The anticipated applications and integration of robotic technology will require leaders of the future to carefully consider the balance between the roles of service robots
and human employees in the guest experience, according to the paper published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.
The researchers noted that their project completed in March 2020 just as Covid-19 broke out and as the virus rendered non-essential travel impossible, most hotels around the globe are feeling a catastrophic economic impact.
There is now even more interest in developing innovative ways of deploying service robots
across all economic sectors to limit human interaction, the researchers said.
Considering the current pandemic, many industries are having to reinvent processes and systems to cope with a new isolated way of life, they said.
"Application of service robots in the hotel industry
is on the rise, said lead author Tracy Xu, Lecturer in Hospitality at the University of Surrey.
"With the added factor of a need to reassure potential guests that their stays will be compatible with minimised social contact and human interaction, this process could be accelerated," Xu said.
She noted that during the lockdown period it is likely that hotel managers will be planning for a 'fresh start' in the recovery and rebuilding period after the social isolation restrictions have been lifted and this is predicted to have a positive stimulus on the adoption of service robots.
"Robotics had already been initiated in the hospitality & catering industry even before Covid-19, noted Vibhas Prasad, Director, Leisure Hotels Group.
For example, he said, the 'Spyce Restaurant' in Boston, US uses such mechanisation for cooking bulk food or the 'Creator' in San Francisco uses robots to create burgers from start to finish.
"Adoption of robotics into hotels is already underway at various levels. Though in hospitality, we do not see a robot substituting for humans for a very long time to come as the warmth and personal touch can never be replaced by mechanisation all together," Prasad said.
The researchers said anticipated applications and integration of robotic technology will require leaders of the future to carefully consider the balance between the roles of service robots and human employees in the guest experience and to nurture a work environment that embraces open-mindedness and change.
"This is the first type of study to examine hospitality leadership and human resource management in the context of robotised hotels and at a time where hotels seem to need it most, said Mark Ashton, Teaching Fellow at the University of Surrey.
"Forward-thinking businesses who are proactively prepared for the introduction of these exciting new technologies will benefit in the long term," Ashton said.
"As technology advances and robotic solutions become more specific, easy to implement and of course viable, we would see the introduction as we move ahead irrespective of Covid-19," Prasad added.