Robots begin takeover of the travel industry

The robot uprising has begun. All over the world, early-adopters of robotic technologies are setting in motion the wheels of a movement that will go down in history as either one of our greatest achievements or the downfall of human interaction, and it all begins with a cold, automated “Have a nice day!”

Never shy of technological disruption and innovation; the travel industry in particular seems to be leading the way for the introduction of droids to the consumer masses, and more and more machines are taking on customer-facing roles that we once would have considered to rely heavily on a ‘human touch.’

The argument for the introduction and inevitable takeover of service androids is that it will increase efficiency and improve the customer experience – after all, a robot never forgets …

Stories of the Henn-na Hotel (which translates as Weird Hotel) in Nagasaki, Japan have been making the rounds this month, under the tagline “The world’s first hotel staffed by robots.” And we don’t need to look far for more evidence that the machine’s infiltration of the travel industry is well underway.

Many hotels, including the Residence Inn by Marriot in Los Angeles, are already using robots to deliver room service, while Costa Cruise Lines and KLM have introduced more anthropomorphic models, in the form of trilingual assistant Pepper and customer service representative Spencer respectively.

As well as giving our mechanical helpers semi-creepy-semi-adorable names, presumably in an effort to maintain some sort of emotional connection, we can also use personalisation frameworks to ensure they excel in the roles – such as suggesting local activities or providing meal options based on saved preferences.

While currently relying on data collection and algorithms to improve customer experience, recent high-profile advancements in artificial intelligence paint a rather vivid picture of what we can assume is the next logical step in customer service robotics.

Microsoft recently unleashed Tay the “millennial chatbot” on Twitter, which is able to have conversations and ‘learn’ by mimicking phrase patterns of other users. Let’s just say, it didn’t end well. You certainly don’t want to meet her the next time you check into a hotel.

But what do travellers think about the cyborg uprising? Are we all set to surrender human interaction in favour of efficiency and data storage? Are we just going to sit back and let these bionic butlers and automated advisors take charge of our trips?

Well, apparently we are!

A recent global survey conducted by Travelzoo found that 80% of travellers expect robots to play a big role in travel by 2020, with almost two thirds being comfortable with being served by robots in some capacity. Three quarters believe that robots will improve their lives significantly and 81% of the 6000 travellers surveyed listed their “untiring energy” as a key advantage.

Of the respondents, situated across Asia, Europe, North America and South America, those in Brazil and China were the most positive about robotics and artificial intelligence, while German and French respondents were the most averse.

Though none cited potential cyborg world domination as a negative factor, 75% of all respondents believed that the technology is impersonal and 70% worried that service droids would not be able to interpret slang, idioms, local dialects or sarcasm. Yeah, sure they did.

It seems that while robotic technology and artificial intelligence has come a long way, it’s yet to be implemented as more than a gimmick to be marvelled at by tourists and technophiles. When it comes to real customer service and assistance in the travel and hospitality sectors, the human touch still wins hands down.

For now.

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