Lonely Planet Writer

Humans get hired at the world's first robot hotel as the machines just can't keep up

For a few years now, tech experts have tipped robots to be the face of hospitality’s future but now that idea has hit a snag. The world’s first robot hotel, the Henn-na Hotel, has ‘fired’ half its robotic workforce. The reason? Humans had to pick up the slack anyway.

A pair of robot dinosaurs wearing bellboy hats used to be the check-in stagg. Photo by Kazuhiro Nogi AFP/Getty

Since opening in Japan in the summer of 2015, the hotel has used 243 robots to manage every element of your stay at the hotel, including check-in, luggage carriers, a concierge service and a robot assistant that appeared in every guest’s room.

At more than three years old, the robots were beginning to cause problems, including being triggered by the wrong sounds from guests and being unable to carry out essential tasks like scanning passports. In some ways they were also outpaced by technology that has become more readily available in your home and your pocket.

For example, both the room assistant and the concierge bot were unable to answer questions about local businesses to transport links, both of which can be answered by Siri and Alexa voice assistants.

Robots are being trialled in other hotels like here in Alibaba’s first future hotel in Hangzhou, China. Photo by Zhang Yin/China News Service/VCG via Getty

Ultimately, the hotel was beginning to use their human staff more and more for these tasks and the prohibitive cost of updating the machines grew too much. There will still be plenty of robots in action but in future, you’ll be served by a human being at the reception desk, concierge and to help you carry your luggage. Places like the luggage storage room will continue to be serviced by automation.

Many airports are still trialling out robot helpers to assist with tasks like parking, finding your gate or inspections but this case may show that it could be too expensive or troublesome to keep them maintained in the long run. However, with robotics and artificial intelligence still in its infancy, it’s best not to write it off just yet.