For the past few years, HU has worked with Leora Lanz and her Boston University hospitality students. As part of an overall project, future hospitality professionals research and develop problem-solving insights for industry hot topics. Here is the second in this year’s series. 

How Robots are Breaking into the Hospitality Industry

With the use of industrial robots on the rise, society has become aware of what the future of robots might mean for certain industries, especially the hospitality industry. But, what we know for sure is the continuous development for robots. Since their debut, in 1959, robots have slowly been integrated into various fields and industries. According to an article from 2015 in The Harvard Business Review titled “What is a Robot, Anyway?," the first robot was installed in a Swedish metalworks site and by 1973 there were “3,000 industrial robots in operation.” Early robotics took away assembly line jobs, a topic that has been debated over years. Now, robots are on their way to dominate the market by changing the workforce and creating a more efficient future. As human error, labor expenses and insurance expenses decrease, profits will increase, creating a dramatic change in the hospitality industry. Robotics may seem like a futuristic scenario, but they are indeed here, and they are here to stay. Below you will find a number of examples of how robots have already made an impact in the hospitality industry.
Where to Experience Robots in the Hotel Industry
Although the number of hotels worldwide that deploy robots is tiny, there is an even smaller number that have had the confidence to send them into customer service positions. Below are some of the most groundbreaking customer-facing robots in the hospitality industry.
  • The Ghent Marriott Hotel in Belgium is known as the first hotel in Europe to have a robot, named Mario, who welcomes guests upon arrival. He speaks many different languages, hands out room keys to guests, and explains the variety of dishes on the menu at the hotel’s restaurant. According to the hotel manager, “guests light up when they see him, the reactions are phenomenal, Mario brings a smile to everyone’s face; people love interacting with him.” Mario can be customized to any color that represents the hotel brand or logo. Mario was designed to complement hotels’ customer service staff.
  • Robot Connie has been introduced at the Hilton McLean Virginia. Connie is known as the first “Watson-Enabled Hotel Concierge.” It recommends restaurants to guests based on their preferences by storing the information gained from previous visits. It informs guests of local tourist attractions, hotel features, and amenities. Connie helps decrease the wait time and enhance guest expectations, by completing tasks such as directing guests to their destinations. Some new features developers are working to make Connie more human, is a program that will make its eye color change based on the situation it is dealing with and implementing a software that will allow Connie to recognize faces. The Hilton team believes that, “providing personalized and relevant insights and recommendations, specially through a new factor such as a robot, can transform brand engagement and loyalty at the Hilton.”
  • The Intercontinental Hotel Group began using a delivery robot, Dash, at the Crowne Plaza San Jose, Silicon Valley. This robot was created by Savioke, the same company who created the Relay Robot. Dash delivers amenities and items to guests in their hotel rooms and enhances the guest experience by providing fast delivery to guests. Upon arrival, Dash will phone the guest to notify its arrival at the door, deliver the items and, go back to the front desk to its charging station. The Crowne Plaza Hotel has expressed their openness to new innovations in their property that will boost guest experience. 

  • The Yotel in New York has a robot named Yobot who helps guests with their luggage, with the ability to carry up to 500 pounds at a time. All the guest has to do is to place their belongings in one of the 150 bins, enter their pin number which is given upon check-in, and their last name, making it a seamless process. During check-out, the guest scans the barcode that is found on the receipt and the Yobot will retrieve the luggage in seconds.
  • Introduced in 2014, Butler robot A.L.O at Aloft Cupertino Hotel in Silicon Valley is considered the first hotel brand to use a robot for both front and back of the house operations. It may sound shocking, but A.L.O has a professional uniform with its nametag “A.L.O” while delivering amenities to guest rooms. Brian McGuiness, Starwood Hotels’ Senior Vice-President, sees the robot as an “enhancement to our customer service, but it’s not going to be a replacement for our human talent,” further emphasizing the fact that robots are not here to take away jobs, but to complement and help the current customer service employees already in place. 
  • Maidbot, introduced in 2015, was created to act as an enhanced Roomba vacuum for hotels. This vacuum will help reduce the amount of time needed for housekeepers to spend per room, maximizing the time to clean everything else.
Although they have not been implemented yet, self-driving cars may be the future of valet. Guests will be able to arrive at a hotel and leave their car to park itself. LHC Consulting believes that this new automation would shift the process of riding a car from being purpose driven to becoming an entertainment experience. This could also shift how hotels are laid out for room space, since automated cars will give business guests the opportunity to sleep on their way to their destination. The world will be entering into a new stage, a chapter of automated technology and efficiency.

Robots Taking Over Human Jobs?
Though it may seem that robots in the hospitality industry will make everyone’s lives easier, as with all new technology, there are many detractors. In order to evaluate this trend for technology, we conducted a survey of 65 participants. The survey was distributed to hospitality customer of all ages, ethnicities, cultures and genders, responders shared their concerns about the future of this technology. Only 36 percent of the participants in our survey would like to see robots in hotels; 11 percent prefer to see them in airlines and 12 percent in the restaurant industry. This indicates that many people may have negative perceptions of robots in general. However, 12 percent of participants in the survey have already experienced service robots in hospitality at properties including the Yotel Hotel, Methodist Miami Hospital, ALIS Conference 2016 and airlines’ automated systems. These perceptions can be broken down into two main groups. The first includes people who think robots will completely replace the human element of the service industry, with 7 percent of survey participants expressing their disdain for reduced human interaction. It is important to realize that the increased efficiency that robots will bring to the workforce far outweighs the decrease in human interaction, with 87 percent of participants expressing satisfaction over the idea of increased efficiency due to a service robot. The second group is composed of respondents (63 percent) who believe that the greatest impact robots will have on the industry is the diminishing of human jobs. However, contrary to popular belief, robotics in the hospitality field will actually create more jobs. There will be a higher demand for people to produce and perform maintenance on the robots, and, of course, hotels will still require humans to provide guests with services that robots are not capable of, such as executive chefs, revenue management and event planning among many others. Outstanding guest services is the passport to success, bringing customers back to the hotel. Hotels that are able to provide a welcoming environment and take the extra mile to meet guests expectations produce meaningful memories for the customer.
The main goal behind robots in the hospitality industry is to increase efficiency of process control as employees deliver the actual service and welcoming experience. The Residence Inn Hotel has the robot Wally and it has shown a positive impact toward the employee being more productive to achieve guests expectations. Robots give the opportunity for employees to focus more on guest satisfaction and deliver a more valuable experience. As in the example of Maidbot, who completes housekeeping tasks, collaborates in decreasing the amount of time it takes to clean a room, and reduces the risk for an employee to get injured while doing housekeeping duties. This allows employees to focus on more important duties. Beyond the guest experience, robots create a great impact in the hospitality industry. Robots would help fulfill the demands that busy employees often delay, like fulfilling room service requests. This technology could even assist with the hotel’s marketing, as guest would spread the word of their wonderful stay. In general, the guest experience would be improved with the new technological assistants in the hotel.
Who knows what the future holds?
Will robots reduce human error? Are robots taking over the hospitality industry? Are robots the key to success for your industry? All these dystopian ideas were demonstrated concerns of the people surveyed. Robots can be used as leverage to support increased personalization and customization, two guideposts of almost any quality hospitality business, without the repetition that guests have to go through when filling out surveys or anything of the sort. Some robots have the ability to automatically sync guest information, like Connie, creating a profile for each guest to use before, during and after their next visit. Robots will also be able to handle simple, monotonous tasks, leaving humans to create a more personalized and hospitable experience for the guest. Though widespread change can be a daunting idea, robots offer an exciting world of opportunity and growth in an industry that has been around since the earliest stages of civilization. The use of robots is without a doubt on the rise and those who are willing to accept and use them hold the power to change the hospitality industry as we know it.