Can soft skills be learned?
I have been chatting with a number of hotel operators over the last few weeks, and one thing is constant between each and every one of them: we must continually improve our service delivery as the adoption rate of technology is moving at lightspeed. Why? Because when technology is so incredibly prolific, we need proof of humanity and authenticity. Hotel operators want to embrace technology to help them run their businesses more effectively, but not at the cost of losing their hotel’s “human touch.”
In a world increasingly dominated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technological advancements, the hospitality industry faces a very unique challenge. While leveraging new technologies for operational efficiency is essential, maintaining the human essence of hospitality is paramount. The industry must strike a delicate balance, ensuring that the pursuit of technological innovation does not overshadow the core values of service, authenticity, empathy, and delight.
The role of AI in transforming the hospitality industry is undeniable. From chatbots handling reservations to AI-driven “personalization” of guest experiences, technology has streamlined operations and offered new opportunities for engagement. However, this efficiency comes with a caveat: the risk of depersonalizing guest experiences. As we integrate more AI, there’s a growing need to affirm our humanity and authenticity, traits that machines cannot replicate.
Authenticity has become a rare and valuable commodity as AI can mimic many human interactions. A study by PwC found that 73% of customers point to customer experience as an essential factor in their buying decisions, with 42% willing to pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience. For the hospitality industry, this means that front-line staff interactions, from concierge services to personal greetings, must be delivered and heartfelt. Authenticity in service can create memorable experiences that no AI can replicate. Guests seek authentic experiences, but this does not mean the trip itself. It also means how guests and employees build their relationships through connective communication.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – a trait inherently human. In the hospitality industry, empathy translates into understanding guest needs, sometimes even before they articulate them. While AI can predict and analyze customer preferences, it definitely cannot empathize. Training staff to listen actively, show compassion, understand the challenges that guests sometimes face, and anticipate guests’ needs can significantly enhance the guest experience. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, companies that excel at customer experience grow revenues 4-8% above their market.
Our industry thrives on friendliness and delight, profoundly human and emotional elements. A warm smile, a friendly conversation, or a joyful attitude can transform a guest’s experience. While AI can ensure that operations run smoothly, it cannot replace the warmth and personal touch that human interactions provide. Therefore, fostering a culture of friendliness and delivering delight among staff members remains a critical aspect of hospitality.
The key to successfully integrating AI in hospitality is balance. Technology should be used to enhance, not replace, human interactions. For example, while AI can handle routine tasks like booking and check-in, front-line staff can focus on providing truly personalized service and attending to unique guest needs. This approach allows technology to boost operational efficiency while letting the human element shine in personal interactions.
Can soft skills be learned? The answer is yes!
Investing in staff training and development is crucial in this tech-driven landscape. Employees should not only be tech-savvy but also trained in soft skills like emotional intelligence, cultural sensitivity, and problem-solving. This dual focus ensures that the staff can work alongside AI tools efficiently while providing empathetic and personalized service to guests.
Having high emotional intelligence allows employees to communicate effectively, form positive relationships, manage disagreements, lower stress levels, and reach your personal and work-related targets. It’s also an excellent quality for a leader to have. Research from Yale University in 2020 revealed that employees who report to bosses with high emotional intelligence are happier, plus they are more creative and innovative.
As AI continues to evolve and become more integrated into the hospitality industry, the challenge will be to use these tools to enhance human interactions rather than replace them. The essence of hospitality is, and always will be, deeply human – characterized by authenticity, empathy, friendliness, and joy. A report by American Express found that 70% of consumers in the U.S. have spent more money to do business with a company that delivers great service. By striking the right balance between technology and humanity, the hospitality industry can offer experiences that are both efficient, profoundly memorable, and genuine. In the future of hospitality, proof of humanity will not just be a sought-after trait but the cornerstone of guest satisfaction and industry success.
About Alan Young
Alan E. Young is the Co-Founder and President of Puzzle Partner, the leading marketing agency focused exclusively on the complex B2B initiatives of technology innovators across industries including hospitality, travel, healthcare, life sciences, pharma, media, and entertainment. He is also the Tourism and Hospitality Program Professor at Georgian College. Previously, Alan has held executive-level positions with start-up companies such as Newtrade Technologies, (acquired by Expedia), Hotel Booking Solutions (acquired by IBS Software) and TrustYou. Alan is past Chair of The Board of Directors of The OpenTravel Alliance and been very involved with other industry associations most notably AHLA, HEDNA, and HTNG. With over two decades of experience in the travel and hospitality technology world, Alan specializes in helping innovative companies achieve winning performance and dramatic growth.
About Puzzle Partner
Puzzle Partner is a leading branded content agency that collaborates closely with an exclusive selection of the most innovative companies in the travel and hospitality sector. For over 10 years, we’ve helped brands harness the power of PR, storytelling, and authority content to engage audiences, build awareness, foster trusting relationships, and drive action. Uniquely situated in the marketplace, we bring together a dedicated team of bright strategists, imaginative thinkers, and proficient content creators, all backed by extensive domain expertise and an elite network.