Robot Hotel

CampaignBuzz: A world first in hospitality


August 26, 2015

Usually the opening of a small low-cost hotel doesn’t warrant international attention, but Henn’na Hotel in Japan, (translating to mean ‘Weird Hotel’), is a little bit different. As the world’s first hotel staffed almost entirely by robots, it boasts a number of unusual innovations, including a talking dinosaur behind the check-in desk – could this concept be here to stay? I asked our CEO, Rob Conway, for his view.

Manager, Hideo Sawada, insists that using robots is not a gimmick, it is a serious effort to use technology for greater efficiency. What do you think?

I agree. We see a lot of hotels looking for innovative ways to become more efficient at what they do, particularly in terms of guest service and hotel operations. It’s an opportunity to reduce costs, but also an opportunity to focus on true hospitality by freeing customer-facing staff up to provide more personality, help, support and advice. This gives the customer more reasons to return.

What is the main appeal for potential hotel guests – why would they choose to stay here over other similar, non-robotic hotels?

Because of the reduction of back-of-house tasks, more front-of-house staff will be freed up to give guests a personalised hotel experience. In budget hotels where price is an important decision maker, robotics will enable a reduction in costs and increased efficiency. This sector of the hotel market is most likely to look at the use of robotics to help them grow more profitable in a very competitive and commoditised sector.

Some elements of the hotel perhaps fall short of their full potential – despite robots being at check-in, guests must still manually check-in, and although hotel concierges give information about breakfast, they can’t call a taxi, or do other errands. Does the concept or technology need improvement to be successful?

Having a robot behind check-in feels like a PR gimmick as it isn’t adding efficiency to the guest experience. In hotels like Hilton, much of the customer journey is becoming automated, like being able to check-in and choose your room online. Ideally ‘check-in’ should be an advisory zone, with the actual ‘checking in’ being done online in advance of arrival. Guests do not like queuing up or filling in loads of forms, especially when this information has already been provided at the time of reservation. It’s just a hassle factor that hotels need to dispense with.

Japan is a world leader in robotics technology, and the government is trumpeting robotics as a pillar of its growth strategy – will we start seeing an increasing number of robots in the public sphere?

Yes. Labour force is one of the largest elements of public sphere outgoings, and all customer-facing companies are looking for more ways to be efficient. The public is becoming more accepting of interfacing with technology. We are becoming so used to it and robots are just an extension of that – it is no longer a shock. I see robotics being increasingly used in the customer journey experience.

Do you think the concept will catch on globally? Will we start seeing robot hotels in the west?

Very much so. I’d say ‘no’ to ‘robot’ hotels, but ‘yes’ to elements of having robots in hotels. Especially in the UK and Europe where labour makes up a higher percentage of overhead costs. Where there is a pressure on labour costs, there will be an increasing demand on robots to increase efficiency. Robots may be front-of-house in budget hotels, but will stay back-of-house in luxury where it’s all about that personal service.

by Lara Murphy

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