The opening of Japan’s Hen-na Hotel – the first hotel in the world entirely staffed by robots – was one of the big hospitality stories of 2015. Of course, the people behind Hen-na aren’t proposing that we do away with hotel staff altogether: the hotel is more of a giant testing lab for the future of hospitality technology, to see just how far it can go – and more importantly, how much guests will accept.
As hotels rush to implement the latest technology, there is concern that the ultimate aim is to replace receptionists, concierges and porters altogether, and that in a few years’ time, the Hen-na Hotel will be the global standard. Research indicates that luxury travellers in particular still prefer the human touch, and that millennial travellers are getting annoyed and embarrassed at hotels introducing all manner of gadgets to attract them.
Ultimately, hotel technology is there for one reason – to increase efficiency and thus increase revenue. And you can only increase revenue by satisfying your guests. And this is why technology should enhance the service you provide your guests, not replace it altogether. Some guests like to be greeted by a smiling receptionist when they check in, but for others, especially time-poor business travellers, waiting at reception to check in is a delay they can do without, which is where mobile check-in & keyless entry comes in. To some it’s impersonal, to others it’s a real boon.
Mobile concierges – apps that allow you to book hotel services such as restaurant reservations or spa sessions, as well as booking taxis, tours, outside restaurants etc – are perfect for guests who don’t want to wait at the concierge desk for service, or who for various reasons don’t like using the phone (I love them for that very reason!).
Delivery robots that ferry small items such as bathroom amenities, snacks, stationery etc to guest rooms on demand may not work in an old-school luxury hotel with butler service, but in a busy city hotel, or a hotel that attracts families with children, they’re quick, efficient and cheap, and guests love them – who wouldn’t want an R2D2 clone showing up at their door with a sandwich?
Perhaps the perfect example of a technology that enhances service is smart controls – lighting and air-conditioning based on the guest’s own preferences, that knows when the guest is in the room or out, awake or asleep, controlled either via a mobile app, in-room iPad or easy to use control panel. Having spent 15 minutes scouring my hotel bathroom in Kyoto trying to find the switch for that one last troublesome light that was keeping me awake one night last year, I am a big fan of such technology!
So there is a balance when it comes to adopting hotel technology. If you’re a crusty old colonial hotel that attracts older, wealthier guests, you’ll likely encounter considerable resistance; whereas if you’re a hip, contemporary urban property that caters to younger business travellers, a hi-tech environment will be expected. But whatever technology you install, it should enhance your existing service level, rather than being seen as a shortcut.
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