Virtual Assistant

The New York Times travel columnist, Joe Sharkey, writes about a “A Virtual Travel Agent With All the Answers”. Alaska airlines has introduced a virtual assistant named Jenn on its website. Jenn apparently responds orally to typed questions and, seemingly incredibly, “asks follow-up questions when needed”. Sharkey also writes that it “provides a written response and displays the site’s relevant page”. The NYT article says that “Jenn was designed by a technology company in Spokane, Wash., the Next IT Corporation which has a goal of simplifying interaction between people and computers, using natural-language communications to retrieve information and even ask follow-up questions to clarify intent”.

Airlines may represent a poor model for hotels to emulate particularly when it comes to customer relations but in the technology arena, they have frequently been a step ahead of the hospitality industry beginning with revenue optimization and more latterly with kiosks. While kiosks in the hotel industry still elicit leery glances from customers, guests are more likely to respond positively to a Jenn that answers question typically reserved for live reservation agents. The potential for the hospitality industry appears to be substantial and Nextit’s phones (answered by Jenns?) ought to be ringing off the hook.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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