Robot behind front desk at hotel
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By Robin Roberts

A growing number of hoteliers around the world are embracing robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Canada, however, is still in the early stages of adoption.  

“In Canada, it’s just beginning,” says Greg Staley, general manager of Richmond Hill, Ont.-based E-Pro Bot Inc., which represents KEENON Robotics. 

Founded in 2010, KEENON has deployed unmanned delivery robots to a wide range of industries around the globe, including hotels. Its Butlerbot, for example, delivers bedding, food and amenities in a contactless and enclosed “cabin,” which ensures safety and privacy.

“There are about 50,000 [service] robots deployed in 60 countries now,” says Staley. “In China, Japan and Korea, hotel robots are everywhere. In Canada, restaurant robots are only three years old. So, the work is just trying to educate the Canadian clientele that robots are safe, functional, return a positive ROI in most cases and create a wow factor.”

California-based Relay Robotics has integrated a dozen of its robots into ski and golf resorts in Canada, as well as in Montreal’s Hotel Monville, which has recently adopted the company’s upgraded Relay2 after having used a previous model for several years. The fully autonomous robot delivers food, beverages, housekeeping and convenience items to guestrooms. The robot also has a “mingle” feature, which allows it to navigate lobbies and engage with guests by telling jokes and offering complimentary water.

“Robot roomservice was a unique opportunity to differentiate ourselves in a contact-free economy,” says Jean-Cedric Callies, director of Sales and Marketing, Hotel Monville. “Safe, secure, contact-free room-service volume has doubled in one year.”

Wade Pfeiffer, CEO of Relay Robotics, says the company’s robot boosts the bottom line by “enabling guests to order directly to their room via the Relay RoomService, a custom QR code ordering system that serves as a profit centre by upselling hotel food-and-beverage items [which], in most cases, generates enough F&B revenue to exceed the robot’s cost.” 

Despite the sluggish uptake in Canada, implementation of hospitality robots globally was valued at around US$300 million in 2022, and is expected to grow to approximately US$3,100 million by 2030, mostly driven by efficiencies, cost savings and as a way to fill the persistent labour shortage, according to Zion Market Research. However, there are still barriers to consider regarding implementation.

Implementation Barriers

First, the cost of the robot itself can range widely from US$12,000 to US$30,000 depending on type and usage. Many developers offer their robots on a subscription basis. Relay, for example, charges $2,000 a month for their robots, which have an average lifespan of seven years. For KEENON’s robots, rather than providing a full figure, Staley notes a cost of $30 to $50 per day. 

Additionally, integrating a robot into a hotel’s existing infrastructure and property-management system can be challenging, but Staley says KEENON is able to simplify the process.

“The science and technical aspects are already sorted out so we set up your whole facility, [including connecting] the elevator,” he says, adding KEENON trains hotel staff on the use and maintenance of the robot, including navigating safely around humans and other obstacles. 

Relay also dispatches an onsite installer, who typically spends two to three days mapping the property, setting up the robot, training staff and working with elevator companies on integration. Once a robot is up and running, both companies offer 24/7 customer support. 

Bridging the Labour Gap

Robots can assist with either mundane or labour-intensive tasks, freeing up staff to focus on guests. 

“We don’t sell robots to take away jobs,” says Staley. “But quite often hotels don’t have a porter that they’re paying to sit there in case someone needs a toothbrush in the middle of the night, [in which case] the concierge or housekeeping might have to bring it up. [A guest] can be waiting a long time for that toothbrush. Dispatching a robot speeds that up.”

Matt Black, Marketing director at Hotel X in Toronto, says the property’s new virtual concierge Alexis, has been a hit with guests. “Some guests might not want to approach the front desk to ask for directions to the gym, for example, and would prefer to walk up to an avatar or virtual concierge like Alexis, click on a button and have her explain information in a unique and engaging way.”

Although Alexis isn’t a robot, Black says she has reduced his workload, as well as the number of calls that come in to the switchboard. 

Additionally, Black says robots are on his radar, not just for room service but also for the hotel’s gift shop. 

“Traditionally, a gift shop isn’t a huge money-making endeavour,” he says. “We’ve looked at unique vending machines, [including] one that looks like a giant double glass-doored refrigerator with a bunch of cameras on it. Guests tap their credit card, open it and take what they want. Once the door is closed, the unit double-checks what they’ve taken and proceeds to charge the credit card that was pre-authorized and emails a receipt. Guest needs can be fulfilled in a unique way but there’s doesn’t have to be a person sitting behind a desk for 12 hours a day.”

Looking Ahead

Staley points to other potential uses for robots, such as advertising services around a hotel property with a full screen. “People don’t necessarily notice static signs anymore,” he says. “But everyone would pay attention to a robot roaming the property. It’s an opportunity for any business.”

Additionally, some hotels stop room-
service at night, leaving guests to order from third-party delivery services. Once it arrives, the guest has to retrieve their food from the lobby. Staley says offering guests the option to have an onsite robot deliver the food to their room for a small fee can be a revenue generator. 

“If a hotel has 100 deliveries per week at $10 each then that’s $4,000 a month just in roomservice of ordered-in meals,” says Staley. “Most hotels don’t even measure this; they have no idea how many food-delivery companies come to their hotel every day. The opportunity to do this is now.”

Staying ahead of the curve is key. “Most hotels have comfortable beds,” says Black. “We all have a lot of the same things, but what makes a [hotel] different is its people and approach to service and hospitality.” 


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