by WEX Travel
They’re cute. They work hard to delight customers. And they don’t require any employee benefits. The newest workers on the payroll—well, not exactly—are robots. Today’s travelers can find them on the scene, carrying luggage, providing directions, mixing drinks, and more. They’re quite literally changing the face of customer service in the travel industry.
Are Travelers Ready for Robots?
It’s hard to ignore the entertainment value of robots, but maybe you don’t have to. The humanoid machines used in today’s travel industry are engineered to enhance customers’ experiences with quick, convenient service. And, yes—a little fun. To find out whether these innovative “creatures” are meeting real demand, let’s consider some research.
A recent Travelzoo study showed that by 2020, 80% of travelers expect to encounter robots frequently, almost two-thirds are comfortable being served by them and three quarters believe robots will make their lives significantly better. These findings are based on a survey of over 6,000 travelers in Asia, Europe, North America and South America, so it’s fair to say that robots get a thumbs-up from most travelers around the globe. It should be noted that while Chinese and Brazilians were the most positive about how robotics and artificial intelligence could enhance a holiday or travel in general, German and French respondents were the most averse.
Better than Humans?
Let’s establish here and now that on the whole, people still want to interact with actual human beings. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and place for robotic intervention. And, it seems, certain spots along the traveler’s journey provide just those opportunities. In fact, three-quarters of the Travelzoo survey respondents think that robots would be better than humans at handling data (81%) and dealing with different languages (79%). What’s more, 76% of respondents believe robots have better memories and 81% selected robots’ untiring energy as an advantage.
Maybe it’s not such a stretch to suggest that someday, people might prefer the services of robots to humans. Either way, it’s likely that as more travel providers invest in customer-facing robots, people will become more comfortable trusting intelligent machines to meet their various needs.
Meet the Robots
Here are just a handful of robots working in the travel industry today:
Hotels: Marriott’s Mario welcomes guests—in 19 languages. Hilton has Connie the concierge on hand to provide guests with restaurant recommendations and answer their questions about amenities. InterContinental’s Dash delivers snacks and toothbrushes to guest rooms. The robotic staff at Henn-na Hotel check guests in and out, store and carry their luggage and remove the hassle of room keys via facial recognition software.
Cruises: Shaken, Stirred, Mix, and Mingle are Royal Caribbean’s newest bartenders, serving aboard their ships’ Bionic Bar. They can produce two drinks per minute—and up to 1,000 each day—they communicate with guests using specially programmed tablets or with live (human) staff. Pepper is Costa Cruises’ robot who’s able to recognize human emotions and entertain guests.
Airports: Leo—named after Leonardo da Vinci, naturally—is SITA’s autonomous, self-propelling baggage robot who can help customers check in, print bag tags and transport suitcases. He’s engineered to avoid obstacles and navigate a high-traffic airport environment. Norma, Amelia, and Piper are Mineta San Jose International Airport’s dancing robots who also play music and take pictures. They hold 32” touchscreen tablets that display information in English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish, pointing customers to where they need to go. Cyberdyne’s cleaning robot is a practical example of a robot’s ability to save money through unattended automation; it’s employed by Tokyo International Airport.
Read Q&A: Artificial Intelligence in the Travel Industry for additional insights into travel suppliers’ high-tech innovation and its impact on customer service.