Are robot butlers the future of hospitality? Maybe you're not yet ready to trust a robot's restaurant recommendation, but what if they could increase the efficiency of your hotel staff?
Last month, Hilton Hotels, in partnership with IBM, introduced “Connie,” the first Watson-enabled robot concierge for the hospitality industry. Named for the founder of Hilton Hotels, Conrad Hilton, Connie can tell guests where to eat, what to do nearby, and what they need to know about the hotel’s amenities and services. Connie uses both a combination of Watson APIs and information gleaned from WayBlazer to deliver its picks. And the more guests interact with Connie, the more the robot will “learn” and thus adjust its recommendations. Currently, Connie is only available at the Hilton McLean in Virginia.
But Hilton isn’t the only one testing robots in their hotels. Aloft Hotels unveiled their Botler robot in August 2014. Created by Savioke, a company that specializes in building robots for hotels, Botlr can drop off toiletries or room service for guests. More impressively, Botlr is able to roam the hallways of the hotel all by itself. The Crowne Plaza hotel in San Jose, Calif., also rolled out their own ‘bot last fall–Dash, which looks very similar to Botlr, and is similarly self-sufficient. For example, using Wi-Fi, Dash can call up the hotel elevator on its own.
Yet while this recent introduction of robots in hotels may feel like a “Whoa, The Future is Here” moment, hotels have actually been toying with robots, seriously and not just as a cool gimmick, for about a decade. Back in 2006, the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel used Hitachi’s humanoid robots that looked a bit similar to Savioke’s current robot fleet. Five years ago, when the Yotel Times Square opened a buzzworthy feature was their Bell-bot–a large robotic arm that picked up guests’ suitcases and stored them in lockers before check-in and after check-out.
Clearly, hotels are interested in incorporating robots into their operations, but as you can tell, it’s slow going. More importantly, given that the hospitality industry is founded on human interaction and personalization, there may not even be all that much room for robots in the hotel industry. With so much of our daily lives being automated or programmed, a hotel is a place to seek out and relish that human connection. And besides, wouldn’t you rather trust a concierge who’s actually been to the restaurant you’ve inquired about over taking the word of a robot who is just reading back some online review?
That being said, there are a few other ways in which robots could be useful within the hotel industry. A concierge robot like Hilton’s Connie would be a great addition to select-service hotels that often don’t have a concierge, as well as hotels that don’t have concierge on staff 24 hours a day. Also, since room service is often a loss-making venture for hotels, having robots deliver simple items like coffee or snacks any time of day is a very attractive option. Additionally, a lot of hotel tasks, often unseen to guests, are highly repetitive, for example, refilling housekeeping stock cabinets or taking coffee to meeting rooms and conference centers. If a robot can support your housekeeping team to be more effective, then perhaps more hotels should and will seek out robots. And then the future really will be here.
How do you feel about robots in hotels? Are they the future of hospitality or are they still just a gimmick?