Technology can enhance hospitality, but it can't replace it - hotelier

Even though technological innovations are sweeping across the tourism sector, there are just certain things only a human can do to truly make it a good experience for guests, a hotelier believes.

P-J Basson, manager at Montagu Country Hotel, does not think technology could ever replace the role human play in the industry. The four-star rated hotel, was among SA's tourism products exhibited at the Internationale Tourismus-Borse (ITB) world travel trade show held in Berlin, Germany this week.

It includes 32-en suite rooms was built in 1875 and it is SA's only art deco hotel. It is located halfway between Cape Town and the Garden Route. Basson said 65% of the hotel's reviews about how friendly the staff. This shows tourist' interactions with the offering has a lot more to do with people than the décor.

"Hospitality can never be offered by technology," Basson said. The biggest lesson Basson has learned over the past 20 years in the industry is that "you can't fake a smile". "If you miss the opportunity to give that smile, it is gone." This comes back to the value of having staff – the human interactions is integral in the tourism industry, he stressed.

SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona similarly believes that you cannot take out the human element in the industry.

Ntshona expects there to be a hybrid or fusion of the two in future. There will be disruption in the sector in terms of artificial intelligence (AI), he explained. Checking into hotels will be automated in the same way you don’t have to speak to anyone before boarding a plane because people use their phones to scan through gates.

But tourism is a "contact sport". There are situations that require human interaction. "You can't have a robot take a tourist on a guided tour of Robben Island, tourists would much rather prefer a former prisoner who spent time on the island to do that, he said.

Technology can add value through the efficiency that's created – but the service offering still requires human contact.

When asked if SA tourism is keeping up with innovative developments, Ntshona said that the local industry could do a lot better.

"In the world we live in nowadays, people want to feel they have a bespoke travel agent in their pocket."

In the past people sought a hotel with a great view, these days people want something that speaks to their interest. They are looking for experience, he said.

*Fin24 is a guest of SA Tourism, which is exhibiting at ITB Berlin.

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