I’ll bet you haven’t imagined the need for firing robotic personnel – even in your wildest dreams. But that now appears to be the case. In 2015, Japan’s Henn na (“Strange”) Hotel opened to wild acclaim and has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s first robot hotel.
There are just a few downsides, however. The robots are faithful employees and are always at their stations – never calling in for a sick day; always available. However, the “availability” is sometimes the problem. The Henn na’s robots haven’t necessarily been groomed to be able to offer the kind of hospitality that humans do. And, sometimes they go overboard in trying to do so – a recent guest at the hotel reports that he awakened every few hours while trying to sleep with his “room assistant” remarking: “Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. Could you repeat your request?” (Ref WSJ article, “The World’s First Robot Hotel is Looking for a Few Good Humans.”) The guest ultimately realized the problem – his snoring had triggered the robot into action. Thus far, the hotel has had to “retire” half of its original staff of 243 robots because they were actually creating work rather than reducing it, as was the original purpose. And, as a result of these “firings,” they report that the number of times that the human staff at the hotel are now being called to intercede in a “robot problem” has drastically reduced. Still, robotics is being touted as the next big thing in the hotel industry. At the recent consumer-technology show, self-driving shuttle buses for hotels were featured as well as a “smart clock” for the bedside that can turn lights on and off or even read a bedtime story, and a delivery robot for take-outs orders and other goods. Devices being used in the U.S. include the Yotel and Aloft hotel chains that use robots to deliver mail, toiletries and drinks to rooms of guests. One can see a reasonable need for robotic delivery devices. But the original purpose of the Henn na Hotel’s strong interest in robots was to overcome the problem associated with labor shortages by using ‘bots for everything from luggage storage to cleaning and, even, mixing cocktails. In my view, it will be a long time in coming when the bot will replace the friendly bar tender – that mix of technical skills and mastery of the interpersonal skills will be very hard to replicate in a robot. As well, the Hotel had hoped to lure foreign tourists by proclaiming Japan to be the most technologically advanced nation – their press releases said things like: “Enjoy conversations with robots with a humanity kind of warmth, while they work efficiently.” Well, that’s just what I’ve always wanted to do! Clearly, neither the “humanity kind of warmth” not the efficiency was actually able to be instituted. So, now the Henn na Hotel has gone back to a reasonable number of robots mixed with a reasonable number of responsible humans. The wave of the future – ? Well, not for a while. But, sounds like something that Disneyland might want to consider as a draw to their hotels.