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Equipping AI with Expert Local Knowledge for Your Short-Term Rental

May 24, 2024
AI acting as a tour guide for guests staying at a vacation rental, Airbnb or boutique hotel.

General purpose AI won't cut it

We’ve heard about how AI is trained - it uses huge amounts of data from across the internet to learn about the world and how to deliver that knowledge with human language. These Large Language Models (LLMs) are getting smarter all the time. How can vacation rental hosts leverage this amazing tech? The #1 answer from a recent host survey was Guest Communication.

But the truth is that without a partnership of sorts between the AI and the host, AI isn’t going to do a very good job. It might have some answers from its training data on a local Mexican restaurant it can recommend, but that’s not what any visitor wants. Your guests want insider tips for great local destinations that are curated by someone who really knows the area. 

That’s nothing new. After all, we've had 3-ring binders and digital guidebooks for decades. As people now turn to AI for answers, how do hosts equip AI with their expert knowledge? At AIPEX we’ve been focused on that for 7 years, and we’ve learned some things along the way.

How to train AI on your vacation rental

Developers and architects that are focused on AI know that there are a number of ways to train AI for a specific purpose. You can build a custom model, use a Natural Language Understanding (NLU) system,  fine-tune an existing LLM, use a concept called Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG), leverage vector database technologies, and the list goes on. Plus the space is morphing quickly. 

To cut to the chase, there is no one approach that yields the best result. A combination of some of these approaches works best.  To make it harder, the best approach today won’t be the best approach tomorrow. That means DIY isn’t an option for a host. There is no way to get the return on your time, and the vendor community will provide the focus and investment necessary. Before choosing a vendor, there are some important things to know.

What we’ve learned

Here are some important things we have learned about the best approach to equipping AI with your local knowledge:

  1. It’s got to be easy: Make sure the system leverages the latest in GenAI technology to help you provide answers to your guest’s questions.

  1. Follow your guest’s lead: You know some FAQs, but the system needs to keep track of what the guest asks about, and then tell you. That way, you can provide the answers that guests really care about.

  1. Think about scale before you start: For example, a big blob of training text with all your answers is a bad idea. Systems that give you one place to put all the information that you know about your property and your local area are a headache waiting to happen. What happens when you add another property but only parts of your ‘answer file’ are appropriate? You then make a full copy and make the changes in the copy. How about when you’ve got 5 properties? Copies of the same data are everywhere, and you have a data management nightmare. You need a platform with a true Content Management System (CMS) that is purpose-built for this use case.

  1. Have a backup plan: If you haven’t yet provided a curated answer to a topic, having the AI reply with “Sorry, I don’t know” is not an awesome guest experience. Instead, make sure the system can provide a best substitute answer, while also ensuring the guest knows that it is an AI-provided answer. This is easier said than done. It is critical that the AI doesn’t ‘hallucinate’ and provide fabricated information. Be sure your vendor has invested in methods to prevent it. 

  1. Give guests a menu: Sometimes guests just want to poke around and see what information is available, without having a specific question. If your system doesn’t give them a menu of things it knows about, guest usage won’t match a system that does.

  1. Video and images make a huge difference: Many AI systems are full of words, and you know the saying - a picture is worth a thousand of them. Also, in cases like ‘how-to’s’ for your property, there is no better way to give guests what they need than a short video.