Jeremy Rock
Apr 9, 2022

Robots - Successful deployments start with the development of a strategic operational plan

Robots - Successful deployments start with the development of a strategic operational plan

Jeremy Rock
Apr 9, 2022

There is no doubt that COVID-19 made an impact on the hospitality industry and in many ways has changed the way hotels operate likely for good. Let’s face it – we are never going back to the old way as we’ve all learned to engage via mobile apps and QR codes. The industry is in the process of re-writing their standard operating procedures with a particular emphasis on contactless engagement. Many of these new policies and procedures rely heavily on technology to address their needs and the various system providers are working hard to develop solutions to these requirements. It is against this backdrop that the interest in robots has suddenly come into focus.

I'll admit that I didn’t pay much attention to the robot industry in the past as the technology was limited and seemed to provide more of a marketing appeal than a tool to be used operationally to increase revenue or decrease expenditures. There were very few deployments, and the functionality was limited primarily to delivery or concierge roles. When COVID-19 hit there was a sudden need to provide service without human interaction and this has placed deployments on a fast track and allowed for new contactless ways of ordering F&B, which in turn helps the hotel service staff.

The deployment of a robot is expensive, and it can be a headache, but there is no denying the role that robots can play and their potential going forward.

What it really comes down to is developing an effective strategy for the deployment of a robot into your hotel’s operational environment. This is no different than how you would introduce other new technologies into your hotel, but deploying a robot requires a great deal of pre-thought and precision in its technical operational requirements. For starters, understanding how this technology works and how it can enhance the service at your property is needed before developing your strategy.

While a number of the current providers have units that can address some or all of the service features, the design of their robots can limit them to one area of specialization. For example, the most deployed robot in the U.S. targets light delivery service and is used to deliver food and beverages or housekeeping items.

Savioke is a company that has specialized in light delivery service robots in hotels across the U.S. While it is effective in the delivery of items such as F&B or towels, the current size and design of its primary robot limits its ability to deliver luggage or sanitize a room. As such, if there is a desire to address some of the other service-related options, it may require a hotel to deploy robots from multiple providers.

Another manufacturer that services a number of industries and provides for a number of robot solutions is Keenon. The solution for hotels targets light deliveries but can be configured to house multiple deliveries at one time. This flexiblity can create efficiencies especially during peak hours where a round trip could take as long as 10-15 minutes each.

LG is another company that offers multiple delivery type robots as well as some housekeeping/sanitizing options. Its service robot CLOi provides for semi-autonomous operation and can carry up to 66 pounds. The disinfecting UV-C robot is also in use across the U.S.

Most robots targeted for the hospitality industry can only operate indoors and must avoid water and moisture. However, Cartken is a delivery robot manufacturer whose devices are ruggedized and can be used both indoors and outdoors. This may be advantageous for those campus-style properties that require a solution to travel between buildings.

Robot System Procurement

Most systems/application expenditures typically start with a use case scenario followed by a budgetary cost. When determining the full cost impact first determine the intended use of the robot and then account for what is needed for its deployment to have this vision realized. Among the considerations are:

  1. The physical property improvements - The impact on the physical preparation of the property to allow the robot to move around and operate. This can involve a number of items including the installation of electronic access-controlled doors to making sure that reflective surfaces of the building will work with the robot’s sensors, or even operation of the elevators and transitioning between floors.
  2. Design/marketing features - There is usually a desire to “humanize” robots and make them more friendly and appealing to guests. This process takes quite a bit of  design and marketing, specifically how the robot looks and interacts with guests. In most cases the robot is usually provided with a name and the creative teams work on a custom “skin” that is overlayed on the robot to provide a "human" effect.
  3. System integration - Many of the robots rely on various levels of integration with third-party systems to minimize the need for human intervention. These integrations need to be well thought out and will likely need to be developed. As such the cost and timing for the development (for all parties) needs to be accounted for. Among the key integration requirements are the following:
  • Elevators – How will the robot communicate with the elevator and travel to the correct floor in an expeditious manner. For example, Savioke added a control arm that can be used to press the call buttons and select the specific floors when it needs to travel from floor to floor. Key fobs that work with the access control system can also eliminate the need for fully integrated communications of the robot with the elevator.
  • Access Control – As mentioned, outside of the elevators, robots sometimes have to navigate properties which are equipped with access-controlled doors. Without a key fob the robot would need to have direct integration with the access control system. The length of time that the doors remain open may also need to be modified to allow for sufficient time for the robot to safely transition through the opening  
  • PBX – The robots can be provisioned with the ability to call the guests room when it arrives outside the door.
  • Other – Other integrations include PMS/POS and work-order management systems such as HotSOS, Alice and Knowcross.

The strategic rollout of the robot can also be in phases. The primary objective of phase I is focusing to get the robot to work. This involves resolving many of the physical property improvements needed to allow the robot to travel around the hotel. It will also involve any marketing and design elements. Subsequent phases can focus on the integration with the various applications and enhancements to the features and operation. For the strategic plan to be successful, it requires the full participation and involvement of the operations team and their official technology buy in. Without this, it will prove difficult to deploy and the team will never take full ownership.

It's All About the Money

The budget approval of most new technology usually centers around the business case advantages of the system and the anticipated ROI generated. Until recently the ROI for robots was difficult to justify.  In most cases it relied on marketing initiatives for its approval. However, with COVID-19 now there are some real measurements that can be provided with labor savings and revenue generation. These include among others the following:

  • 24/7 availability
  • reduced interaction with guests
  • extra assistance during labor shortages
  • allows for less staff overtime

Depending on the service demands of the property, often costs can be offset by the revenue generated from F&B sales and the labor savings on the delivery end of things.

Robots are becoming an essential tool for many hotels who are experiencing challenges with labor shortages and are looking to enhance guest service experience. Traditionally, the high cost of installing a robot was met with skepticism and resistance due to the lack of an effective ROI. However, the last two years have changed the way the industry operates and has provided an opportunity to leverage this technology to provide improved guest service and reduce labor challenges. Unless an effective strategic plan is created to leverage this technology into the operations of the hotel the true value of the technology will likely not be harnessed to its fullest extent.  

When looking at robot technology, the current generation of robots tend to focus on the following areas:

  1. Delivery (Light)  - F&B service and guest requests
  2. Delivery (Heavy) -  Luggage
  3. Housekeeping - Cleaning
  4. Housekeeping - Sanitizing
  5. Concierge -  Guest greeter or Ambassador role (Guiding)
  6. Security  - Monitoring

ABOUT THE AUTHORJeremy Rock is the president of rockIt Group, a consulting firm specializing in new development and refurbishment projects. He can be reached at

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