Analysts are talking about 2022 as the year of “revenge
travel,” since consumers are vacationing with a vengeance (and getting
“revenge” on COVID-19) after two years of pandemic-driven caution and fear. It
stands to reason that the much-beleaguered hospitality and tourism industries
would finally reap the benefits.
But what happens when millions of people return to zoos,
aquariums, theme parks and ski resorts and there aren’t enough employees to
help them get around? Staffing these jobs was hard enough even before the
pandemic and the “Great Resignation,” and now there’s a full-blown talent
In the not-far-off future, artificial intelligence will
reshape organization charts and staffing for numerous industries. We believe
this has implications for the tourism and hospitality sectors, which can
leverage AI to alleviate today’s staffing challenges and overhaul their
operating structures in the future. The question is whether they’re ready and
able to act.
Why hiring for the attractions industry is uniquely
Ask any attraction or resort operator: Hiring has always
been the biggest challenge for a couple of reasons. First, these businesses
tend to be seasonal (depending on what part of the country they operate in).
Second, the talent pool is often transient, made up largely of students and
people who don’t intend to stay put for long.
COVID-19 has shaken up both hiring patterns and employee
attitudes, adding a new set of wrinkles to these companies' hiring plans. When
you mix in an overall national labor shortage, you’ve got a perfect storm.
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It’s one thing (and bad enough) to add to an already-thin
staff’s workload, which can crater morale and retention. It’s a whole other
level of problem when attractions can’t fully operate or appropriately service
guests due to staffing shortages. No proprietor wants guests to be left feeling
they’ve had a bad experience, since negative word of mouth can be hugely
detrimental to their business.
We’ve already seen some of these dynamics play out this past
winter. The National Ski Areas Association reported a record 61 million skier
visits at U.S. reports, despite lower than average snowfall. That should be
great news for an industry that endured a tough two years thanks to COVID.
However, a whopping 81% of ski areas reported staff shortages, with an average
of 75 positions left open per location. For skiers, the result was sometimes
long lines, overcrowded lodges and negative takeaways on individual resorts (or
even the sport itself).
Even under “normal,” pre-pandemic conditions, recruiting and
retaining staff for attractions jobs was challenging. Training can be
cumbersome, since it requires current staff’s attention (which is often in
short supply given staffing shortages), and the transfer of knowledge isn’t
always consistent. On top of this, attraction employees are often expected to
be jacks of all trades, doing everything from performing menial tasks to patiently
dispensing wisdom on a wide range of topics when prompted by guests - which
simply isn’t for everyone.
For attraction operators who are desperate to hire,
automation might look like a godsend. But it’s important to remember that
customer experience is of paramount importance to their businesses - and that
customers want and expect human interaction. The trick is to find an AI
solution that automates a wide variety of tasks and frees up employees to do
the high-value work of helping customers make the most of their time.
How AI could help staffing challenges right now
In the near term, AI can be leveraged to automate much of
the “information booth” aspects of employees' jobs. For example,
conversationally guided experiences such as mobile ticketing guides, food and
beverage finders and Animal Assistant can help address customer questions,
reducing the burden on attraction employees. AI can also be used to better
manage guest foot traffic patterns, improving customer experience.
Attraction operators can also harness AI to help accelerate
employee training. We recently had a sports team tell us that employees were
asking their conversational AI Assistants questions to help determine the
answers to customer questions.
Overall, by taking on customer support work that can fray
employees’ nerves and induce burnout, conversational AI engagement can increase
the appeal of attractions jobs, which should help with recruiting and
How AI could revamp these industries over the long haul
Ultimately, as technology becomes more integral to their
operations, attraction-centric enterprises will be able to rethink how they
design park layouts and experiences. Many functions can be digitized, such as
food and activity wayfinding, and overall staffing should become more
In addition, the more attractions businesses become Big Data
ventures, the more they can help customers make decisions about timing and
preparations. Algorithms may even help some organizations determine which
customer interactions “matter” more than others, helping them prioritize their
efforts and create far better experiences for guests overall.
The bottom line is that automation is a critical lever for
attractions businesses to pull, but they need to do so judiciously - never
forgetting the importance of human interaction for customer experience, which
is the core of their business. Adopting the right level of AI technology should
reduce the breadth of responsibilities a staff member is responsible for
learning and managing, freeing them up to focus on the most crucial - and
lucrative - customer interactions. Employees should find such work far more
rewarding, which should help proprietors with retention and profitability.