Are robotized hotels the future of the American hotel factory in the post Covid-19 scenario?
When Chinese e-commerce giant Ali Baba’s Future Group made news for employing Artificial Intelligence (AI) in its Hangzhou hotel FlyZoo back in 2018, it was looked like a promotional gimmick at best. Who would want to check in with a robot or get served their favorite cocktail by a robotic arm? Fast forward to 2020, where consumers are choosing to book a vacation rental (Airbnb is 80% back to pre-pandemic levels and filed for an IPO) instead of a cleaner hotel due to less human contact risk. After all, hotel brands are using robots to clean rooms and deliver amenities to rooms Perhaps it has become the best possible option for a safe stay in the pandemic era. In other historically labor intensive service industries, such as retail banking (Citibank: ATMs), ticketing (Ticketmaster: buy and print at home) and more recently restaurants (Dominos: food delivery), incumbents have automated services and improved service and even created new revenue streams. Airbnb’s mostly virtual “superhost” and keyless arrival is perhaps another case study that demonstrates its possible to deliver more personalized service.
Back to Alibaba and Chinese hotels: The Future Group’s venture was not just about robotized service personnel but about employing AI right from the moment a customer decides to take the trip. At the time of booking, guests can choose exactly the kind of room they want, customized beyond imagination, using Ali Baba’s Fliggy app. Facial recognition technology would enable self-check-ins; all that the guest needs to do is walk into the elevator which will stop by itself on the right floor. No magnetic keys/cards needed either to unlock the door, as the software recognizes all the guests assigned to a room, including children, and automatically opens it when one approaches it. Inside the room, all commands including ordering of food can be done with a vocal assistant software. In the hotel restaurant too, interaction is minimal, as the robot can provide customized food and drinks. It doesn’t end there; in case the guest fancies any of the décor items in the hotel, they can buy it online through the FlyZoo purchase application. Check out is also done online through Alipay.