Robotics in Travel How would you feel about a robot checking you in at a hotel? Or delivering room service? The hospitality industry has been slower than others to embrace the use of robotics, until now. BY N ATA S H A H E G A R T Y
FROM APPLE’S SIRI TO GOOGLE’S ALEXA, chatbots are becoming a standard addition to households all around the world, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now a business asset in many different industry sectors. With big brands, such as Hilton, introducing mechanical robots in their reception areas to assist with check-in, and Eurostar introducing Pepper, a humanoid robot at London St Pancras International to help with customer queries, robotics are becoming much more prevalent in the industry. But, will these robots replace humans altogether? James Matcher, Intelligent Automation Leader for US East Region at Ernst & Young, believes it is unlikely, although mechanical robots in the travel and hospitality industry will proliferate in the future. “There will come a time soon when you won’t need a concierge to assist you after checking into the resort. A robot will deliver an automated trolley for your bags and it will follow you up to your room. Similarly, room service will be delivered to your door, but instead of it being a porter, it will be a little robot ambling down the corridor,” he explained. “We will also start to see more software robotics in resorts’ technology infrastructure, as well as the data side of the hospitality industry, in the form of Intelligent Automation. “By nature, the hospitality industry is geared towards human interaction. People want the human touch, they want the personalisation, so robotics 1 4 Q 3/Q 4 2 01 9
will enable employees to spend more time engaging with customers, rather than spending hours in the background doing administrative work that a robot could do in minutes,” he said. “The key thing is, robotics can process larger volumes of information. Less than 15 per cent of data that a company holds is ever used or analysed. With AI, we have the ability to constantly mine the information accurately, which is something humans just can’t do.” Matcher noted that smaller hoteliers will have an edge on the larger players when executing this technology. “The bigger players may have the investment capital for robotics, but the downside is their processes are non-standardised across their chains. It can be harder to implement this type of technology into a chain because every hotel, country and region has its own processes and nuances, so it can be a bit of a challenge to integrate systemically. “Smaller hotel chains can very quickly adopt new technology,” Matcher explained. “A lot of robotic technology is becoming democratised, so instead of having to raise venture capital to get it going, it is now moving into the Cloud so you don’t need a big infrastructure to run it, you can simply pay for it when you use it. “Smaller resorts can then set things up cost effectively by going to small, niche companies to integrate the intelligent robotics which will do exactly what they need them to.” While it means that this technology will soon be
JAMES MATCHER Intelligent Automation Leader, Ernst & Young.
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