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Hotel robot: Development and uses in the hotel industry

  Posted in Resources  Last updated 21/05/2024

What is a hotel robot?

A hotel robot is an automated machine designed to perform various service tasks, enhancing guest experiences and streamlining hotel operations with a touch of technological innovation – and not a small amount of artificial intelligence. 

While robots roaming the halls of hotels, delivering room service meals, turning down beds, even acting as front desk receptionists, may seem like science fiction, it’s coming closer to reality faster than you might think.

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Hotel robots that exist in today’s hospitality world

No more than 15 years ago we were watching robots in sci-fi films that boggled the mind and tested the limits of our imagination. Facial recognition technology, fingerprint biometrics, intelligent phones and computers that talked to people, functional artificial intelligence; all of this seemed worlds away when Tom Cruise and Will Smith were in their action movie prime.

How things have changed.

The technology dreamed up for those blockbuster productions is the same as what we see entering our reality today. To the average person, it still feels unimaginable that innovation like artificial intelligence (AI) is on our doorstep.

Apple’s ‘Siri’, the intelligent computer program that also happens to be a personal assistant, has already been around for over five years. 

This technology is applicable to almost every industry thanks to customer interaction – a prime area for smart tech to be implemented. The travel industry is a massive target for newer, smarter, more automated, personalised, and predictive processes. In fact, as progress continues, tourism could be a world leader for cutting-edge technology and advanced AI.

Let’s take a look at what other technology is infiltrating the hotel industry.

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Messenger applications

The popularity of apps has been on the rise for a while now and will only continue as developers introduce slicker platforms. Apps have already been appropriated by many companies to provide intelligent real-time customer service without the need to place a human in position.

Facebook has ‘M’, Amazon has ‘Alexa’, Apple has created ‘Viv’ in addition to Siri, and Google has announced its ‘Assistant’ service. There are some apps specific to travel too, like ‘Lola’ and ‘Pana’.

All of these apps are designed to deliver an instant concierge-style chat service to help customers plan and manage their everyday needs. They’re smart enough to handle even some complex requests and they’re constantly being refined to deal with more scenarios.

Parts of the travel industry are embracing them with open arms. Edwardian Hotels London employs the aptly-named virtual host Edward who can take amenities requests, give directory and review information, facilitate complaints and connect guests to an immediate call-back if they need human assistance. He’s designed to respond within a few seconds.

Dutch airline KLM is using a Facebook messenger chat service to send passengers booking confirmations, notifications, and boarding passes. This process is easily transferable to hoteliers who can maintain an ongoing dialogue with guests from the booking to check-out stages, and everything in between.

Chatbot services

Kayak CEO Steve Hafner believes voice and physical interaction are the only way forward, saying we’ll see an increase in travellers being helped by spoken word and chatbots:

“There’s a whole generation who are more familiar with text messaging and voice via Siri looking for a different interaction with an online travel agency. We’ve got a Facebook Messenger chatbot for example. We have voice interaction with Alexa, where you can actually talk to Kayak and say, ‘Hey Kayak, what’s the status of my flight to Denver later today? Where can I go this weekend for $300?’”

Chatbots are meant to engage customers in a ‘live’ scenario without the need to trade communication back and forth via email or phone. Facebook aims to use this technology to enhance its personal assistant ‘M’, who will be able to purchase items, have gifts delivered, and make various bookings and appointments.

Yahoo’s Enrique Munoz Torres urges all companies to embrace this new opportunity: “Users are increasingly more comfortable with conversational interfaces, and they expect that systems will be able to handle complex requests.”

Booking.com launched a chatbot to connect hotels and travellers in two-way communication, which can be used from iOS and Android. The conversation is more natural, having been freed from templates or automated script. However, specific templates are provided to translate frequently asked questions into 42 different languages.

Hotel robot butler

Yes, real robots already exist in the travel industry.

Marriott has Mario welcoming guests, Hilton has Connie the concierge, and InterContinental has Dash transporting items between guests and staff.

On Mario, Ghent Marriott General Manager Roger Langhout says: “As soon as we saw Mario interacting with our guests we saw a smile. Nobody has seen it before.”

Mario spends his time helping guests check-in, giving speeches, inspecting rooms, discussing the menu, and giving presentations. Most intriguing is the effect Mario has on audience attentiveness when he is delivering speeches.

Another interesting example comes from Japan. The Henn-na Hotel has over 100 rooms and features multilingual robots (one human woman, one dinosaur) at the front desk, a robot-arm locker service, a robot porter to transport your luggage, and facial recognition software so you don’t have to worry about carrying a key.

Image of a hotel robot

The adaption of robots in hotel industry

The crux of exciting developments like this is that predictions are often overblown. Attempts to create A.I. generally date back to the mid 1950s and back then machines with human-like intelligence were thought to be about 20 years away. These days the estimated deadline is about the same.

Virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa have taken the world by storm, making life easier for people in the office and at home. They not only perform tasks but learn as they go, meaning each time you interact with them you can rely on them even more to take care of things like placing orders, researching, shopping, and operating other technologies.

Hotels are adopting robots, but more as a novelty than a strategic business decision – for now. Marriott has Mario welcoming guests, Hilton has Connie the concierge, and InterContinental has Dash transporting items between guests and staff.

How advanced is this trend in reality and what are the real life applications for hotels? That’s a question we’re going to try and answer.

Pros and cons of robots in tourism

As always, there are two sides to this story. While many welcome the day where apps and machines will take them all the way from the research phase to the checkout phase (bypassing any potential human inconsistencies), others enjoy quality ‘people time’ and believe there should be a limit on how far this technology is taken.

Business travellers in particular are behind the movement, with 52% of UK survey respondents saying it would improve their trip.

Both views hold merit considering the following pros and cons:

Pros of hotel robots

  • Efficiency and productivity could reach an all-time high with A.I – the technology can work all day, every day, without suffering exhaustion or burnout.
  • Robots can be a great novelty for guests, drumming up excitement and publicity, especially at hotels looking to create a brand image that’s fun and futuristic.
  • Androids could actually make for a healthier guest service environment. By taking care of manual or routine tasks, hotel staff can focus their attention on guests.

Cons of hotel robots

  • Technical glitches are not 100% safeguarded against, so it’s possible guests could receive wrong or misleading information, causing mistakes to be made that lead to negative experiences.
  • Security could also be a concern if A.I or other systems could be hacked for data or even controlled by foreign entities.
  • Accessibility to this technology has been increasing but it’s still a very costly and highly complex undertaking for a business to consider

How hotel robots could impact the travel industry

Obviously, any influx of mass change will have mixed reviews. Tour guides in particular may be worried about their jobs becoming automated. For instance, it’s easy to imagine a robot at the front of a bus giving a history lecture – and probably without the need for a microphone.

Even though AI is still in its infancy in the hotel sector, its potential is broad. With that in mind, let’s look at the six major effects we think it could have

1. A diversified booking method

Chatbots and conversational messaging will add yet another dimension to a customer’s path-to-purchase. Imagine a traveller making a booking via their TV during an ad break, or on their hands-free mobile while driving. From a customer’s perspective, it could seem like an easier method for booking a trip, especially at the last minute

2. An improved pre-arrival experience

Gone will be the days of email back and forth and multiple phone calls. With a chatbot the hotel or customer need only make a conversation request and any requirements, such as booking additional services, can be finalised in an instant

3. More on-site guest interaction

Virtual assistants will be able to fulfil any rudimentary requests from guests including food and beverage orders, amenity needs, basic complaints, and tour/directory information

4. Sustainable teams of hotel staff

This will free up other staff to concentrate on optimising the guest experience even further and perhaps provide more luxurious features. Saving man hours will either mean increased profit or unbind money to spend on guest experience, leading to increased bookings and revenue. In seasonal lows, it may reduce the need to cut staff entirely

5. Increased personalised data collection

If an AI is taking a traveller through the whole customer journey it will gather a raft of valuable data in the one place that can be used to incorporate more personalised services based on the preferences the guests have shown. This in turn increases the rate of return business and direct bookings

6. Seamlessly integrated customer journeys

Messenger apps and chatbots will remove many pain points because the connection between online and offline services will become seamless. However, if it’s something hotels want to take advantage of it’s even more important that they have an optimised and mobile responsive website, as well as an integrated booking engine that can move with the guest throughout their complete customer journey.

The speed and innovation of technology, such as robots and AI, present hotels with a fantastic opportunity to become cutting-edge accommodation providers, giving guests an enhanced experience driven by forward-thinking service.

Different use cases of hotel robots

It’s easy to see the real-life applications A.I and robots could have in a hotel, with some staff careers in potential jeopardy. In general the technology could deliver:

  1. A diversified booking method
  2. An improved pre-arrival experience
  3. More on-site guest interaction
  4. Sustainable teams of hotel staff
  5. Increased personalised data collection
  6. Seamlessly integrated customer journeys

More specifically, here are some jobs where A.I could edge out humans in the future:

Check-in and reception services

Given check-in and front desk tasks are somewhat routine and the number of possible queries do have limits, this is the perfect place for an android or hotel robot to start its career successfully.

Valet

In the future, vehicles powered by smart technology could make valet services redundant or at the very least a position that could easily be handled by A.I.

Cleaning and maintenance

Cleaning and maintenance in hotels is evolving with the introduction of robots like hotel cleaning robots. Hotel room cleaning robots are designed for specific cleaning tasks, operating continuously to ensure a consistently clean and well-maintained environment. Their 24/7 functionality is ideal for routine upkeep, from thorough room sanitation to general hotel cleanliness, contributing significantly to maintaining high standards of hygiene and freeing up human staff for more complex duties.

Room service

No need for idle chit chat or delays. A guest could place their order with a hotel robot room service and have the task completed as efficiently as possible, and with a minimum of fuss. A robot won’t get flustered or frustrated by any request.

Imagine this: guests simply tap a screen, and moments later, a hotel robot room service glides up with their order. This seamless service adds a splash of modernity to their stay, delivering everything from breakfast to midnight snacks with quiet efficiency and a touch of futuristic charm, transforming room service into an experience in itself.

Property management

A.I will be able to optimise how a hotel deploys staff during peak and off-peak periods, along with saving energy by automatically turning off lights and appliances.

Security

AI and robots can assist in the security infrastructure by monitoring the premises for scrupulous activity and report any mishaps. Incorporating AI and robots into hotel security systems offers real-time surveillance, significantly enhancing the ability to detect and respond to unusual activities. These advanced technologies can analyse patterns, recognise faces, and even track movements, providing a comprehensive security shield. This integration not only fortifies the safety of guests and staff but also brings a sense of reassurance, knowing that an extra layer of intelligent vigilance is always at work.

So, the question remains. Is there really a rise of robots? The answer is yes and it’s already changing customer service. Hospitality is a natural fit for this type of technology so it seems inevitable to play a major role in future businesses.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of SiteMinder, the leading technology provider delivering hoteliers unbeatable revenue results. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at SiteMinder. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance and value for accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations achieve their goals.

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