Industry News
February 12, 20247 min read

Are you ready to Navigate the Era of Co-bots?

Relay+® is a fully autonomous, “self-driving” service robot that makes time-consuming delivery tasks contact-free, safely, and cost-efficiently. — Photo by Relay Robotics
Chatbots, Robotics & AI
By Fernando Vives, Hospitality Labs Ambassador & Chief Commercial Officer at NH Group

Introduction

As we find ourselves on the cusp of a technological renaissance within the hospitality realm, our dialogue has shifted from mere speculative fiction to formulating tangible strategies surrounding the integration of co-bots - these collaborative robots are engineered to augment the capabilities of our human staff, not to replace them.

The AI Support

Backed by Artificial Intelligence (AI), these robots can learn and adapt to new tasks with minimal programming. This AI support enables them to understand and predict human actions, ensuring a seamless collaboration between humans and machines.

The efficiency of AI-backed co-bots lies in their ability to perform tasks without constant human oversight, reducing the cognitive and physical workload on staff. This is particularly beneficial in the hospitality industry, where guest satisfaction is paramount, and employee workload can be high.

AI enables robots to process and respond to data in a way that mimics human learning and decision-making. When applied to co-bots in hospitality, AI takes several forms:

  • Machine Learning: Co-bots equipped with machine learning algorithms can analyze data from their interactions and operations. Over time, they recognize patterns and refine their actions accordingly. For example, a co-bot delivering room service might learn the most efficient routes through a hotel or the best times to perform deliveries based on guest traffic.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): AI allows co-bots to understand and respond to human language. In the hospitality setting, this means a co-bot could interpret guest requests communicated verbally or via text and provide appropriate responses, enhancing guest service without human intervention.
  • Computer Vision: This aspect of AI gives co-bots the ability to interpret and understand visual information from the surrounding environment. In a hotel, computer vision enables a co-bot to navigate complex spaces, recognize guests or staff, and avoid obstacles, ensuring safe and efficient operation.
  • Predictive Analytics: AI can anticipate future scenarios based on historical and real-time data. For instance, a co-bot could predict when certain areas of a hotel will be busiest and schedule cleaning or maintenance tasks to minimize disruption.
  • Adaptive Interfaces: Co-bots can adjust their operations based on user interactions. A co-bot that assists with check-in could adapt its screen display or language based on the preferences of the guest it's interacting with.
The seamless collaboration between humans and machines is made possible by the AI's continuous learning and adaptation, which ensures that co-bots are always operating in the most effective way possible. This adaptive capability means that co-bots can be deployed in various scenarios, making them potentially a versatile and valuable asset in the hospitality industry.

The Opportunities

Enhancing Employee Efficiency and Satisfaction

By automating routine tasks, co-bots would allow staff to concentrate on providing exceptional guest experiences. This not only could improve operational efficiency but also reduce the physical strain on employees, potentially leading to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover rates.

Improving Guest Experiences

Co-bots could deliver personalized services to guests, from handling luggage to delivering room service, creating a unique, futuristic experience that can enhance guest satisfaction and loyalty.

The Challenges

  • Investment Hesitancy - Owners and operators, especially those with a real-estate mindset, may be reluctant to invest in new technologies due to upfront costs and uncertainty about the return on investment.
  • Technological Intimidation - A lack of understanding and fear of new technology can be significant barriers. Concerns like "Who will manage these co-bots?" and "Won't this complicate our operations?" are common.
  • Labor Union Resistance - In areas with a highly-unionized workforce, there could be a strong opposition against automation and robotization, driven by fears of job displacement and reduced membership.
  • Personal Insight - The discussion around AI and co-bots seems almost visionary. Yet, acknowledging the complexity of human labor management, the future undoubtedly leans towards automation. This evolution promises not only efficiency but also a redefined guest experience.

Pros and Cons

Advantages of Using Co-bots in Hospitality:

  • Improved Efficiency: Co-bots excel at performing repetitive and time-intensive tasks, freeing human staff to engage in more complex, guest-centric activities.
  • Consistency: They offer a high level of consistency, ensuring uniformity in guest services and experiences.
  • Reduced Labor Costs: Co-bots could be in certain scenarios be a cost-effective solution in the long term, especially supporting in labor shortage situations.
  • 24/7 Availability: Robots are capable of operating continuously without fatigue, which is beneficial for round-the-clock services in hospitality.
  • Enhanced Safety: Designed to safely interact with humans, co-bots can reduce workplace accidents.
  • Guest Engagement: The novelty of robots can positively impact guest experience, making their stay more memorable.

Disadvantages of Using Co-bots in Hospitality:

  • High Initial Costs: The upfront expenses of acquiring, programming, and maintaining co-bots can be significant.
  • Limited Capabilities: While proficient in routine tasks, co-bots lack the complex problem-solving skills and adaptability of human workers.
  • Job Displacement Concerns: The introduction of co-bots could raise fears about job security among staff, potentially impacting morale and the wider job market.
  • Technical Issues: Co-bots can face technical malfunctions, which may lead to operational disruptions.
  • Lack of Personal Touch: Co-bots cannot replicate the empathy and emotional engagement that human staff offer, a key aspect of hospitality services.
  • Guest Comfort: Some guests may prefer traditional human interaction and find robotic services less satisfactory.
  • Privacy Concerns: The use of co-bots for surveillance or in private areas can raise data security and privacy issues for guests.

Where to Start?

Considering these challenges, advancements may first materialize in back-office operations, where the impact on employment is less direct, and the benefits of efficiency are immediate. Tasks like inventory management, scheduling, and basic customer inquiries are ripe for automation.

Conclusions and final thoughts

While 2024 may not witness robots in every hotel, the trend towards automation is undeniable. The successful integration of technology in hospitality hinges on finding solutions that merge seamlessly with existing processes, offer clear financial benefits, and enhance both the employee and guest experience. The industry must navigate these changes collectively, with an open mind and a strategic approach.

Until next time, keep exploring the endless possibilities of hospitality.
Thank you, 
Fernando Vives

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The views and opinions expressed in this newsletter are solely those of Fernando Vives and do not necessarily reflect those of any company or organization I work for or I am affiliated with, nor those of their partners or suppliers. The data sources used are mostly public, ChatGPT may have been used for research assistance, copywriting or editing. If you find any discrepancies or errors in the data or insights shared, please reach out to me via LinkedIn for necessary adjustments. Thank you for following and being a part of this community.

Further Reading

To deepen your understanding of the future of hospitality and co-bots, consider exploring these resources:

Fernando Vives
Fernando Vives
Hospitality Labs Ambassador & Chief Commercial Officer at NH Group

Hospitality Labs

Madrid
Spain

www.hospitalitylabs.org