Hotel robots will help humans, not replace them


A hotel employee welcomes you in a friendly manner in your own language, hands you the key and informs you of today’s evening menu. What if this team member could speak 19 languages and work 24/7, every day of the year?

Incredible though it may sound, it is already happening at the Marriott Hotel Ghent in Belgium. Standing just under 60 cm tall and weighing six kilos, Mario the hotel robot has been part of the team since last year and is also a pioneer in the hospitality sector.

Robots in the foyer and at the hotel bar are still the exception rather than the rule, but the signs point to growth. According to the European Commission, by 2020 the market for humanoid robots will reach a volume of Euro 100 billion a year. Robots such as Mario are already employed in the health sector and even in schools.

That is reason enough for this year’s ITB Berlin Convention to look at the topic in detail. Under the event’s key theme of digitalization, leading hotel experts will be discussing robots, hi-tech innovations and innovation labs at the ITB Hospitality Day.

Mario the hotel robot will be there throughout the day and listening to the many lectures. His hotel manager Roger Langhout will be talking about Mario’s various daily tasks. The hotel is keen to stress that he will on no account be making his co-workers redundant. Although he can answer questions about rooms and accompany guests to conference rooms he lacks the qualified service approach of the hotel that only a human being can bring to the job.

All the same, within the industry a question widely debated is whether humanoid robots will make working in the tourism industry a thing of the past?

The studies by the researchers Dr. Carl Benedikt Frey and Prof. Michael A. Osborne, which have attracted widespread media attention, will also be a topic at the ITB Berlin Convention. They predict a 50% decline in jobs and an employment crisis in the near future. At the convention Carl Benedikt Frey will be giving answers to the following question: ’How will the future of work be transformed?’

It is a question we are familiar with at ITB. Throughout our 50 year history, announcements of the show’s demise have frequently been made. Faced with social media and Skype, conferences and trade fairs would be rendered superfluous by digitalization, it was said. But despite this, ITB Berlin and trade fairs in general are alive and well. Why? Because nothing can replace a one-to-one personal encounter.

Faced with humanoid robots and their growing importance we should take the same approach. We should note their presence as welcome and providing assistance to the tourism industry, capable of taking over many of our daily tasks. Nevertheless, there is no substitute for a welcoming smile at reception or a tip from the concierge for an evening out to remember.

There are many as yet untapped possibilities for sensibly combining the capabilities of robots and humans, which can result in guests enjoying an even more unforgettable experience in hotels and tourism.

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NB: This is a viewpoint by David Ruetz, head of ITB Berlin.

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Founded by two travel and technology professionals with years of experience in Asia, Representasia specialises in sales & marketing representation throughout Southeast Asia for travel/hospitality technology providers and travel-related startups, as well as providing marketing consultancy services for hotels and travel businesses in the region.

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