Hotels staffed by robots? Is this a trend? Pengheng Space Capsules Hotel in Shenzhen, China is the first one I can find evidence of, it opened in 2013. It was opened for single travelers and although there are a few people on staff at any time, the theme is definitely space age. The cost is about $13 us dollars a night. Interestingly looking at the reviews the main complaint is not about service, but about the squat toilets which, although found all over China, are generally not in hotels. At this hotel the emphasis is on the space age with sleeping capsules, Wi-Fi, computer station availability and robots serving breakfast and at the bar. The hotel gets good reviews with consistent comments about how the hotel is clean and efficient. Given the individual capsules divided into female and male sections, however not necessarily a family hotel.
In Nagasaki, Japan a hotel, Hen-na hotel, entirely run by robots will open this summer. The standard sized rooms, not capsules, are expected to cost about $60 a night but rates will be auctioned so they could go higher. Hen-na hotel is in a theme park catering to families and I am assuming the hotel will also. Welcome to the Jetsons, now they just need Astro!
In America Aloft, a Starwood brand, is also employing robots albeit much more minimally. The Aloft Cupertino is catering to business travelers weekdays and families on weekends, although obviously not exclusively one or the other. Near Apple headquarters in Cupertino, the Aloft hotel has a robot, Botlr, that brings room service. He is considered a novelty of the hotel and the hotel’s location, the technology center of America. Interestingly, in reviews, customers speak of how great the staff is, the conveniences of the hotel, with the robot as an aside in their descriptions. An excerpt from Melissa L.’s review on Tripadvisor:
“Robot: Yes, they have a robot. Botlr. He’s adorable. If you get (smaller) items delivered to your room, it’s quite possible that they will send the robot to deliver them. It’s cute and fast, and forgetting your toothbrush has never been so fun.”
A concern with robots replacing people’s jobs is a fear of what would happen to the hotel employees and labour force. The Hen-na hotel reported that labour costs were a factor in deciding to open a hotel run by robots. I wonder how this impacts employment as well. I was just in Japan in December, and must have asked the concierge a thousand questions in each place we visited. Hotel staff is not only used for direct information but also for advice, especially when travelling with kids. “What is the closest most kid friendly yakitori restaurant, not fast food but not too formal?” How would a robot answer this? I assume the robot would go to google, so I did, the response was an italian restaurant. Perhaps the robot would be better programmed than google. To me, Aloft’s one robot seems like fun but an entire hotel run by robots feels … “unhuman!”