: Forget everything you learned about human resources development - because your staff soon is going to consist only of robots, instead of training you will only need software updates.
In the lobby of the REMM hotel in Tokyo Akihabara there stands a little man dressed in white plastic's and gazes at everybody who comes with a suitcase in hand through the door. It wobbles on the potential guests to welcome them and quacks a "Welcome!" to them (actually not only in Japanese but also in English).
If they have not run away in panic until now, they then can ask Gemini, so the robot's name, questions about the hotel or even popular landmarks in Tokyo. "Where is the reception?" is one of the 700 questions, which Gemini does know and to those the artificial Wizard has a striking response.
Gemini is not alone: His slightly smarter colleague Palro, who does look similar to little famous Android Ashimo from Honda, also fearlessly plunges into the crowd if there are high number of customers approaching. The mechanical staff needs no smoking breaks, but on the other hand after three hours they need their little hangover on the next socket.
The Japanese artificial life project is a scientific test: Tsukuba University wants to find out how people respond to service robots. First results are - from the perspective of the researchers - encouraging: People like the robots. 25 Percent even talk awhile with the automatic butlers.
Robots in hotels are in principle nothing new: Two years ago the New York property "Yotel" hit the headlines with a fully automatic luggage concierge, which takes over the suitcases from guests checking out, meticulously placing them (the luggage, not the guests) in a selected compartment and later after identification indeed actually again it puts out – and even to the right people.
However, the electronics servant looks like an ordinary industrial robot, and a thick sheet of glass protects the tourists from its blustering activities. Furthermore, the Kuka breakfast robot in a Swiss Alps resort, who (really? Or only "which"?) cooks soft eggs on request and loads them on a model train to supply in the dining room, is visually geographically far away from a science-fiction service slave.
However, with Gemini the hotel industry is close to the age-old dream: Hard-working employees, not unionized, to be on disposal for 24 hours a day and moreover 100% recyclable! Besides hotel bots do their job always smiling and always ready, answering jovially on the 100th silly guest question with the same - previously programmed - reply.
"Our guests do find the robot cute", a REMM Manager recently said in an interview. How much tip to earn with the greeting apparatuses, unfortunately she did not tell. Neither she shared information about the savings potential - but this is the key point: In Japan, the robotics research is forced because service personnel are already rare to provide the highly aging society of the island nation in the future.
The hotel industry will benefit from this rapid progress. Concierge? Why, an appropriately programmed Gemini can do also – and better. Room service? US combat robots can run already as fast as people, and they carry heavy weapons to whose weight a tray of full cocktail bottles feels like down feather.
Even hotel managers should be substituted shortly by appropriately costumed androids, which from time to time fold up all other robots and in-between drink black coffee - as long as they have a logarithm inside them to be designed for the correct dosage of important manager mistakes.
We learn that the androids are easy to use anywhere: In the wallet parking - if cars themselves are not soon robotized completely – , or in the kitchen and also in the escort service. Until then in a few years, in the hospitality industry only robot will work.
Only the Human Development division in close future has to be disposed completely – anyway in a step after the next step maybe is needs not to be realized. So as Gemini und the mechanical suitcase selector from Yotel mainly serve as tourist attractions, a hotel with genuine, living humans as a unique selling point could generate new demand.
In the near future a hotel might have a real unique feature with "real, living people". Real people who give stupid or wrong answers, are grumpy and have just gone smoking when you need them. You just must have seen this!This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.
Roland Wildberg is Travel Writer and Correspondent based in Berlin, Germany. He started as an Editor for the National daily 'Die Welt' (tourism section), later on switched to a freelanced career and nowadays mainly publishes on the Web. Observing the hospitality industry always has fascinated him as it looks like the perfect combination of sleeping and writing – work-live-balance as its best.
Roland also heads the annual 4Hoteliers ITB Berlin news micro-site journalist and video/photo teams. For more info: www.4Hoteliers.com/itb
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