The Real Deal New York

These weren’t the droids they were looking for: Japanese robot-hotel lays off its “annoying” android staff, pivots to humans

The ‘bots were supposed to save time and improve guest experience. They didn’t do either
January 19, 2019 02:00PM

(Credit: Booking.com, iStock)

The failed roll-out of a Japanese robot-staffed hotel is a cautionary tale for those who think similar consumer-technology will revolutionize the hospitality industry.

The Henn-na, or “Strange,” Hotel in Sasebo, Japan, opened to much fanfare in 2015 as the world’s first robot-staffed hotel. But the android helpers there are being removed after complaints from guests who were frustrated the robots weren’t keeping pace with services like Siri or Alexa, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The “Strange” Hotel opened with 80 robots. Following an initial positive response they went on to add more to entertain guests, including a a team of human and dog robot dancers in the lobby. Soon, however, the robots began to create more work than they replaced, according to the Journal’s report. The hotel had to increase overtime for the human staff to manage.

Yoshihisa Ishikawa, who stayed at the hotel for one night, told the Journal he was constantly awakened by a “Churi,” a doll-shaped robot in his room saying, “Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. Could you repeat your request?” He realized his snoring was confusing the robot.

Another became frustrated that Churi could only perform basic tasks like adjusting the lights, and couldn’t search for answers to questions.

“She got a bad reputation,” Hideo Sawada, president of H.I.S. Hospitality, the hotel’s parent company, told the Journal. (In October, 2018, the company bought a hotel building 235 West 35th Street for $44 million.)

The hotel has now removed more than half of its 243 android assistants, including the main concierge robot and the much-maligned Churi.

Others in the hospitality industry, such as the Yotel and Aloft chains in the U.S., have also been exploring using robots and smart devices. Both chains use robots to deliver mail, toiletries and drinks to guests’ rooms. The Hilton in McLean, Virginia, has a robot concierge. [WSJ] – Decca Muldowney