short-term rental ecosystem.