Are humanless hotels the future?

Last week we wrote about the hotel that is run by robots . We asked travel expert and Digital Sociologist Lisa Talia Moretti to dig deeper. Our question: will technology eventually replace humans in providing the best guest experience? Here's what she said:

I write this after yet another whirlwind business trip. Like so many who are fortunate enough to travel for work, taking a business trip sometimes feel like a boozy Saturday night: you’re not sure where the time goes and you tend to forget a lot of the details.

But this particular one-night stay in Zurich was pretty memorable – I experienced a first.

It started with the same old rush to the finish line: write those handover notes, answer all emails, punch out messages to those particularly important people letting them know my correspondence will be sketchy in the upcoming 24 hours. My flight was at 17:05 from City. I’m scanning through my inbox. It’s 2pm. And that’s when I see it: an email from Movenpick Zurich Airport that arrived at 9am the day before, encouraging me to “Start saving time now” and to check-in. Online.

It looked and felt like an email from an airline. Interesting. They’ve got my attention. I’m in a rush. They’re telling me this will save me time. What have I got to lose except a few precious minutes that I can claw back later if I do this now? I do it. It’s easy. I’m impressed.

I get to Zurich and make my way to the hotel. I find the web check-in machine. Again, I get that ‘airline’ feeling. The kiosk is just like one of those you would use to check yourself into at the airport. Except it gives me a key card for my room. I look around amazed at the keycard just lying there. This feels really strange. I’m tired. I need a smile. I need to be asked how was my flight. I need to be told that I should have a pleasant stay. I pick up the keycard and walk to the elevators. I feel like I’m an imposter. Do they know I’m here? Is this OK that I’m just walking to my room without making myself announced. Why does this feel so weird?

I dump my bags and immediately go downstairs to find the restaurant. I am starving. I can’t find the restaurant so, instead of turning to people, I turn to my phone and go to the hotel’s website to look up the restaurants in the hotel. I’ve turned to my phone as I still feel like a bit of a fraud… like I’ve gatecrashed someone’s birthday party. I feel invisible. I’m in a hotel, a place where they’re meant to be taking care of me in surroundings I don’t know but I’m not sure if the ‘people’ know I’m here. I eventually ask a waitress to point me in the right direction. She does. She takes my order. Brings me my meal. She’s lovely. This is starting to feel a bit better now.

I go back to my room.

The next morning I have another email. It says that I should “Continue saving time” by using the web check out. Oh why dangle that carrot! This whole line of tempting to save me time is such a romantic notion. It’s the ultimate pick-up line for a business traveler. I do it. I pay for my stay, my dinner and my breakfast online.

Then there is the problem of the key card. Oh! There is a part of me that is a little happy knowing I get to drop this off at the desk and meet the person who works at this fine establishment. Finally!

While taking the elevator from the ninth floor to the lobby, I see it. There is a little plastic box with a note to say that if I’ve checked out online, I can drop my keycard in it.

There’s lots out there about using technology to enhance the guest experience. That’s the key: enhancing, rather diminishing. While keyless entry using iPhones is great, taking away the people from the hotel experience would be a bit like replacing airline hostesses with robots. How would that make you feel about the experience?

So hoteliers: while people may sometimes be more expensive than technology, don’t forget about the impact they have on the experience.

To read more about what guests want from hoteliers, take a look at our FREE ebook here.

About The Author

All of our blogs are written in-house by the team to give you a mixture of news hot off the press, advice columns for hoteliers, and Triptease business news.