Robot receptionists, iris scans replacing room keys and bell bots taking guests’ luggage to their remotely controlled, personalised rooms: these are some of the technological developments highlighted by global travel deals company Travelzoo as part of the company’s Future of Travel project.
During phase one, Travelzoo conducted independent research to find out how receptive consumers are to the notion of robots and artificial intelligence being used in travel and hospitality, surveying 6,000 people in Asia, Europe and North and South America. Travelzoo also worked with global hotel brands to understand the current adoption of robotics in hotels, and to see how the technology will evolve in the coming years.
The research found that 80% of respondents expect robots to feature in travel and hospitality by 2020, with three quarters believing they could improve our travel experiences. Within the hotel sector specifically, consumers are most accepting of robots working as:
- Porters/bellhops (73%)
- Room service providers (68%)
- Receptionists (62%)
Richard Singer, Travelzoo’s European President said, “The use of robots in the travel industry is still very much in its infancy. Only a small group of hotels are currently using robots – mainly in service roles, or as part of a marketing strategy to take advantage of the novelty factor surrounding new technology.
“This will change – and we expect things to evolve quickly, too. The next stage of robotic development will take things to another level – where robots could become an integral part of a hotel’s customer relationship management strategy, for example. That’s where robotics starts to become really interesting.”
Robots in hotels are seen to have advantages over humans in areas where data retention and recall are important – around three quarters of respondents believe that robots outpace humans when it comes to memory (72%), communicating multiple languages (76%) and processing data (78%). Humans in customer-facing roles retain their value, however, particularly in areas such as understanding cultural nuances and humour. And, while welcoming the general robo-optimism of the survey’s respondents, Travelzoo warns against replacing human roles with robots, as the study shows a marked preference for the combination of humans and robots working together, rather than a world where hotels are staffed exclusively by robots: over 80% of respondents would prefer to ask a human member of staff about the local area or about the hotel they are staying in.
One of the first hotels to use a robot is the Ghent Marriott Hotel. Roger Langhout, general manager, said: “Mario robot is a key attraction for both overseas guests and visitors from the local area. We have been overwhelmed with the positive reception towards him and have received feedback from guests – of all ages – about the great experience he is able to provide. Robots are an important part of the future of the hotel industry; guests want a personalised, tailored and unique experience at every step of the customer journey, and robots are able to deliver this.”
Richard Singer from Travelzoo said, “Right now we are seeing robots used most in the mid-market, and in geographical locations such as Cupertino, California, where early adoption of technology is part of the way of life. In that context, being one of the first hotels to offer a robot butler is a distinct advantage. A five-star historic hotel in the Swiss Alps, on the other hand, might find it less appealing to replace concierges and receptionists with robots. That said, this study shows consumers are open-minded about the evolution of technology in general as part of the hotel experience. We should not limit the vision of where the exciting developments coming out of the robotics market could hold for the world of travel and hospitality.”