Is Artificial Intelligence a Threat to Hotel Employees?

By Ken Greger Partner, Ward Howell International | March 12, 2017

This article was co-authored by Robert Rippee

Co-authored by Robert Rippee, Director of the Hospitality Innovation Lab, UNLV

A robot first appeared in a motion picture in 1919, The Master Mystery. The machine was called "the Automaton," as the term robot would not be used until 1920. Since then our imaginations have been led by humanoid machines capable of capturing our hearts (R2D2) to threatening our very destruction (Westworld, The Terminator). A common theme among these robots was an intelligence, sometimes sinister and sometimes benevolent, but always present. The movies implanted a mental image of a robot, but don't be unduly alarmed - C3P0 is not yet on the horizon.

Robots have reshaped manufacturing, technology, aerospace and online retail/warehouse supply chain structure and process. That same quantum leap is on its way to hospitality just as surely as the computer changed the front desk process late in the twentieth century. Robots entering the hospitality industry will be very different from their fictional counterparts and certainly won't possess the artificial intelligence of the sinister HAL Computer, at least not yet.

The rate of technological change is said to double every two years under an observation called Moore's Law. This doubling of change brings significant implications for today's hotel executive not only about the speed at which robotics will become an integral part of your operation, but also the potential conflicts this will present with your human capital during the adoption phase of the new technology.

The authors, Robert Rippee, Director of the Hospitality Innovation Lab at UNLV and Ken Greger, a partner with AETHOS Consulting Group specializing in Hospitality & Leisure, collaborated on this article to elevate the discussion by raising what we consider to be the three key topics for hotel executives:

  1. Robotics & human capital in hospitality: Where will they be a complement and where will they diverge?
  2. The issue and impact of creative destruction on economic capital.
  3. What is the current state of robotics in hospitality?

Robotics and Human Capital in Hospitality

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.