Knowledge Main Headline

Research by IFTM scholar shows service with human touch valued over AI in tourism and hospitality

中文摘要 / Summary in Chinese

There has been heated discussion on the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), and the possibility of AI-based technologies replacing human workers in the future. While it seems to be unavoidable that AI will take over certain tasks – especially those simple and repetitive – evidence collected by scholars in the tourism and hospitality field is showing the indispensable role of human staff in customer service.

In a recent study by IFTM Lecturer Dr. Soey Lei Sut Ieng, in partnership with scholars from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, the researchers compared the communication experiences of customers respectively when interacting with a disembodied conversational agent, commonly referred to as a “chatbot”, and with human service representatives, through instant messaging (IM). According to the findings, service provided by human representatives achieved better scores from customers than service provided by chatbots. That occurred in all aspects surveyed, implying that service by human representatives through instant messaging provided a more effective communication experience than that offered by chatbots.

The findings emphasise that customers prefer to be served in a personal and humanised way, implying that human sensitivity and intelligence can still provide a customer experience a cut above the one that chatbots can offer. Such result sends an important message to the industry: continue valuing development of human resources.

Tourism and hospitality has always been a people business. The ways in which service providers should apply technology, and balance between use of technology and of human touch, will remain active research questions.

The full research article, titled “A Comparison between Chatbot and Human Service: Customer Perception and Reuse Intention”, has been accepted for publication by the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management. The primary author, IFTM Lecturer Dr. Lei, has acknowledged the contributions of her collaborators for the paper: Dr. Shun Ye and Ms. Haili Shen, who are based at Zhejiang University’s School of Management.

Dr. Lei is also a founding member of the Macao Tourism and Hospitality Association, and a board member of APacCHRIE, the Asia-Pacific chapter of the Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education.

Her research interests include the impact of technology innovation on consumer behaviour in the tourism and hospitality industry, with a particular focus on mobile applications and digital marketing. Her research has been published in international scholarly journals including Tourism Management, the International Journal of Hospitality Management, the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, and the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research.