BITAC Independent Panel: The Role of Technology and AI at Independent Hotels

By David Berman | August 11, 2023

Technological advancements such as robotics and artificial intelligence have completely altered the landscape of hospitality. Deciding which technologies to implement at your properties can be a tricky endeavor for any hotelier.

Attendees at BITAC Independent, which took place from August 6-8 at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort in Bonita Springs, Florida, experienced a panel discussion on “The Role of Technology and AI at Independent Hotels.” Spencer Halford and Cody Adent from Vibrant Management’s “Virtual GM Podcast” co-moderated the session on Monday afternoon. 

Tony Nelson, Owner of Zion Wildflower Resort, started off the panel by talking about what his property has done to leverage its brand online. Nelson said he’s prioritized showcasing the property’s features on video and growing their TikTok and Instagram presence.

Adam Keeshan, Managing Partner of Food & Beverage at Ithaka Hospitality, started the discussion about AI after Halford asked how it can be used to help guests in F&B. Keeshan said that guest communication has been a key area of focus for Ithaka, as guests can use chatbots to order food that then communicate with staff to create “actionable items.”

Gabe Garn, Asset Manager at Garn Development, echoed Keeshan’s sentiments about automation, saying that technology is closely linked with innovation. 

“If we can help people get technology to get rid of some of the mundane things, then we can focus on the things that really matter, which is the relationships,” Garn said.

Sharmin Dharas, CEO of HERstory Hospitality and General Manager of Hotel ZAZZ, talked about automated texts as a way to convey a story. The Hotel ZAZZ has a children’s book written about it with elements that spill into the real world. Guests will receive texts that give them part of the story to get them to engage with the fun atmosphere of the property. 

“Having that automated has been huge for an independent boutique property like ours that has only 49 rooms, and we staff about one person a day in the front,” she said.

Keeshan said that AI can have an immediate impact on guest satisfaction due to the speed with which automated responses can resolve guest issues.

“Getting what they’re looking for and getting it resolved to them in a timely manner is really important,” he said. 

He said he’s also considering the long-term benefits of AI such as building guest profiles and using AI to predict guest preferences for food & beverage, housekeeping requests and more during future stays. 

Dharas was asked how she leverages social media to promote Hotel ZAZZ, which she said is a huge part of her property’s brand. The hotel is filled with “Instagrammable” photo opportunities, including many art installations. Guests also receive text messages that encourage them to take selfies and share their experiences on social media. 

The panel ended with a question about gathering guest preferences using AI. An audience member wondered how to collect information on guests without freaking them out, and Keeshan said that he feels guests appreciate the extra time put in to get to know them.

“Whether we’ve done it before through human interaction directly face-to-face, or we capture that information based on their previous exchanges with this AI text messaging, I think guests ultimately just really appreciate the thoughtfulness of having the proactive approach,” he said. “We really haven’t experienced (guest concerns). I think guests more so are just appreciative of the personalization for it.”


David Berman

David joined Hotel Interactive at the start of 2023. He previously worked as a page editor for Gannett’s Design Center and the editor-in-chief of The Daily Nebraskan. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with degrees in journalism, marketing and advertising/public relations in 2022.

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