One of the most exciting technological developments within the travel industry in recent years has been the increased prevalence of robots, with examples ranging from text-based chatbots and front desk robotic assistants, to security robots and robotic travel cases. This article takes a closer look at the way robots are transforming tourism, providing eight real-world examples of their use and examining some of the pros and cons.
Although most of us have a concept of what a robot is, it can be more difficult to clearly define what ‘robot’ means. Effectively, a robot is a machine, which has been designed to automatically perform specific tasks accurately. This could include physical tasks, such as part assembly in a factory, or text or speech related tasks.
In terms of appearance, while you may immediately think of a human-like android, in reality robots can take many different forms. They can be completely autonomous, or semi-autonomous, operating with some human assistance. Modern robots use technology ranging from collision detection to speech recognition, as well as artificial intelligence.
For those in the travel industry, it is AI that is perhaps the most exciting robot-related technology, because it can facilitate machine learning and the performance of more complex tasks, which have typically required human cognitive function. Put simply, AI is the ability for a machine to mimic this kind of cognitive ability.
Definitions outlining precisely what counts as artificial intelligence are somewhat fluid. Nevertheless, it is usually agreed that speech recognition, problem solving, learning from human interactions, completely autonomous movement and the demonstration of logic and reasoning all fall within this particular field.
Applications Within the Travel Industry
Robotic technology is rapidly gaining in popularity within the travel industry and this is partly motivated by changing consumer habits with regards to tourism in general. Increasingly, customers are seeking self-service methods and this makes the automation provided by robots appealing to hotels, travel agents and other businesses.
In terms of actually delivering excellent customer services, robots provide hospitality companies with several benefits. For example, chatbots can be made available 24/7, with almost instantaneous response times, which would be virtually impossible for human staff. They can also be used to reduce queue sizes.
8 Real-World Examples of Robots within the travel industry
Eight of the most prominent examples of robots being used in the travel industry are outlined below:
1. A Robot-Staffed Hotel
One of the most exciting examples of robots in the travel industry comes from Nagasaki in Japan. Here, the Henn-na Hotel is recognised as the world’s first robot-staffed hotel, with robots being used on the front desk, as customer information points and for storage purposes, making use of voice, facial recognition and AI technology.
2. Connie, Hilton’s Robot Concierge
Hilton have deployed robot technology in the form of Connie, an artificially intelligent concierge, developed in collaboration with IBM. Connie is able to interact with visitors, using speech recognition technology to respond to their queries. It also learns from each interaction, meaning the more it is used, the better its responses will become.
3. Travelmate: A Robotic Suitcase
Among the most innovative uses of robots within the travel industry so far is Travelmate, a robotic suitcase, which removes the hassle from travel. The suitcase is able to follow its owner around autonomously, utilising collision detection technology and 360 degree turning capabilities, removing the need to carry the case.
4. Robot Assistants for Hotels and Airports
Hotels and airports are deploying robotic assistants to fundamentally change the customer experience. Tourists can ask these assistants questions, find out information and even get them to perform key tasks, like room service. Many of these robotic assistants are also able to understand and communicate in multiple languages.
5. Robots in Travel Agencies
Another area where robots are being experimented with is within travel agencies, especially as a means of entertaining customers at busy times. Used in this way, the robots are able to gather important information about what the customer is looking for and then feed it back to a travel agent, improving efficiency.
6. Chatbots for Flight or Hotel Bookings
In much the same way that online bookings revolutionised tourism, chatbots have started to do the same. One particularly good example of this is the SnatchBot Booking Travel Template, which makes use of AI to guide customers through the booking process, asking intelligent questions along the way.
7. Security Robots for Airports
With a constant need to improve airport security, robots are being deployed in some locations to assist human security staff. For instance, Knightscope robots are being used in some airports for the purpose of detecting concealed weapons and other hidden items that are not permitted on flights.
8. Other Examples of Robots in the Travel Industry
Finally, there are a variety of other uses for robots within the travel industry. These include robot luggage porters and butlers, which are able to navigate hotels and provide valuable services for customers, as well as robots that are capable of handling check-ins and check-outs, making for a much swifter experience.
Robots vs. Humans: The Pros and Cons
While robots clearly have valid uses within the travel industry, their use is controversial to some and there are pros and cons to be aware of. In general, robots are able to deliver greater consistency and accuracy than humans, and are often quicker than humans, especially when it comes to calculations.
Unlike with human staff members, a robot will never get tired, will never get bored and does not require motivation. Additionally, a robot does not need to be paid a salary, is not subject to employment regulations and can be operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year, without requiring breaks or holidays.
Yet, there are drawbacks too. An over-reliance on robots could lead to an ‘automation crisis’, where robots replace humans, leading to a shortage of jobs. Robots also lack an ability to adapt to unanticipated events, can malfunction, and can have high initial costs, as well as longer term maintenance costs.
Nonetheless, there are some situations where robots are necessary and a big plus point for the use of robots is their ability to function in dangerous or treacherous environments, where people could not safely work.
Robots have become commonplace in the travel industry in recent years, providing text-based customer service, as well as more physical interactions. Ultimately, the main benefits are their ability to function 24/7, without needing breaks or motivation, providing greater consistency than humans would be capable of.
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