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The Pros and Cons of Using Robots in Hotels

Robots can handle mundane tasks, improve service speed and accuracy, and allow human employees to focus on relationship building, but they aren’t a perfect solution.
a humanoid robot
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The COVID-19 pandemic threw the tourism industry into turmoil, causing hospitality businesses of all types to reduce their workforce through layoffs, furloughs, or other measures. As the industry recovers, many businesses are reconsidering their staffing composition. Challenges in hiring and keeping qualified employees, along with cost shifts and new traveler demands for low-touch systems, are causing some organizations to look to a new labor source: Robots.

While robots are not new in hospitality, in recent years they have moved from novelty to necessity. Travelers want streamlined communication with hospitality providers, through their preferred channel. A hotel needs to be prepared to continually monitor requests through phone, text, app, email, social media, website chat, etc., and then quickly deliver on guest requests. This could mean making or canceling a future reservation, tracking and honoring individual guest preferences, checking in a current guest, delivering clean towels to a guestroom, taking and delivering a room service order, placing a maintenance or housekeeping request, giving concierge-style recommendations, and so much more. Such diversity of work requires a full set of trained and motivated and fairly paid employees which is increasingly difficult to find. And for this reason, many hoteliers are increasingly looking to robots for help.

How Robots Can Help Hoteliers

Automation and self-service are becoming more important in the customer experience, especially during times of labor shortages, cost-cutting measures, and changes in customer preferences. Many travelers, due in part to the pandemic, prefer to have limited interpersonal contact while they travel, and see automated services as a benefit.

Robots can improve service speed and accuracy, efficiently and effectively taking care of monotonous tasks that can easily be automated, which allows human employees to focus more on building relationships with guests. For more than a decade, the “Yobot” robot has collected and delivered luggage items in Yotel hotels, which frees up staff to attend to guest needs. Robots can also perform cleaning tasks, run food at hotel restaurants, and take care of other mundane activities that do not add value to the guests.

The Challenges of Having Robots in Hotels

As with most technology, robots need repairs, frequent charging, and software updates. Their initial financial cost can be high, and employees may be concerned that they are being replaced. If the robots do not function as they are supposed to, it can lead to more work or effort by employees or guests, likely causing frustration and dissatisfaction. For example, Japan’s pioneering Henn na (or “Strange”) Hotel was opened in 2015 as the world’s first all-robot-run hotel, but in 2019 cut its robotic workforce in half (replacing them with humans), due to the robots’ low performance.

The Future of Robots in Hotels

Although many hotels and other hospitality companies are implementing digital solutions successfully, and in many cases even seeing improved TripAdvisor reviews due to their service and novelty, robots are still finding their place, and nuances need additional research. For example, one Washington State University study showed that people are more comfortable talking to female robots than male robots working in service roles in hotels, especially when the robots had more human features.

It also remains to be seen how guest preferences will develop as the industry recovers from the devastating effects of COVID-19. During the pandemic many guests wanted to avoid human contact due to safety concerns–this may continue or a swing in the opposite direction may occur, with guests looking for increased socialization. Regardless, it is clear that robots do have a role in hotels, even if it is just sorting luggage and delivering food for the near future.

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