At Edwardian Hotels, Edward the AI driven chatbot continues to charm customers but not all travel brands have had success, writes Senay Boztas, with additional reporting from EyeforTravel

Edward is a much-loved staff member at UK hotel chain Edwardian Hotels. The trouble is, he doesn’t have anywhere to spend his tips this Christmas season…because he is a chatbot.

Michael Mrini, director of information technology, told the EyeforTravel Amsterdam 2017 conference that their 18-month-old artificially intelligent valet has just started a new adventure, responding to voice commands and speaking to their guests.

“Edward is our vitual host,” he explained. “As soon as you check in – up to three days before arrival – you receive a message from Edward who says if you need anything, just text me. As soon as the room is ready, he texts you."

“Edward gives an upselling opportunity for buying breakfast, and ad hoc messaging might invite VIPs for a drink or tell guests we have a spa and massages. He looks at history and can pre-empt guest needs like asking for a bathrobe.”

On the back end, the system is integrated with an array of apps that receive messages about room service orders, breakfast details and room repairs, and it is all fed by a universal data pool – with staff devices updated every few minutes.

When chatbots aren’t hot

Edward, the AI driven valet, may be charming hotel customers but a chatbot launched by Icelandair last summer failed to deliver. “If you are going to do something ‘chatbotty’, ask yourself why are we doing this, who are we doing this for and how are we going to measure it,” Icelandair’s Dora Guofinnsdottir told an audience in Amsterdam. Without defined goals, the airline’s chatbot project didn’t go according to plan. On the plus side, however, it was a great marketing stunt, and made plenty of headlines. It would, however, take a lot to convince Guofinnsdottir that booking through bots is the future; instead she said the airline’s focus is now on data-driven iterative development, where every feature is tested with a range of versions - it’s simply not about going with gut feeling.

A very responsive ch-app

Meanwhile, the award-winning Edward has already been evolving during his short life. “We went from SMS to a chat app, and now Edward can talk as well – a lot of people think he’s a butler!” said Mrini.

It was clear that guests wanted to be able to talk to Edward, or Eddie, as his best friends apparently call him. “With everything we did, I asked guests to provide feedback,” added Mrini. “One of the biggest requests was to make it voice enabled, and the technical challenge was in finding the technologies and voice library.”

He is, he revealed, working on putting Edward responsive speakers in hotel rooms too – not using major voice-responsive systems such as Google Home, but independent technology.

So room service at Edwardian Hotels’ 13 properties could soon just be a whisper away.

EyeforTravel Europe 2017

May 2017, London

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