Humans vs. Robots?

When planning the cover story for our HITEC issue about robotics finding its way into hotels—a prime example being the Henna-na Hotel in Japan—I kept humming to myself. You know that feeling when something just “styx” (forgive me!) in your brain? OK, wait for it… Yes, the classic ’80s refrain “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto” hasn’t left my head. It’s unfortunate, too, because I truly dislike that tune.

In all seriousness, while a good example of the fully automated hotel currently exists across the globe, hotel brands and technology companies here are increasingly adapting to the idea of automation in the hospitality industry.

As the cover story reports—and our Tech Innovations piece underscores—technology is moving beyond mobile check-in, keyless entry and texting initiatives to include robotics in a more integrated way to enhance the guest experience. Though, the question remains: Will it just enhance—or entirely transform—it at the expense of human interaction? Industry professionals weigh in.

On a related note, in my interview with Cindy Estis Green of Kalibri Labs, she touched upon the digital landscape and how it’s changed dramatically. “Self-serve services will be a growing trend as guests can have more control over what they want and when they want it.” This theme of meeting guests’ needs at a faster pace in a rapidly changing environment has largely been driven by technology and its power to make things happen at the snap—or, rather, touch—of a finger. Convenience is key, as are creating and controlling your experience, and whether automaton or apps, technology streamlines that whole process without too many steps.

When I asked Green about disrupters and OTAs, she talked about the many new models entering the marketplace. “Meta search is overtaking the traditional model… The next generation of disrupters will be mobile apps, and there may be new entrants that take the industry by storm along with incumbents like Google, TripAdvisor and the OTAs trying hard to build the killer app. The most innovative approach I expect to see in the next five years are apps that anticipate travelers’ needs and prompt them with ideal options, seamlessly integrating the shopping and booking of air, hotel and ground into one convenient user experience. It will be about curated experiences based on knowing a traveler’s needs.”

So, now, bringing this full circle… Will we be saying “thank you” to the robots as they help to automate hospitality services and functions, or is that gratitude somewhat tempered by the effect it will undoubtedly have on jobs, interaction and guest satisfaction? Stay tuned…