In 2015, Japan opened the world’s first all-robot-run hotel, and called it Henn na (or “Strange”) Hotel. The machine menagerie had a short run before management decided to change up its strategy in 2019, and replaced half the staff with humans.
According to The Economist, “the luggage-carriers could not climb stairs or go outside. A question-and-answer robot could not handle anything beyond basic inquiries—and responded to at least one guest’s snoring by waking him repeatedly to tell him it could not understand what he was saying. Rather than saving labour, the robots actually required the hotel to increase staffing in order to assist and repair the struggling robots.”
Around this time, many hotels looked to automate components of their services, like checking in and out, storing luggage, delivering room service, making breakfast, vacuuming carpets, and providing digital door keys. Hilton and IBM partnered to create a robot concierge, Aloft toted in robot butlers, Crown Plaza employed a delivery robot, and Yotel in New York City even automated its hotel room furniture to make more efficient use of space.
Saving costs is a key reason hotels have for wanting to employ robots. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, contactless service was likely another, which reignited some of the interest for robots in this space. Like most hospitality industries, hotels experienced labor shortages and had to adopt new health guidelines. USA Today noted that there was especially a growing investment in robots for cleaning and disinfecting spaces.