Posted: 6 months ago
Author: Maka Kochaladze

Pioneering Hotel AI Assistant Project ELLIA led by Georgian COO

Project ELLIA, an Intelligent In-Room AI assistant developed by COTT ELECTRONICS is set to revolutionize the hospitality sector by personalizing and enhancing guest experiences.

In the increasingly digitized world, ELLIA stands out as an innovative leap, leveraging Artificial Intelligence to meet the unique needs of hotel guests. We delve into a conversation with Giorgi Gulua, the COO of COTT ELECTRONICS who is also leading this project as a project manager, as he reveals the inspiration behind ELLIA and how this disruptive technology could redefine the norms of hospitality.

"Project ELLIA, an AI-powered Personal Assistant for hotel guests, was recently introduced under your leadership. Given your significant role in both the business and technical spheres, would you mind sharing the backstory and development of this ground-breaking project?"

Indeed, COTT Electronics is a leader in hospitality IT innovations, especially with our cutting-edge Hospitality IPTV system that's specifically tailored for hotels. Beyond providing guests with standard viewing options and video-on-demand, it facilitates interaction with a range of hotel services. Currently, our system is installed in over 30,000 accommodation units across Europe, including a significant presence in Georgia. Notably, our solution competes favorably with major players in the field, such as LG Hospitality and Samsung's Lynk Reach.

With our innovative approach, we've marked ourselves as industry trendsetters by introducing all-in-one, on-premise, plug-and-play servers in 2020.

During our five years in the industry, providing services to a myriad of hotels, we've detected a halt in the progression of guest entertainment technology.

In all honesty, guests often encounter more advanced technology at their homes than in their hotel rooms. The in-room guest interaction tends to be confined, largely restricted to preset services like room service or housekeeping, contributing to a somewhat disappointing user experience.

Drawing from my experience on a separate project that utilized NLP (Natural Language Processing) technology, I was motivated to create a solution for these challenges. This solution took the form of ELLIA. In addition to my everyday responsibilities as the COO of COTT Electronics, I assumed the role of Project Manager for ELLIA, rapidly assembling a team to bring this vision to life. Our mission was clear - to tackle these issues head-on and enhance the guest experience, a crucial element of the hospitality industry.

Giorgi, in your role as COO of COTT ELECTRONICS and Project Manager for Project ELLIA, you've been instrumental on both the corporate and technical fronts. Could you elucidate the challenges you've tackled in these dual aspects throughout this significant endeavor?

The project's distinctiveness itself posed a set of unique and fascinating challenges. On the technical front, we embarked on a different journey from our usual software development procedures. In normal circumstances, when we develop a program, we have a clear vision of the desired output. However, with AI, over-restriction could lead to mundane results similar to SIRI. We aspired for ELLIA to possess its distinct personality, mirroring human-like characteristics while maintaining a safe and professional boundary to avoid AI hallucination. Navigating this balance was an intriguing task.

On the corporate front, the challenge was that our customers initially perceived this as just 'Another AI-enabled Product,' considering AI as merely a buzzword seen in recent years. To counter this, we set up a closed website, granting hotel managers access to ELLIA. When we give it to a new customer, we immediately change their minds. 

Can you provide more insight into how ELLIA functions and its unique features?

ELLIA is an advanced AI assistant, adeptly engaging with hotel guests via in-room televisions. Unlike traditional digital assistants such as Siri, ELLIA harnesses the power of Large Language Models (LLM) to comprehend and respond to guest inquiries in a contextually rich, human-like way, eschewing the need for rigid command language.

Beyond executing basic services like offering hotel amenity information, booking spa services, organizing room service, or suggesting local attractions, ELLIA's capabilities extend far beyond, effectively redefining the hotel experience.

Take for instance a guest intending to adhere to a 1500-calorie vegetarian diet during their stay. ELLIA can expertly compile daily meal plans based on the menu offerings from the hotel's kitchen. Moreover, ELLIA's lost and found feature is notably beneficial; if guests lose an item, they simply describe it to ELLIA, which then uses image analysis to compare the lost item with those in the hotel's lost and found department.

In terms of feedback, ELLIA innovates by facilitating real-time responses. Rather than waiting for post-stay feedback, with ELLIA, guests can share their impressions as they arise, much as they would with a friend or a receptionist. The AI then processes and forwards the feedback to the pertinent department, encouraging immediate improvement.

You've indicated that your intention was to elevate ELLIA's intelligence beyond that of the voice assistants we use on our phones today. How did you manage to achieve this?

ELLIA's distinctiveness lies in its capacity to manage unexpected requests. An intriguing case from our test hotel exemplifies this: a guest asked ELLIA to narrate a 5-minute bedtime story for their child. ELLIA ascertained the child's age and proceeded to recite a concise version of Winnie the Pooh. It's this dynamic adaptability that differentiates ELLIA from conventional software, affirming its status as a genuinely intelligent assistant.

To explain this plainly we have multiple AI personalities running different kinds of tasks for the users.

When will ELLIA be available for hotels?

We’ve launched an exclusive U.S. Beta on May 22nd, with selected Hotel General Managers who got early access. By the end of July, ELLIA will be a standard feature with our IPTV system.

How do you anticipate ELLIA impacting your company and sales?

Our strong ties with various hotels have helped us understand that ELLIA presents a unique solution for them. This feedback implies a potential market gap that ELLIA can fill, predicting a positive influence on our sales. More than just increasing sales, we aim to revolutionize hotel experiences with ELLIA, fostering sustainable growth for COTT ELECTRONICS and contributing to the hotel industry's evolution.

By doing so, we believe we can drive sustainable growth for COTT ELECTRONICS while also bringing about meaningful change in the hotel industry.

Can you describe the future evolution of Project ELLIA?

We're currently in Phase 1 of integrating AI into hotel operations, which focuses on guests. Phase 2 will target hotel internal operations management, streamlining everyday tasks to save money and resources.

How might AI like ELLIA in particular, impact jobs in the hospitality industry?

The integration of AI into the workplace will create a dual effect globally. While new job opportunities will emerge, we must also anticipate that some roles will become obsolete as AI takes over certain tasks. 

For instance, today we see a widespread use of tools like GPT for content creation, which is already threatening the job security of copywriters.

As for ELLIA, it currently operates as the "Employee of the Month Receptionist," possessing comprehensive knowledge about the hotel it serves in. I don't see it directly displacing human receptionists in the immediate future because the need for human interaction remains integral in the hospitality industry. However, as ELLIA and similar technologies evolve, we expect them to take over more backend tasks in hotels.

This doesn't necessarily mean job loss, but it will certainly lead to a shift in job roles and responsibilities. Hospitality staff might focus more on tasks where human touch is critical while leaving routine, mundane tasks to AI like ELLIA. This transformation will indeed affect the job landscape in the industry, but it also presents opportunities for staff to upskill and take on more meaningful roles within their organizations.