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July, 2024

‘It’s magical’: How Crown Resorts’ Hawaiian sister Turtle Bay deployed AI ‘chunk by chunk’ to convince c-suite – revenues jumped 40%, conversions 20% and $400m gained

We're actually hiring people now because of what AI has done to our top line…we're driving the top line at 40 per cent in a pretty significant resort.

Robert Marusi, Chief Commercial Officer, Turtle Bay Resort

Horrors under the hood

Robert Marusi was refreshingly up-front on the technology horrors that lay under the hood of an iconic Hawaiian resort: an ancient stack of point-to-point solutions that siloed everything from marketing to online reservations, customer service, vast resort amenities and activities and restaurants and bars. 

All were unconnected systems with little automation and certainly no AI smarts that have changed the fortunes of the resort to a point private equity giant Blackstone sold the property in a $400m-plus turnaround a week after Marusi went public with his AI achievements.

The core lessons for Marusi are as much about convincing executive leadership to run with a technology that has little precedent as it is about deployment and getting the results. Marusi went all-in on the Salesforce stack with Data Cloud acting as the central catalyst for a a series of rollouts that ultimately lifted engagement rates 50 per cent, sales 40 per cent and conversions by 20 per cent.  

One module at a time

“It’s not cheap,” Marusi told thousands of marketers with AI on their mind. “I took one module, one cloud environment at a time and did an ROI on it, put it in, had a great run rate and great adoption then I went to my next one, built the ROI model, put it in, had the success and it gave me the track to keep going. It gave me the trust from ownership to say, ‘he’s onto something, it’s working, let’s keep it going’. 

The tip? “Get the wins along the way. Get immediate wins. That’s the key. How are we going to make money – that’s the question you always get as operators. But if you can prove that success quickly, then then you’re off to the races. Conversation with c-suite leaders today is long and it takes a while. So you’re going to be in an education process. That was really the biggest takeaway – for me to be able to talk to that level of leader and be able to digest it down in chunks so they understood the ROI and what was happening.”

One of the stand-out use cases was personalising and automating the creation of guest itineraries which incorporated propensity modelling to link upwards of 60 resort activities likely to land in times that were free in a guest plan.

Mai Tais and surfboards

Once guests started choosing their preferences, the machines assemble itineraries at the same time as showing time slots they can book: “If you happen to be sitting in your bungalow having a Mai Tai and you’re looking at the ocean, you’re like, ‘it’s time, I gotta go stand up with a surfboard,” said Marusi. “From a time savings point, the man hours we used to put into producing itineraries was exorbitant. It’s been pretty amazing and a real deliverable to the consumer – they have a digital itinerary or printed if they like.”

AI – more resort jobs not less 

And Marusi points out a “funny thing happened along the way”. Rather than AI hacking jobs, it created more as guest engagement surged 50 per cent using resort facilities in contrast to the traditional role of concierge. 

“We’re actually hiring people now because of what AI has done to our top line,” he said. “Because of the site visits that are generating higher conversion, because of the 50 per cent better engagement that we’re getting from concierge talking to guests, we’re driving the top line at 40 per cent in a pretty significant resort. That’s now giving us the opportunity to hire more people. Most of them are consumer-facing in terms of the journey on property activities, concierge front desk – because of the occupancy we’re driving, because of the experiences that guests are buying, we need those people.” 

AI gamification lures resort ‘employee of future’  

Moreover, Turtle Bay is now attracting the “employee of the future”, said Marusi, as younger employees are lured by Turtle Bay’s gamification of the “guest console”. 

“The younger employees want to come in and actually play with our guest console that we built and all of this gamification. They’re like ‘hey, I’m gonna get the highest propensity score and I’m going to post it to the rest of my teammates’ and it’s become this incredible hiring and retaining tool that I never, never thought of.”

Marusi highlighted a key lesson in the switch to integrating AI into tech systems was changing mindsets. “Transforming the people who are going to be part of it creates this groundswell and gets adoption. That’s a runway that you really have to put the resources into to get it entrenched in your culture. If you don’t, then you take the chance of it failing and failing pretty quickly.”

For Marusi and the private equity giant Blackstone, Turtle Bay’s experience is now being deployed in other hotels across the Blackstone portfolio in the US and could serve as part of a turnaround at Crown Resorts, which it paid $8.8bn for in 2022. If the grand blueprint is planned for the Australian casino operator, it will be less of an AI punt than the Turtle Bay trailblazer.