Japan’s Henn na Hotel fires half its robot workforce

Eight more robot-staffed Henn na Hotels to open across Japan
Henn na Hotel guests complained that robots at the front desk could not answer basic questions. Photo credit: H.I.S. Co.

Japan’s Henn na Hotel, which first opened in 2015 with a staff of robots, has cut its robotic workforce after the experience failed to reduce costs or workload for its employees. 

The hotel, which is located in Nagasaki, will reduce its 243-robotic workforce by more than half and return to more traditional human-provided services for guests, though it will maintain a number of robots in areas where it found them to be effective and efficient. Its change of direction can offer lessons for companies that are pursuing robotic solutions for customer-service roles, reports the Business Insider. 

The “firing” comes after complaints from both staff and customers. Apparently, a large percentage of the robots were more adept at creating work for their human counterparts than they were at reducing it. 

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The Henn na Hotel in Japan, translated as Strange Hotel, found that robots annoyed the guests and would often break down. Guests complained their robot room assistants thought snoring sounds were commands and would wake them up repeatedly during the night. Meanwhile, the robot at the front desk could not answer basic questions. Human staff ended up working overtime to repair robots that stopped working. One staff member said it is easier now that they are not being frequently called by guests to help with problems with the robots, reports the Mirror. 

At the hotel, at least until recently, each room came equipped with a robot assistant, dubbed Churi, which was one of the first nonhumans to get the pink slip after guests complained that could not answer even the most basic questions. The robot problem extended to the luggage-carrying bots, whose only job turned out to be more than they could handle.

Henn na Hotel first opened its doors in 2015 at Nagasaki’s Huis Ten Bosch theme park and a second property opened in Tokyo’s high-end Ginza shopping district last year. The hotel’s parent company, H.I.S., announced plans to construct eight more humanoid robot-staffed Henn na Hotels. According to the company, the plan was to build four robot-staffed hotels in the Tokyo area and four others in Osaka, Fukuoka and Kyoto.

According to H.I.S., the company created the hotel in part to respond to societal issues in Japan. Recent reports indicate that there may be a shortage of as many as 3,000 hotel rooms in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. It was thought that robot-staffed hotels may be part of the solution to this problem.