Can Robots Help Solve a Hotel Supply Shortage?

Author: David McMillin       

As the world watches Olympic action in Pyeongchang this week, South Korea’s neighbor to the east is preparing to welcome sports enthusiasts in 2020. Tokyo will host the next edition of the summer competition, but a recent report from the Mizuho Research Institute estimates that Japan will have a shortage of approximately 3,800 hotel rooms to accommodate the anticipated influx of crowds. The solution? Hotels run mostly without humans. Travel company H.I.S. announced plans to build eight new robot-staffed properties. The company already operates one Henn na Hotel — the English translation is “strange hotel” — where robots handle receptionist duties and a range of tasks.

“Japan does not have enough hotel rooms and we have a shrinking population to staff stores,” Miura Tatsuki, public relations manager at H.I.S. told The Japan Times. “We created this hotel in part to respond to societal issues.”

Will Robots Take Over the Rest of the Hotel World?

Many properties in the hotel industry have leveraged technology to automate the check-in process and reduce the need for human interaction when guests make simple requests, but the Henn na Hotel takes tech enthusiasm to a new level. The property managed to cut its staff of real people from 30 to seven. While other properties aren’t aiming to make such a drastic reduction to human interaction, robots are already knocking on guests’ doors in other parts of the world. Consider the EMC2, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection in Chicago, where Cleo and Leo deliver towels and dental kits to rooms. At the YOTEL in Manhattan, YOBOT handles luggage-storage duties. Connie, the concierge robot at the Hilton McLean in northern Virginia, offers restaurant recommendations with the help of IBM’s Watson technology.

Asking non-humans for hotel-room keys or directions to the nearest steakhouse might sound strange, but research shows that the majority of real humans are willing to welcome robots to their lives. Nomura Research Institute surveyed more than 4,000 respondents from Japan, Germany, and the U.S., and across all the countries, more than 60 percent of people indicated that they are comfortable with robots being part of their daily routines. While plenty of people would be happy to have robots take care of menial tasks, they will be less excited to know that automation could disrupt 800 million jobs by 2030. To prepare for the next phase of the tech revolution, check out “3 Ways to Ensure You Still Matter in the Age of Robots.”

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