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TECH TALK: How AI has impacted business at Old Stocks Inn

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The 17th century, 16-bedroom Old Stocks Inn in Stow-on-the-Wold has become a technology trailblazer in the last 12 months, spotting trends and reacting to new innovations before many of the leaders in the industry. We spoke to owner Jim Cockell to get the scoop on why he has decided to invest so heavily in tech.

How much importance do you place on technology within the business?

We place a high importance on technology at the Old Stocks Inn as we are always looking for those things that will give us that competitive edge within our market. As with anything, those who adapt fastest will benefit the most and in the hotel industry, there are a lot of gains to be made. We also ensure we consider ‘sensible’ technology rather than things that sound amazing but are still very much emerging and therefore adoption is slow.

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How have you invested in technology over the last 12 months?

We have recently become one of the first hotels in the country to introduce a ground-breaking in-room concierge service using a bespoke version of Amazon’s Alexa assistant. The customised Amazon Dot systems – specially modified for the Old Stocks by technology firm Avoiceo – in each of our guest rooms.

The Dots have been tailored by Avoiceo and The Old Stocks to enable guests to ask Alexa questions about the hotel, and so far the feedback has been great.

How is AI impacting on the hotel sector at the moment?

The rapid development of new AI-based technology is fast-changing the way we live and work and, the hotel industry is no exception. Love it or hate it, artificial intelligence is already here – and it’s here to stay so we place a lot of importance on it.

From voice-recognition enabled search engines and virtual reality tours, to online chatbots acting as customer service agents, AI has become ingrained in our society and, as an industry, we should be capitalising on this and taking advantage of the opportunities it presents.

Consumers are already becoming increasingly used to interacting with artificial intelligence in their everyday lives, whether they consider it as AI or not, so it’s only a matter of time before hotel guests expect this technology to be integrated into their stay, too.

How do you this AI will be used within hotels in the future?

In the coming years I expect we’ll see this in-room artificial intelligence progress rapidly, becoming increasingly adaptable to guests’ personal preferences.

We’re already seeing tailored news bulletins, weather forecasts and playlists becoming available in some hotels, how long will it be before an in-room AI assistant books you a taxi or asks for any food allergies before your evening meal?

Perhaps we’ll see social media integration, where guests can automatically ‘checked in’ when they arrive at a hotel. And, with virtual reality tours of hotels already on the rise, perhaps these will evolve further to give guests VR excursions to nearby points of interest, without having to leave their room.

Are you looking to invest in AI within the Old Stocks Inn?

We already have with our Alexa assistant and we are now continuing to work with Avoiceo to continue to develop the Dots, adding features such as tailored music playlists and morning news and weather briefings for customers, based on their interests. The list of custom responses is also growing as guests ask the Dots a wider range of questions.

The more we can encourage guests to Ask Alexa and use the Dots to find out key information they need about our hotel, the more we can improve both the guest experience and also, our carbon footprint, as less printed collateral will be required in the rooms.”

What is the piece of technology within the business that you now couldn’t live without?

Last year we invested in a complete virtual tour of the hotel, every room and every corner of the public space was scanned. Working with our partner View It 360, we captured the quirky nature of each of the rooms so guests could look round the hotel before deciding on which room to pick. We ensured all rooms had all the relevant details embedded within the tour such as room configuration, features and price guides. We also added food menus and cocktail lists when you are in the bar and linked them to our booking system so guests could easily make a restaurant reservation whilst looking around the space. This has been invaluable in managing expectations and really adding a degree of personal hospitality to each customer.

How can you ensure you are buying the right technology and not just investing in a trend or fad?

It can be really hard to look past the sales pitch with technology, everything always sounds brilliant and solves a problem you didn’t always know you had! I often use two yardsticks when looking at technology for the hotel, firstly can I see our customers having this at home in the future? If the answer is no then it’s a bigger risk or potentially a fad, if yes then we explore it further. Secondly I look at other industries and see what is being adopted there, for example we use a platform to collect personalised guest information prior to the stay. I came across this technology when I was writing my children’s Christmas lists with them, it was such a clever and personal data collection form I immediately saw its potential for our hotel.

How do you ensure that the technology you install is suitable and appropriate for all your customers, whatever their age?

Understanding your customer is the key here but also accepting that not all technology will be used by everyone who stays. We have had Smart TV’s in the rooms since we opened and I know there are still guests who don’t have Netflix accounts or want to use them for catching up whilst away. I also know that my customer base would struggle to use systems where the curtains and lights are controlled by an Ipad and this would cause more confusion than happiness! Technology is about a balance, it should help guests to remove repetitive tasks or improve them so their satisfaction increases.

Which technology in the business has made the biggest impact on trading?

Without doubt the VR tours. It has improved the level of direct bookings via our website by over 6 percent year to date which has a big impact on commission payments. It is within the top 10 pages viewed on our website and has an average dwell time that is three or four times longer than most other pages showing that customers really enjoy looking round and picking their favourite rooms. What has been the most remarkable insight has been that customers will change their booking dates to get the room they like, often trading the popular weekend dates for an off peak night which helps everyone! I saw View it 360’s technology first in a UK house builder who had used it to provide tours of a show home and immediately saw how we could approach the hotel in the same way.

Jim will be speaking in a technology seminar at the Independent Hotel Show 2018 on 16 and 17 October at Olympia, London.

Visit www.independenthotelshow.co.uk to register your place.

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Zoe Monk

The author Zoe Monk

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