Social Robots in the Hotel Industry

Chur (CH) Digitization is increasingly finding its way into our everyday lives and thus also into the tourism industry. A team from the Graubünden University of Applied Sciences analyzed to what extent social robots can be used sensibly in the hotel industry, in which areas they can provide support and how the new technology is received by guests, employees and management. The knowledge gained has now been published in a study.

The aim of using new technologies and innovations from the field of robotics is to outsource simple activities so that hotel employees can concentrate on personal and individual guest care. The arrival, stay and departure of guests should be simplified through the use of robots in the hotel industry and digital cooperation between various tourism partners should be facilitated. The robots should not only be used for marketing purposes, but also offer guests added value and optimize certain work processes in the hotel through process automation.

Social robots in competition with humans and smartphones
In the research project “Robotics in the Hotel Industry”, a team from the Institute for Leisure and Tourism (ITF) at the Graubünden University of Applied Sciences investigated the use of two social robots in the hotel industry. Pepper was used at the Zurich Opera Hotel, while Cruzr was used at the Hotel Allegra Lodge in Kloten. The social robots are capable of interacting with people and thus open up interesting application possibilities in the hotel industry. «Robots can never completely replace humans – especially in the hotel industry, where hospitality and empathy are central. I therefore see the robots more as a supplement and a relief for the employees », describes Michel Böhler, CEO of Meili Selection, the use of robots in the hotel industry. Therefore, simple, recurring activities should be outsourced to the robots so that the hotel employees can concentrate on personal and individual guest care.

Although 47 percent of the guests surveyed have a positive or very positive attitude towards robots in general, only 39 percent have a positive or very positive attitude towards service robots in the hospitality industry. Around a third of the guests surveyed used the service robots, with the search for information and entertainment offering the most benefit from their point of view. From the point of view of the employees, the added value of the robots was not only the attraction for children, but also the provision of information and the bridging of waiting times, e.g. at check-in. From a management perspective, the robots and guests have been asked too much, i.e. the robots have taken on too many functions. In addition, robots have to face the competition from smartphones. For example, it makes little sense to offer concierge services such as ordering a taxi or providing information about a restaurant via a robot, since many guests always have their smartphones with them and use them frequently. The hoped-for relief for employees could not be recognized in the course of the study.

Future of robotics in the hotel industry
“The attitude of guests towards robots is mostly positive, but the results of the study show that the technology for normal human-robot interaction is not yet mature. However, the technology will be further developed and will be used more frequently in the future. In the near future, more functional robots will be used in Switzerland that take on a clear task,” concludes Jan Mosedale, Head of Studies and Research at the ITF of the Graubünden University of Applied Sciences. The Innotour project was realized by HotellerieSuisse, Avatarion Technology AG, Opera Hotel, welcome Management AG, GetLocal and the University of Applied Sciences Graubünden with financial support from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO.

The ITF contributes to the further development of tourism through applied research and practical development projects. In particular, the revitalization process of Swiss and Graubünden tourism is actively supported. For this purpose, the research fields of service innovation, tourism 4.0, management of tourist real estate and infrastructure as well as sustainable development are being worked on. Destinations, service providers, associations as well as politics and administration are partners and customers of the institute, with whom it develops solutions to entrepreneurial, social and political issues in the areas of tourism and leisure.