HIS Holdings set to have 100 robot hotels by 2021. The Japanese company also hopes to sell 1000 unmanned reception systems to others operators, as bots seem set to become a firm part of the attractions industry.
HIS runs the Henn na (which translates as Strange) chain of hotels in which robots are in charge of most reception and cleaning duties.
The first Henn na hotel opened in 2015 in the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki, in southwestern Japan. Guests were met by receptionists in the form of dinosaurs and humanoid figures. They would be instructed to check in via a touch panel screen. Then an automated trolley would take their luggage to their rooms.
Guinness World Records recognized the building as the world’s first robot-staffed hotel.
HIS which started out as a travel business in 1980, is now shifting its focus to the more profitable hotel business as competition hots up in the hotel and flight-booking sector.
The hotel side of HIS saw sales of 8.2 billion yen ($74 million) for the year ending October 2017, up 24 percent on the year. Its operating profit rose 38 percent to 764 million yen.
There are now six Henn na hotels, including one close to Tokyo’s Hamamatsucho Station. The hotels have around 100 rooms and employ fewer than ten human staff. The bulk of the reception, cleaning and portering is conducted by robots.
HIS executive Yuji Iwama says the company has already developed plans for 50 new hotels by 2020, reports the Nikkei Asian Review. They will all be sited near either train stations or leisure facilities in popular tourist destinations. Kanazawa, Osaka and Fukuoka are the likely locations.
The next stage of the company’s expansion plans is to buy and renovate existing properties. Another option is to win management contracts to operate hotels for other operators.
The HIS expansion isn’t limited to Japan. At present the company operates around 20 hotels abroad. These include properties in Australia and Taiwan. Most are operated under the Green World Hotel brand. “Many foreign guests at Henn na hotels are from Asia,” says Iwama. “Robot-staffed hotels will be popular once we introduce them.”
Selling unmanned reception systems
HIS is also putting resources into an unmanned reception system that will be sold to other operators. The aim is to have the system installed at 1,000 hotels.
At present hotels are not legally allowed to operate without human stuff. However HIS is looking to the future. “But we are preparing to make our Henn na hotels the first totally-unmanned hotel one day, when all the hurdles are cleared,” says Iwama.
Huis Ten Bosch has plans to replace two thirds of the theme park’s workforce with bots, moving teh redundant staff to other areas of the HTB group.
Bots are set to be a key trend in the attractions industry. Customised service robots have been used to sell tickets at Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo. The Science Museum has also exhibited a range of robots which could easily be incorporated into visitor attractions.
Improvements to natural language processing and neural networks allows for more natural interactions. Disney seems likely to back the trend, having filed a patent for robot characters. “Robots can be found providing interactive guidance or entertainment in stores and amusement parks and in more dynamic settings,” said the application, calling for “a robot that will move and physically interact like an animated character.”