Students Learn AI to Prepare for Hospitality Careers

08:22 May 11, 2024

Students Learn AI to Prepare for Hospitality Careers

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is making its way into many parts of our lives. It can choose a coffee blend, or clothing and even check fields of tulips for sick flowers.

So it makes sense that AI is being used in the study of hospitality, says University of Florida professor Rachel J.C. Fu. Hospitality is a term to describe businesses like hotels, restaurants, tourism and event planning.

Fu said some of the newest tools permit students to practice real-life situations they might find while working at a hotel, a restaurant or an event. And Chris Anderson, a business professor at Cornell University, says AI tools are already helping hotels with marketing and dealing with customers.

Get experience with AI as soon as possible

Fu’s recent book Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Robot Applications in Hospitality Businesses looks at the future of hospitality in the time of artificial intelligence. Fu says business students should be familiar with AI programming tools if they want a career in hotel or restaurant management.

Fu told VOA you can already see AI and robots being used in the hospitality business “quite a lot.” For example, airlines use AI to deal with customer service and airports use AI to manage cleaning work.

AI can also be used to help sales.

Fu said a robot followed her during a 2015 visit to a museum in her hometown in Taiwan. At the end of her visit, the robot told her about things that she could purchase at the gift shop. It also told her about other parts of the museum she might like to visit.

The use of robots increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. They can do jobs that people who are worried about getting sick do not want. One example, Fu noted, is that robots are starting to be used to deliver food from hotel kitchens to people staying in a room.

“All you need to do is use your iPhone to scan and pick up your food,” she said.

AI is already working where you can’t see it

Anderson is a professor at the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell. He centers his work on helping hospitality businesses such as hotels and rental car companies choose the right prices for their rooms and cars.

He said most hotels already permit guests to use an app to check-in and enter their rooms. At some point, airline passengers may be able to check in and board their plane with facial recognition.

Although the technology seems complex, Anderson said the most important skill for a student is “a desire to learn.” In an email to VOA Learning English, he added, “People in these roles need to be flexible, take on new projects and learn new skills.”

AI experience separates job candidates

Anderson said students in technology or data study programs should consider working for hospitality companies. “Digital marketing, distribution, and revenue management are very data and technology rich,” he said. And large hospitality businesses need those skills.

Fu added that when it comes to making hiring decisions, if a manager is considering two qualified candidates, but one has experience with AI, “that person will be really valuable to the company.”

"Human beings can only be replaced by another human being when that person knows how to utilize AI."

Fu said one of the most important jobs in hospitality is called “front of the house.” That is the person who connects with customers when they arrive at a hotel or restaurant.

Now, however, robots will be doing some of that work. But, she noted, humans should not be worried about losing their jobs to robots, because humans can use their creativity to “move the industry and visitors’ experiences to the next level.”

Eventually, artificial intelligence will be used to help a hotel or restaurant greet a visitor. If they permit their data to be shared, a hotel might know the visitor’s favorite meal or drink and have it ready when they arrive.

Business and marketing students still ‘naïve’

Carlie Malone recently finished her studies in hospitality management at the University of Arkansas. She is now planning to study for an advanced degree in event management at New York University.

For her final research paper, Malone talked with nine top hotel business managers about AI. Malone said most businesses use AI in ways customers cannot see, such as looking at spreadsheets and making business plan suggestions.

She said the topic of AI came up in her classes, but not many students seemed to be interested in it.

"From what I could tell from my other classmates, honestly, if there were 25 kids in my class, only probably four of us are talking about AI, compared to the rest. A lot of people are still naive to the topic. I guess is the best way to put it.”

At the University of Florida, there is an Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics program for hospitality and event management. It requires students to take three classes covering the use of artificial intelligence and data collection in tourism and hospitality.

Other universities have similar classes, and there are even short-term studies for those already working in hospitality.

At Cornell, Anderson teaches a class that takes one weekend. It is aimed at those who already working in the hospitality business and helps them see how AI can be used to make their jobs easier.

Wide open future

Anderson notes that large hotel groups are only just beginning to use AI, so “there are lots of opportunities as firms look to not get too far behind, too early.”

Both Fu and Anderson say this provides an opportunity for international students in the U.S. to gain experience with hospitality companies during work programs or optional practical training.

“This is a global business,” Fu said, noting that companies like Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt have hotels around the world.

Anderson suggested some young people can even gain experience at an international hotel in their home country and “develop brand and industry-specific knowledge and use that to transition to the U.S.”

I’m Dan Friedell. And I'm Caty Weaver.

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