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Pros and Cons of using AI vs a Guidebook for your Vacation Rental

February 15, 2024
Digital Guidebook for vacation rental / STR / Airbnb, or use AI instead?


Vacation rental hosts are resourceful and frequently embrace innovation to enhance guest experiences. It wasn’t so long ago that digital guidebooks were one of those innovations, replacing 3-ring binders in properties. Now, the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) represents a further leap for some hosts. If you are considering the adoption of one of these approaches to guest engagement, here are some things to consider. 

A Guidebook: Traditional and visually appealing

Despite the rise of AI, digital guidebooks retain their relevance, especially for guests who prefer traditional formats. They are good at presenting information in a visually appealing layout. Frequently guidebook solutions include options for reinforcing a host’s brand as well. 

Good for a small set of FAQs

By their nature, digital guidebooks are set up with a tap and swipe interface. Guests can navigate menus to find the information they are looking for. This works well for situations where there are a small set of FAQs that the host wants guests to know about. It does become more challenging as more content is added, since menus get longer and information can get harder to find. Keyword searches are sometimes available, but that mechanism may or may not surface the desired information.

Upselling Guests

Some guidebooks offer the option to sell additional services to guests, such as early check-ins. There are also options to present links to local tours and attractions through providers like Viator. Passive incremental revenue sounds great. The caution here is that guests often won’t trust a purchase method that they haven’t used in the past. Better deals might be out there. Without some incentive to book activities through a guidebook, many guests will shop around and book direct to cut risk or save money.

Offline options

Some guidebooks provide the option to access information while a guest is offline. This can be an important consideration in remote areas where there is no connection to the internet available at the property.

Compatibility with legacy solutions

Frequently digital guidebooks offer the option to print them out in PDF format, which can then be provided as a physical copy in the property. Many guests do appreciate having in-property information. AI solutions with digital signage are an option that prevents the information from getting out of date, but some guests prefer paper copies. For hosts that know their target audience, it may be preferable to provide PDFs for guests that want a traditional solution.

An AI Virtual Concierge: Answers and actions 

AI stands out for its ability to offer instant, context-specific answers and also initiate actions. Unlike guidebooks, AI can respond to specific questions like “Where can I find a spare propane tank?”. Many action-oriented applications of the technology are also available. For example, turning on lights, adjusting the thermostat, or sending notifications. AI can also provide guests with information tailored to their needs and the current situation. For example, proactively provide suggestions for indoor activities if it is raining outside.

Because guests can ask direct questions, AI solutions provide excellent scalability while keeping things simple for the guest. Options are available that support 900 different hospitality-related topics. Further, when the AI doesn’t yet know how to respond to a given topic, it can optionally be configured to reach out to the host for a quick answer. For topics that extend beyond the property and local area recommendations, AI can also backstop the curated information that a host provides with nearly infinite broad general knowledge that we have come to expect of modern tech solutions.

Communicating with voice

AI solutions are available that elevate guest interactions by offering the ability to simply speak to ask a question. This hands-free, conversational approach has long been considered the pinnacle of ‘ease of use’. Recent advances with Natural Language Understanding (NLU) and  Large Language Models (LLMs) has brought this promise to life in vacation rentals. As an example, AI simplifies processes like check-out. Guests can simply say “We’re checking out” on the way out the door and the AI will notify the host and begin preparations for property turnover. 

Handoffs to a human

AI solutions can understand a wide range of situations where previously a person would need to be involved. For example, if a guest indicates that there is a maintenance problem at the property, the AI can suggest troubleshooting steps. Then, if the guest is still struggling, the system can alert someone on staff to take it from there. As many hosts can attest, frequently the guest just needs a little help with the TV remote, or a little patience to wait for the refrigerator to cool down all the drinks they just added. AI is a great way to offload those types of situations from needing the host’s attention. 

What about upselling local activities like guidebooks offer? It will be some time before most guests will make large purchases through an AI system. In the meantime, there is another option. By partnering with trusted activity providers like Xplorie, AI systems can hand off to a human for a white-glove experience and mitigate the trust issue. Plus there is a 2-fold incentive: Guests can receive discounted tickets as well as human assistance with the booking process. 

In-Property or on-the-go

AI solutions are available both on guest’s mobile devices as well as in-property hardware like wall-mounted touchscreen displays that you can speak to. This maximizes the opportunities for guests to actually use the tool, which in turn drives greater value for a host’s investment in it.

Better communication leads to a stronger business

When hosts put tools in place that enhance the communication with guests, good things happen. AI provides ways to do that like never before. For example, AI solutions can proactively deliver information that the host wants guests to know about, weaving it into conversations. These systems can also do a sentiment check at arrival time, ensuring visitor’s stays are off to a great start. If there is a problem, the host immediately knows about it and can fix any issues. 

AI solutions can also alert guests to gaps between their reservation and the next guest’s arrival, and provide them with an opportunity to extend their stay. 

What lies ahead

Purpose-built AI systems for vacation rental guest engagement have just gotten started. Soon AI will be able to do things like create customized itineraries that are based on curated information from a host. Over time, this will improve significantly. Based on past travel history, AI will be able to analyze guests' preferences to create personalized recommendations, including recommending less-known local spots that align with the guests' interests. Similarly, language barriers will be even easier to overcome, with no need for guests to select their preferred language like a guidebook requires. Instead, answers can be provided in the same language as the guest used to ask a question. These are just a couple of examples of the tremendous opportunities provided by the application of AI to guest engagement. 

AI or Guidebook: Choosing the right tool

Either an AI solution or a digital guidebook should integrate with a host’s Property Management System. Those are table stakes. Likewise, both Guidebooks and AI solutions are cost effective, generally available as a per-property monthly subscription. Some AI solutions do offer free options, so that is something to consider. Finally, both are also simple to set up and use - you don’t have to be a tech wiz for either one. In terms of the investment of a host’s time in setting up the content, AI solutions can include the ability for guests to use GenAI to build out content for their guests. It is expected that this same capability will become available with many guidebooks. 

In summary, there are a range of considerations to think through when deciding on a technology for guest engagement. Digital guidebooks offer a visually appealing, user-friendly format suitable for basic FAQs. They can also be printed, appealing to those guests who prefer physical copies. AI solutions provide instant, specific responses to guest’s questions. They also scale well - the more curated content that is added the more powerful the AI system becomes, while at the same time keeping it easy for guests to use. If the ability to just speak to ask questions sounds interesting, AI fits the bill. Likewise, AI can integrate broader knowledge into the solution, beyond a host’s curated content. Undoubtedly, there is a place for both technologies in the vacation rental industry. Some hosts even employ both types of tools in order to give their guests the option that fits their personal preferences.