Student Article: How Robots Ruin A Hospitality ExperienceBy Tina Ghanbarzadeh Alamdari - Student Business Administration at USC Marshall School of Business
Do you want to be welcomed to a hotel by robots?
With the growth in robotic innovations, robots are finding their way into the hospitality industry. In 2015, the Henn-na Hotel in Japan was the first and only hotel that is almost entirely operated by robots. In March 2017, the Henn-na Hotel celebrated opening of its second location in Tokyo and plans to expand domestically as well as internationally within the next five years by addition of 100 more properties. In June 2015, the Ghent Marriott Hotel in Belgium introduced its new concierge staff member "Mario", a humanoid robot. "Mario" can speak 19 languages, answers guest's questions, and entertains with dance moves. Marriott International has also incorporated room service delivery robots in multiple locations of its other brands. Hilton McLean Hotel in Virginia adopted "Connie" powered by IBM's human mimicking Watson computer (Hilton and IBM Pilot). Implementation of robots takes away so much from the guest's "experience" due to the lack of human interaction and the robot's inability to understand emotions.
Some hotels believe robots would enhance efficiency, security, and performance; however, implementation of robots would be the most unwise decision a hotel can make as it would kill what hospitality is about, decrease efficiency, and security.
Robotic Technology Disadvantages
Robots Kill What Hospitality Is About:
Words hospitality and service are used interchangeably and thought of as complimentary or interlinked by mistake (Golubovskaya et al.). There is a fine line between hospitality and service. Hospitality is about looking out and making an effort to understand others rather than looking in. The ability to make people feel welcomed, valued, expected, and included is hospitality. Service is what you do for someone such as serving a meal; however, hospitality is how your behavior makes the guest feel after you served the meal. In order for hotel staff to be considered hospitable they need to demonstrate caring for the guest's happiness and quality of experience (Golubovskaya et al.). A combination of hospitality and service impacts the guest's experience; however, a great service is never recognizable without the hospitality aspect as that is what brings emotional connection, valued by humans, to the experience. A facial expression as simple as a smile can make a difference in the guest's experience and satisfaction level (Otterbring, 284). Robots can efficiently perform the service portion by checking guest in/out, answering questions, and delivering room service but they can never interact hospitably with the guests due to their lack of emotion.
A welcoming mindset is essential and demonstrative of what is expected of a hospitable behavior. The welcoming mindset elements are openness (willingness to deal with challenges and come up with an efficient alternative in a limited time), curiosity (interaction with the guest to build a relationship and make relative recommendations), being non-judgmental, humility (demonstrate the extent a guest is being valued), respect, presence, and dialogue (developing a conversation to understand the guest's needs and emotions). In hospitality, everything evolves around how well emotions are interpreted and responded to. Robots fall short on demonstrating the welcoming mindset, as they are only highly sophisticated computer programs yet unable to make emotional connections on human level.
Implementation of robots at hotels would not only kill what hospitality is about but also diminish service efficiency and security. This is an undesired outcome for both the guests and hotels that decide to implement robots in their operations.
Robots Decrease Service Efficiency and Security:
How do you feel when the hotel's ATM machine does not work and you are late to your tour bus?
We have all experienced malfunctions with electronic devices, ATMs, vending machines and etc. Usually, the issue gets resolved by asking a specialist for assistance. In fully robotic operated hotels, guests do not have access to any staff member. A malfunction in any of the robots will turn into a frustration and hassle for guests that ultimately affect their "experience". The inconvenience guests have to experience due to robots malfunction as well as the unavailability of staff for assistance would negatively affect service efficiency.
Guests should be able to order room service based on their preferences, however, cannot make special orders with robots due to lack of comprehension. No matter how high-tech a robot is, its intelligence is still bounded with limited programming; however, humans are capable to intelligently understand one another requests and respond accordingly. Limitations in programming describes the fact that robots operate based on what they are programmed and nothing more; that exhibits why robots fall short in service efficiency.
Reiterating on the fact that hospitality is the ability to understand other's emotions and respond accordingly; hotel staff are responsible to constantly monitor guest's emotions, body language, and behaviors. The hotel staff report suspicious behaviors and activities to prevent violence, crimes, and terrorist attacks. During emergencies, the hotel staff are the initial point of contact for the guests. Also, when emergencies arise, since hotel staff are trained they will direct people to safety and seek medical attention if necessary. Robots do not have the ability to comprehend suspicious activities and cannot be a source of help to provide direction during emergencies. For example, when an emergency occurs a hotel staff calls 911 to report and meanwhile assists to make the guests calm; however, in a fully robotic operated hotel there is no staff to report emergencies that leaves guests responsible for their own safety. Considering the horrifying Las Vegas attack, the guests inside the Mandalay Bay were directed with safety procedures by the hotel staffs and the police. At times of emergencies people need to be able to communicate with a human to find out about the situation and get emotional support. A robot cannot satisfy that need because it does not have the human-level comprehension. A fully robotic operated hotel decreases security and allows more room for violence, crime, and terrorist attacks.
Robotic Technology Advantages
Robots Enhance Efficiency and Security:
Henn-na Hotel has implemented robots in ways that increase efficiency and security. Replacement of staff with robots has cut costs by ¾ and cost efficiency has enhanced as a result. Instead of a bellhop an electric porter will carry luggage and leads the way to the guest's room while showing a movie on its screen that entertains the guest. Robots deliver room service and give a call once they are at the door that increases time efficiency. Self check-in kiosks are equipped with facial authentication enabling keyless entry that increases security. Henn-na hotel has also implemented a high tech system that would monitor how hot or cold the guest is to change the room temperature accordingly. Working at a hotel, I have encountered times when the bellman is not available and the guest is left to carry his/her own luggage to the room. The electrical porter leads the way to the guest's room that resolves the issue of confusion and makes the service smoother. Guest's are not always willing to talk to room service to place an order due to language barriers; so, the delivery robot enables them to order digitally and get a phone call when the order is at the door. The temperature monitor is also an excellent service that positively affects guest's experience. All of the features mentioned above in regards to what robots bring to hotels are evident of an increase in service efficiency.
Room security is enhanced since keycards are no longer in use the entrance to the guest's room will be impossible without the facial recognition. Working at a hotel, we are constantly monitoring our systems to correctly input the check-in/check-out dates into the keycards to prevent unauthorized entry to any of the rooms. The facial recognition makes room entry personalized and secured. With the face recognition feature, intruders would no longer have a chance to enter a room with stolen keycards. The increased security provides guests with the peace of mind to leave behind their valuable items at the hotel rooms.
Robots Enhance Performance:
Robots enhance hotel's performance by reducing the long wait time in lines, collection of interesting customer behavioral patterns, less likelihood of making errors, and AI improvement opportunities that are on the rise.
- Faster operation by robots compared to humans will reduce the wait time in lines for check-in/check-out.
- Robots can collect data about the customer's behavioral patterns. Hotels can benefit hugely by making alterations to the operations to match their customer's behavioral patterns.
- Robots are less prone to errors than humans.
- The AI improvements enable hotels to honor preference-based requests of repeat guests such as rooms with specific views, extra towels, and etc. The recognition of special requests is an example of great service.
The enhanced performance by implementation of robots translates to great service that is a contributing factor to the guest's experience.
The opposing views claim that implementation of robots enhances efficiency, security, and performance. One cannot deny that implementation of robots enhances cost efficiency by cutting on labor costs. Even though it seems like hotels save money by replacing staff with robots it raises two implications.
- The money saved on labor will negatively affect the guest's experience because robots do not have emotions to demonstrate hospitable behavior. Ultimately, the dissatisfaction turns into lower revenues in the long run as guests would not come back.
- Implementation of robots comes with high initial purchasing costs, high maintenance costs, and short life span. The costs hotels are saving on labor are reinvested in robots and at times they have to spend more than what they are saving. For example, the room service delivery robot costs about $73,088 and has a life span of 8 years.
At the same time, service efficiency is increased by addition of great features such as electric porter, robot room service delivery, and the high-tech air conditioning. On one hand, security is improved through implementation of face recognition instead of keycards that prevents unauthorized entries with stolen keycards. On the other hand, implementation of robots severely impacts security, as robots cannot comprehend emotions, body language, and are not capable to detect suspicious behaviors to report to 911. There are many tradeoffs to be considered before deciding to implement or not implement robots in the hotel industry.
Nevertheless, all the advantages that robots can bring to the hospitality industry are outweighed by the lack of human interaction that negatively affects guest's "experience", overall satisfaction, and likelihood of returning. Performing check-in/checkout, robotic room service delivery, and electric porter features are all undervalued and merely considered as service components due to robots inability to demonstrate the expected hospitable behavior. Hospitality and service go hand in hand and absent of one would ruin the guest's hospitality experience. As a result, it comes down to the true meaning of hospitality that can only be demonstrated through human interaction in which emotions exist. Robots do not have emotions, cannot comprehend human interactions, and their performance is limited to what they are programmed. Replacement of robots with staff would cause feeling of loneliness due to the lack of human-interaction. Therefore, replacement of robots with staff is the poorest decision a hotel can make as it ruins the guest "experience" and overall satisfaction of the stay.
Use of robots is the worst decision a hotel can make as it takes away emotion and human interaction both of which are essential to creation of a memorable hospitality experience. What brings guests back to a hotel is not the solely the service but rather the "experience" they had at a hotel. The "experience" is how the guest felt during their stay based on the behavior he/she encountered of the staff. Implementation of robots simply cannot create that "experience" for the guests as they lack emotions and are unable to interact on a human-level. Robots can be interesting for guests the first time; but as guests try to interact with the robot and face the lack of comprehension it changes people's perception of robots.
Tina Ghanbarzadeh Alamdari
I’m a senior, studying Business Administration with an emphasis in management, at USC Marshall School of Business. My aim is to pursue a career in hospitality management as a General Manager. I took advantage of the opportunities we have at USC to network with industry leaders and joined the Hospitality Industry Project Club, Operations Management Association, and ALPFA. At Hospitality Industry Project, we take Las Vegas trips every year to take behind the scene tours of hotels, casinos, and nightclubs. Last Spring, we toured Wynn, Venetian, Cosmopolitan, TAO, LAVO, and Marquee. During the trip I had the opportunity to meet many of the industry leaders and learn from their precious experiences. In order to expand my leadership abilities, I served as the marketing director of ALPFA, where we hosted networking events with companies such as KPMG, Deloitte, and PWC. I currently work at a hotel’s front desk. This is a huge opportunity for me to gain experience in the hotel industry. I am also in the process of applying for the Hospitality Internship Program with MGM Resorts International next summer.Hotelschools | UniversitiesChatbots, Robotics & AIGlobal