LOS ANGELES -- Hotel robots that perform tasks like
delivering amenities to guests or cleaning rooms will be the norm within the
next five years, panelists at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS)
held here last week predicted.
The anticipated growth in hotel robots was largely
attributed to falling technology costs and guests becoming more accustomed to
Early hotel adopters say devices such as Savioke's Relay
robot and Maidbot are gaining favor because they are efficient at both
delivering items such as toiletries and bottled water to guests and cleaning
rooms. They are also a novelty among family travelers.
Executives with both larger hotel owners like Host Hotels
and smaller counterparts like Southern California-based Seaview Investors both
expressed satisfaction on the ALIS panels with their early trials of the
"We feel that it pays for itself, more from a
guest-satisfaction standpoint than from labor savings," said ALIS panelist
moderator and Seaview Investors president Robert Alter. Seaview has used a
Relay robot at his company's Residence Inn Los Angeles LAX for the past 18
Host Hotels managing director Michael Lentz, said, "We're
testing Maidbots for cleaning rooms. You have to think in years ahead that
there are opportunities to reduce our operating costs."
Front and center at the conference was Savioke's Relay
robotic butler, which debuted as Botlr at select properties under then-Starwood
Hotels' Aloft brand in 2014.
Panelist and Savioke "chief robot whisperer" Tessa
Lau said hotels typically lease a Relay for about $2,000 a month (the company
does not sell the robots) and the device, on average, performs a
front-desk-to-room delivery of smaller products like toothpaste or bottled
water in less than four minutes. Lau, too, alluded to the novelty factor,
noting that many families with kids take "robot selfies."
Savioke’s Relay robot makes the rounds at Marriott International's Innovation Lab. Photo Credit: Danny King
Robotics was among the most topical subjects at the
conference, where much of the on-stage discussions focused on technology and
the concept of "the hotel of the future." With amenities such as free
WiFi having long been made essential and services such as keyless entry via
mobile device expected to accelerate across the industry during the next few
years, service robots, along with amenities like virtual reality tours of hotel
properties, were discussed as the next wave of hospitality technology.
Meanwhile, Marriott International used the conference to
illustrate how it has taken the torch from acknowledged technology innovator
Starwood Hotels (which Marriott acquired last September) by building its
Innovation Lab at the conference to show off the latest developments under its
Aloft and Element select-service brands.
The use of such technology is considered more and more
essential for effectively serving guests. This week, software giant Oracle will
release a study undertaken by Phocuswright (a sister company to Travel Weekly)
outlining how guests want hotel operators to deploy technology. Of the 2,700
U.S. and European travelers polled, almost half said hotels should use
technology to perform services such as enabling guests to select a specific room
location or providing in-destination activity choices. About a third said
technology should be used to facilitate service requests for in-room items such
as coffee, pillows or toiletries. Still, just where the line falls between
effective and invasive -- or even creepy -- remains to be seen.
Marriott International touted the latest features for the Aloft and Element brands at its Innovation Lab. Photo Credit: Danny King
"We feel like people are suffering from digital
overload," said Niki Leondakis, CEO of hotels and resorts for Two Roads
Hospitality, which oversees Destination Hotels and the Thompson Hotels and Joie
de Vivre groups.
"We want to get back to hospitality, back to the human
"We wouldn't necessarily see robots replacing team
members, because we're in the business of hospitality," added panelist and
Hilton Worldwide's chief marketing officer, Geraldine Calpin.
Still, while even a technology-oriented person such as Lau
acknowledged that the cornerstone of hotel service will continue to be based on
human interaction, she added that hotels risk obsolescence by ignoring advances
in areas such as robotics, data tracking and communications.
"I would love to talk to a person when it matters,"
Lau said. "But a lot of the hospitality service parts are more amenable to