Is hospitality facing a robot revolution?

Is hospitality facing a robot revolution?

Is hospitality facing a robot revolution?

New research demonstrates that 80% of guests are expecting robots to feature in the travel and hospitality industry by the year 2020. But is an artificial intelligence revolution truly threatening to change the face of the industry, or is this more science fiction than scientific fact?

The survey, conducted by Travelzoo, revealed that three-quarters of the 6,000 respondents would accept robots working as porters within hotels, and two-thirds stated they would be comfortable with room service and reception being manned by robots.

Large hotel groups are already dabbling in the use of AI with Marriot's use of Mario, the Welcome Robot, and Hilton's Connie the Concierge, but these robots are predominantly employed for PR purposes. However, Richard Singer, European president of Travelzoo, commented that hotel robots would soon move beyond this to become 'an integral part of a hotel's customer relationship management strategy'.

This already appears to be the case in China, where robot waiters are being used in restaurants to help serve meals to guests. With a 2014 study by Oxford University suggesting that 35% of existing UK jobs could be at risk of automation over the next two decades, it begs the question: can robots really be a sufficient replacement for human staff?

High street food chain Tossed appears to think so. The salad chain recently opened two new shops in London with automated kiosks replacing human staff. Guests place their order and pick up their salad from the collection point without interacting with a single human member of staff. Tossed are now reportedly planning to bring this self-service function to all 26 of their restaurants.

Employing robots over humans could also prove cheaper, thanks to the introduction of the new compulsory National Living Wage, a move which has raised concerns in the industry over higher costs leading to the potential closure of more pubs and restaurants.

But before you start planning for the imminent robot takeover, it is worth noting that Travelzoo found that more than 80% of respondents would prefer to question a human member of staff about the local area of a hotel, and additional researching showing that emotions account for over 50% of the guest experience - not exactly a robot's speciality. Our own research shows that "personalisation of service" was a highly valued trait when dining out, something currently beyond robotics. Three of the robot-restaurants in China recently hit the headlines for closing down due to the bots struggling when they had to interact with humans.

Technology within the hospitality industry is developing fast, and it's increasingly important for operators to keep ahead of the curve. However, we firmly believe that its current role is supporting and assisting traditional staff members, not replacing them. Maybe robots are the future of the hospitality industry, but the time when they can replicate the level of service delivered by people is still a long way off. What do you think?

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