Tourism businesses committed to hospitality as AI, technology grow
Tess Brunton, RNZ Tourism reporter
Tourism operators say they do not want new technology to jeopardise the manaakitanga they offer visitors.
The industry has been facing a rapid rise in new technology that offers opportunities as well as challenges. And businesses do not want to risk getting left behind.
Some have started to embrace robot room service, virtual reality and AI.
But for smaller operators, it could be a daunting step into the unknown.
The George hotels manager Simon Ruri said person-to-person contact was what the industry was built on.
"There is concern that we may lose some of that. There is certainly room to integrate it, but I think what we stand strong to is our hospitality - both importing and exporting that.
"So I think it is quite scary in terms of what it means for us in the future."
But new technology brought with it an exciting and possibly generational change, Ruri said.
He said there were opportunities to use AI without impacting manaakitanga.
There were some big decisions to make and research was vital before buying in, he said.
"While it's a big investment, do you invest in that for the future or do you invest in it now, and what does that look like?
"Because we have to take care of what we're looking after now versus what the future looks like or could look like, so I guess that's the hardest part."
Tongariro National Trout Centre chief executive Bevin Severinsen said it was about how the tourism industry adapted and managed the new technology.
"I guess if you go back 30-40 years when banks were talking about phasing out chequebooks and going over to cards that you poke into a machine on the sidewalk and punch a secret number in and then all of a sudden you get access to your bank account.
"I remember the rhetoric back then was like 'what a crazy idea. How can this technology possibly take off?'"
Businesses like his have plenty of questions about new technology as he found out at a recent tourism summit.
"A lot of it is around the idea of how do you control this? How do we ensure that this doesn't take over our business? How do we keep that face-to-face contact with our customer base?"
Severinsen noticed there was less engagement in similar photos of children and families catching rainbow trout on social media.
Since then, it had been dabbling with AI-generated posts and images to pique interest.
"You get new engagement from people that you haven't seen on your socials before and it's the imagery that sort of spikes something in their mind."
Technology could also help to bring iwi history, environmental knowledge and customs to life, he said.
Julie Wolbers runs Ribbonwood Retreat, a bed and breakfast in Franz Josef, and said she'd never go contactless for her business.
"What sets us apart though is when a guest leaves us saying that they arrived as strangers and left as friends. So we don't want - well we don't think AI can really take that away from us."
She uses AI to help with emails and marketing, and she has been considering how else it could make a difference for her business.
"It helps me with the syntax, spelling and they're tasks that I would rather not be spending time on."
Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Rebecca Ingram said technology could help businesses spend more time on the important stuff - like customers - by taking over tasks.
"The way I see tourism businesses using it now - and I would expect that to continue - is to enable their people to be doing what they do best so that AI can support them with some of the things that are a little bit less sexy or interesting behind-the-scenes."
Tourism businesses said change was coming, but it did not have to come at the cost of their hospitality.