Robotel: Japan hotel staffed by robot dinosaurs

A robot dinosaur wearing a bellboy hats welcomes guests from the front desk at the Henn-na Hotel in Urayasu, suburban Tokyo on August 31, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 03 September 2018
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Robotel: Japan hotel staffed by robot dinosaurs

URAYASU, Japan: The reception at the Henn na Hotel east of Tokyo is eerily quiet until customers approach the robot dinosaurs manning the front desk. Their sensors detect the motion and they bellow “Welcome.”
It might be about the weirdest check-in experience possible, but that’s exactly the point at the Henn na (whose name means ‘weird’) chain, which bills itself as offering the world’s first hotels staffed by robots.
The front desk staff are a pair of giant dinosaurs that look like cast members of the Jurassic Park movies, except for the tiny bellboy hats perched on their heads.
The robo-dinos process check-ins through a tablet system that also allows customers to choose which language — Japanese, English, Chinese or Korean — they want to use to communicate with the multilingual robots.
The effect is bizarre, with the large dinosaurs gesticulating with their long arms and issuing tinny set phrases. Yukio Nagai, manager at the Henn na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay, admits some customers find it slightly unnerving.
“We haven’t quite figured out when exactly the guests want to be served by people, and when it’s okay to be served by robots,” he told AFP.
But for other guests the novelty is the charm: each room is staffed with mini-robots that look a bit like spherical Star Wars droid BB-8, and help guests with everything from changing channels to playing music.
Even the fish swimming in the lobby run on batteries, with electric lights in their articulated bodies flickering on and off as they work their way around giant tanks.
“The dinosaurs looked intriguing, and I thought my son would love it,” said Chigusa Hosoi, who was at the hotel with her three-year-old.
“My son is really happy. There’s an egg-shaped robot inside the room. He was playing with it a lot.”
The first Henn na Hotel opened in Nagasaki in 2015, and was certified the following year by Guinness World Records as the world’s first hotel with robots on its staff.
The travel agency group that operates the chain now runs eight hotels across the country, all with robots on the staff, some of them dinosaurs, but others taking a more humanoid shape.
Some humans are also on call to intervene in case of glitches, which customer reviews online suggest are a not infrequent problem at check-in.
But Nagai said relying on robots for everything from front desk duty to cleaning had proved an efficient choice in a country with a shrinking labor market.
“It’s becoming difficult to secure enough labor at hotels. To solve that problem, we have robots serving guests.”


Hajj season boosts Middle East hotel demand in August

Updated 24 September 2018
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Hajj season boosts Middle East hotel demand in August

  • Occupancy rates — a measure of the proportion of available rooms sold — in the region jumped to 63.4 percent from 62.1 percent
  • The average daily room rate — another key industry metric — increased 12.2 percent to reach close to $170 per night

LONDON: Demand for hotel rooms across the Middle East leapt last month providing welcome relief for an industry that has been grappling with an oversupply of hotel accommodation, new data showed.
Occupancy rates — a measure of the proportion of available rooms sold — in the region jumped to 63.4 percent from 62.1 percent, according to data provider STR’s research published on Sept. 24.
The average daily room rate — another key industry metric — increased 12.2 percent to reach close to $170 per night, while revenue per available room (RevPar) increased by 14.5 percent to reach $107.50.
The region’s hotel sector has been under pressure due partly to the impact of low oil prices and geopolitical risks, resulting in a slump in room revenue and occupancy as supply exceeded demand.
“It is true in the broader sense that we have been seeing a softening of market-wide RevPar levels in the hospitality sector across most major cities within the GCC countries,” said Ali Manzoor, partner, hospitality and leisure at property consultancy firm Knight Frank.
Analysts have blamed the year-on-year uptick in August on the earlier Hajj season and Eid Al-Adha holiday, rather than indicative of a change in outlook for the sector.
“The spike in occupancy levels in August was largely attributable to differences between the Gregorian and Hijri calendars,” Manzoor said.
This year, the pilgrimage period took place in August, helping to boost the industry’s performance that month. “It is therefore reasonable to expect hotels to underperform in the month of September in relation to last year,” he said.
Looking at data for the year-to-date, the UAE retains the highest occupancy rate in the Gulf region at 72.2 percent, though this represents a slight decline of 0.8 percent compared to the same time period last year, according to STR data.
Saudi Arabia’s occupancy levels stood at 58.1 percent year-to-date, marginally up by 0.2 percent on last year.