Taupo resort introduces AI-based booking system

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Above: NEWB.I.E: Doing business at the speed of thought. Photo/Supplied.

Bay of Plenty business Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort says it understands it was the first holiday park worldwide to receive bookings via a new artificial intelligence (AI) system interacting directly with guests.

Owners Barry and Carol Kirkland said they jumped on the opportunity to pilot NEWB.I.E in Australasia. It is an AI guest assistant that can assist guests with hundreds of tasks.

The system evolved out of the NewBook bookings management system the resort was using, which is part of Australian entrepreneur Brad Illich’s Xtreme.com.au IT business. Illich had noted many in the tourism sector were struggling with the limitations of their operating systems, including managing bookings, billings and marketing on the one portal and he developed NewBook in response.

NewBook, a cloud reservation system for properties including hotels, holiday parks, resorts, apartments and villas, takes bookings and checks guests in and out, and features a complete automated billing system, online booking engine, in-built credit card payment options, direct debit functions, email marketing possibilities and two-way SMS messaging with guests.

NEWB.I.E. was the name coined for the new AI system they developed as an additional service. The resort had been working with NewBook since 2013 and Barry Kirkland told Bay of Plenty Business News he had formed a close relationship with Illich.

“Because we were interested in AI innovations and had a good relationship, he thought we’d be an ideal participant for NEWB.I.E. when it was in its early stages,” said Kirkland.

“We were looking at how we could apply AI and make our interactions with our customers more seamless. Our business had a lot of different elements.  When it first started, we were the only company using NEWB.I.E in Australasia.”

He noted that most of the businesses NewBook had on board were accommodations providers, but Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort was different, as a resort spa with four departments.

Last year, two of the system’s developers travelled to Taupo for on-site research and development with operations manager Mirela Petrar, listening to how guests interact with their staff and “training” NEWB.I.E., which is continuing to evolve.

It was just like training any other staff member, said Petrar, adding that NEWB.I.E was “the beginning of something that’s really exciting”.

Kirkland said he and his wife took a futuristic approach to their business and had developed several innovations of their own to increase efficiencies across their resort and stay ahead of industry trends.

“Embracing technology has allowed us to grow our business exponentially and we are always looking for new ways we can further automate operations to maximize efficiencies in all areas of our business.”

“We’ve seen such an incredible amount of change over the last 10 years and for us it’s all about being able to do business at the speed of thought.”

Taupo DeBretts says the resort is an especially popular destination for overseas visitors from China. The resort’s website and NewBook’s online booking engine are both translated to Chinese, in addition to NEWB.I.E speaking Chinese, so their ability to receive direct commission-free bookings had been vastly increased, said Kirkland.

“It’s still early days but we’re pleased to see how this technology is already paying massive dividends for the business.”

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David Porter

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