Is robotics taking over hospitality? Yes and no

Are robots taking jobs and completely flipping the hospitality industry? Imagine walking into the lobby and being greeted by a team of robots to check in, scan your ID and face to verify identity, take your bags and escort you to your room.

While the pandemic may have emphasized distancing and limited touch points, the art of hospitality would be completely lost without the human element performing tasks that go beyond the programmed capabilities of artificial intelligence and sentiment analysis.

Finding the correct balance will be a major focus of the industry as we determine how long and to what extent COVID will continue to impact travel and hotel stays into the future. Robots and automated technology support the current evolution of the industry, but only when they allow staff to focus on delivering exceptional guest services.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of robots and automated tech.

The pros

Robots are becoming a familiar part of a traveler’s journey. According to CNBC, robots are offering contactless options to guests in airports around the world, including LaGuardia Airport in the United States, Munich International Airport in Germany and Incheon International Airport in Seoul, and by 2030, robots are expected to take over the airport check-in process.

It’s only natural that guests would expect a similar experience as they enter hotels, and this technology has some major benefits:

  • Offer a contactless experience: In the wake of the global pandemic, robotic tech can be a great option for limiting touch points between guests and staff and improving the overall health and safety throughout the hotel. A robotic concierge (that can’t get sick) can be available to take temperatures, port luggage or help answer requests in the lobby.
  • Boost efficiency and productivity: Robots and AI can work 24/7, around the clock and don’t need vacations or breaks, except for routine maintenance and software upgrades. Because of this, they can boost both efficiency and productivity when it comes to managing day-to-day tasks, like checking guests in or tracking guest requests. In-room voice assistants built on AI could be used to help stretched staff by answering questions or fulfilling requests.
  • Assist with cleaning tasks: A variety of robotic options are available to assist with the additional cleaning and sanitation duties that are now a necessity, including automated vacuums and UV-disinfection robots.
  • Personalize the guest stay: Robots have an infinite capacity for storing and remembering data and can help staff to personalize the guest journey. They can set the room to guests’ preferred temperature with their favorite music station or TV channel playing on arrival or remember to deliver black coffee with the morning newspaper.

The cons

Although more robots, chatbots and voice assistants are popping up throughout the travel industry, wouldn’t it feel strange to arrive in a hotel completely staffed by robots? One hotel in Japan tried and realized that though robots and customer service AI were great for entry-level tasks, the technology was incapable of handling end-to-end operations.

  • High cost to implement: While robotic tech is becoming more readily available, implementing the latest technology can be expensive. The UV light, virus-killing robot used by some hospitals and the Carolina Panthers costs upwards of $125,000. There are a variety of options for different budgets, but robotic tech might not be accessible for every hotel especially with the hit that our industry took in the last year.
  • Need regular maintenance: To keep tech functioning at top capacity, a human touch is necessary to ensure that everything stays working as it should.
  • Susceptible to glitches and hacking: Like any technology, security is always an important consideration. Robots could be susceptible to errors and security breaches, so ensuring that any data collected by robots is secure is key.
  • Take jobs: Could hotels one day be completely staffed by robots? More than 25% of jobs in the U.S. are currently experiencing disruption due to automation.

A hybrid approach

Guest preferences will differ: some guests would be content to only talk to robots or interact with the hotel via their personal devices, while others might be more comfortable asking questions to or being assisted by staff. According to a recent survey, 52% of U.K. business travelers believe that automated technology would make their trips safer.

Allowing the guest to be in control of their experience will be a necessity as we all work to figure out how to bounce back after a year of restricted travel. Remember, robotic tech isn’t unfamiliar territory for guests – they likely bumped into a robot or two at the airport or use voice assistants in their homes.

After considering guest preferences and both the pros and cons, what’s the right answer? Are robots the way to go, or is the initial cost and upkeep too much?

I believe that successful hotels will look to a hybrid approach now and in the future. Start in the area that will have the greatest impact: staff overwhelmed by extra cleaning duties? Consider robot vacuums. Are they overwhelmed by guest requests? In-room voice assistants might be the way to go.

Robots and staff must work in tandem to offer guests the experiences they are looking for. When hotels implement robotic and automated technology that can help to personalize the guest experience, collect data to improve loyalty and manage day-to-day tasks to boost efficiency, they will reap the rewards.

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