Suppose robots replace humans in hotels....

Robots are already present in hotels, but could they ever replace us? Photo credit: Getty Images/PhonlamaiPhoto

There are many predictions and case studies about the disruption of our industry if humans are replaced with robots. Many in hospitality cheer the development of the labor-saving beings to do mundane tasks like laundry, serving drinks with little umbrellas in them on a cruise ship or delivering roomservice.

One of my favorite commercials played in the United Kingdom in 2006 and featured a Honda robot called Asimo. The commercial, available on YouTube, features Asimo wandering through what appears to be a museum. During her (or maybe his) exploration, Asimo exhibits several “human” features: curiosity, trust, self-awareness, touch and a sense of humor. But the characteristics that makes Asimo so interesting are the very reasons that, at least in my opinion, guest-facing humans can never be totally replaced.



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Imagine, if you will:

Curiosity: A robot concierge wondering if the elderly couple with their preteen grandchildren really wants to make reservations at a strip joint, rather than a steakhouse.

Trust: A robot front-desk clerk explaining it “understands” that your road warrior frequent guest has had a long day and must be upset that his or her reservation was inadvertently cancelled by the hotel.

Self-awareness: A robot server being aware that its customers are actually in tears because of a new addition to the family rather than the tears of happiness that their youngest child just graduated from college (which was what the reservations had been made for).

Touch: A robot food server saving the day by dusting bits of the white linen dinner napkin off his guest’s dark jacket right before he meets the love of his life’s parents for the first time.

Sense of humor: A robot explaining to one of your best female guests that it is wonderful to welcome her and her “son” back to the hotel—even though it is actually your guest’s boyfriend!

While these examples are meant to be humorous, the underlying theme should be clear: Robots don’t have human traits… at least not yet. But will they ever totally replace humans? My answer is a resounding no! 

To be fully transparent, my prediction 15 years ago that self-check-in adaptation would be hampered by a very large group of road warriors who would always want to speak to a “real” person for a better deal, free room upgrade or just a sympathetic ear was far off the mark. Hmmm… would a robot ever admit that? Maybe authors won’t be replaced by robots, either. After all, everything you read about robots indicates that they will be wrong. Right?

Frank Wolfe is the CEO of Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals. He can be reached at [email protected].

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