How Robots Give Hotels Marketing Muscle

Select hotels are test­ing out robots to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly free up employ­ee resources and cre­ate mem­o­rable guest expe­ri­ences.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

There was a time when in-room TVs made for a dis­tinc­tive hotel expe­ri­ence. In fact, that’s an inno­va­tion Hilton touts from 1947. But con­sumers have clear­ly grown more demand­ing, which in turn, has forced savvy hotels to inno­vate fur­ther. And as one-time state-of-the-art ameni­ties like dig­i­tal keys and check-in become increas­ing­ly com­mon, the bar ris­es only high­er – and some hotel brands are turn­ing to robots as a result.

These hotels are test­ing out robots as both but­lers and concierges at indi­vid­ual loca­tions as they seek to cre­ate mem­o­rable guest expe­ri­ences – and to per­haps also gain some com­pet­i­tive advan­tage. So far, robots have the poten­tial to not only free up staff time, but to also per­son­al­ize guest stays and, at least for now, pro­vide a lit­tle sur­prise and delight. If the robot but­lers at CES 2016 are any indi­ca­tion, they may soon be old hat, too. But, in the mean­time, here are three hotel brands using robots to wow guests in unpre­dictable ways and to dri­ve engage­ment and loy­al­ty among con­sumers.

Hilton and Connie

Hilton and IBM recent­ly announced a part­ner­ship in which they debuted Con­nie, a Wat­son-enabled robot concierge at the hotel’s McLean, Vir­ginia loca­tion. Con­nie can tell guests about near­by tourist attrac­tions, give din­ing rec­om­men­da­tions and detail hotel fea­tures and ameni­ties. Named after Hilton’s founder – and Paris’ great-grand­fa­ther – Con­rad, the brand says Con­nie will work with Hilton staff to “assist with vis­i­tor requests, per­son­al­ize the guest expe­ri­ence and empow­er trav­el­ers with more infor­ma­tion to help them plan their trips.”

And because Con­nie is pow­ered by Wat­son, a cog­ni­tive com­put­ing plat­form that IBM says under­stands the world in a human-like man­ner – or via sens­es, learn­ing and expe­ri­ence, Con­nie is learn­ing to inter­act with guests and respond to their ques­tions in a “friend­ly and infor­ma­tive man­ner.” Fur­ther, the more that guests inter­act with Con­nie, the more it improves its rec­om­men­da­tions. And the hotel says it will have access to a log of guests’ ques­tions and Con­nie’s answers, which will enable fur­ther improve­ments. “We’re focused on reimag­in­ing the entire trav­el expe­ri­ence to make it smarter, eas­i­er and more enjoy­able for guests,” said Jonathan Wil­son, vice pres­i­dent of prod­uct inno­va­tion and brand ser­vices at Hilton World­wide, in a state­ment. “By tap­ping into inno­v­a­tive part­ners like IBM Wat­son, we’re wow­ing our guests in the most unpre­dictable ways.”

In addi­tion, Felix Laboy, CEO of Way­Blaz­er, an intel­li­gent search and dis­cov­ery sys­tem pow­ered by Wat­son, said the per­son­al­ized rec­om­men­da­tions from Con­nie – espe­cial­ly in the form of a robot – can help trans­form brand engage­ment and loy­al­ty. “Con­nie is an inno­v­a­tive approach to ser­vice and deliv­ery for Hilton guests. Through this new inter­ac­tive engage­ment, Con­nie is able to under­stand what the guest is search­ing or look­ing for, deliv­er an answer and pro­vide improved ser­vice over time,” Laboy says. “For instance, a major­i­ty of ques­tions that Way­Blaz­er answers is relat­ed to food and restau­rants. When a guest asks, ‘Can you rec­om­mend a restau­rant?” or, “Can you rec­om­mend an Ital­ian restau­rant?”

WayBlazer’s tech­nol­o­gy is able to under­stand the ques­tion and respond with rec­om­men­da­tions rel­e­vant to the Hilton McLean guest with great pho­tos, insights, menus, direc­tions and even dis­tance from the hotel. This pro­vides the abil­i­ty for guests to find infor­ma­tion in a quick, engag­ing and fun man­ner.” Fur­ther, since the launch, Laboy says Way­Blaz­er “con­fi­dent­ly makes rec­om­men­da­tions 93 per­cent of the time,” but that fig­ure is expect­ed to rise with Watson’s abil­i­ty to learn over time.

Aloft and A.L.O. the Botlr

Aloft A.L.O But Hilton isn’t the only hotel brand work­ing with robots. In 2014, Star­wood brand Aloft Hotels, which calls itself the “tech-for­ward, inno­va­tion hub for mil­len­ni­al-mind­ed trav­el­ers,” unveiled A.L.O. as its first Botlr, or robot­ic but­ler, at its Cuper­ti­no, Cal­i­for­nia loca­tion. Unlike Con­nie, which is more infor­ma­tion­al, A.L.O. the Botlr deliv­ers ameni­ties to guest rooms, while wear­ing what Aloft described as a “cus­tom shrink-wrapped, vinyl col­lared uni­form and nametag” as it “mod­est­ly accepts tweets as tips.” In a release, Aloft not­ed A.L.O. would free up staff time, allow­ing employ­ees to “cre­ate a more per­son­al­ized expe­ri­ence for guests and enhance the hotel’s cur­rent tech-for­ward offer­ings.”

Aloft said it was the first major hotel brand to hire a robot for front- and back-of-house duties. And, in a state­ment, Bri­an McGuin­ness, glob­al brand leader of Starwood’s Spe­cial­ty Select Brands, said, “A.L.O. has the work eth­ic of Wall‑E, the humor of Rosie from The Jet­sons and reminds me of my favorite child­hood robot, R2-D2. We are excit­ed to have it join our team.” Accord­ing to an Aloft rep, Botlr is still at Aloft Cuper­ti­no and has since debuted at Aloft Sil­i­con Val­ley as well. “Right now we only employ Botlr at these two hotels, but are cur­rent­ly test­ing oth­er inno­va­tions and tech­nolo­gies that we are look­ing to debut lat­er this year,” the rep added. A.L.O. hails from Savioke, a com­pa­ny that spe­cial­izes in robots for the hos­pi­tal­i­ty indus­try.

In our ear­ly test­ing, all of us at Savioke have seen the look of delight on those guests who receive a room deliv­ery from a robot,” said Savioke CEO Steve Cousins in a state­ment. “We’ve also seen the front desk get busy at times and expect Botlr will be espe­cial­ly help­ful at those times, free­ing up human tal­ent to inter­act with guests on a per­son­al lev­el.” Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, it’s per­son­al­iza­tion that a Star­wood rep says real­ly sets the brand apart. “We col­lect data from every chan­nel and touch point that we have with our guests and [loy­al­ty pro­gram] Star­wood Pre­ferred Guest mem­bers, and we are able to use that infor­ma­tion to enhance the guest expe­ri­ence,” the rep says. “SPG’s focus on tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion — through our award-win­ning mobile app and the industry’s first Key­less Entry sys­tem called SPG Key­less — has also allowed us to offer guests more choice about the way they trav­el, as their mobile phone has tru­ly become the remote con­trol for their stay.”

Crowne Plaza and Dash

Crowne Plaza Dash And in August 2015, IHG brand Crowne Plaza also began test­ing out a deliv­ery robot from Savioke at its San Jose-Sil­i­con Val­ley loca­tion. Per Crowne Plaza, the deliv­ery robot, Dash, enhances the guest expe­ri­ence by “pro­vid­ing quick and seam­less deliv­ery of snacks, tooth­brush­es and oth­er ameni­ties to hotel guests.”

When Dash arrives at a guest’s room, it phones to announce its arrival, deliv­ers the request­ed items and makes its way back to the front desk where it can dock itself into its own charg­ing sta­tion, the brand says. It’s about three feet tall, weighs less than 100 pounds and is designed to “trav­el at a human walk­ing pace.” It can inde­pen­dent­ly nav­i­gate between floors and call the ele­va­tor “using a spe­cial Wi-Fi con­nec­tion.” “Giv­en the hotel’s loca­tion in the heart of Sil­i­con Val­ley, it is a nat­ur­al fit to enhance our ser­vice deliv­ery pro­gram with the addi­tion of the lat­est in robot tech­nol­o­gy,” said Gina LaBarre, vice pres­i­dent of Amer­i­c­as brand man­age­ment at Crowne Plaza.

We expect our guests to be impressed by the tech­no­log­i­cal sophis­ti­ca­tion of Dash and its abil­i­ty to deliv­er the qual­i­ty ser­vice they’ve come to expect from the brand.” Per a rep, the brand is still test­ing the robot con­cept at the Sil­i­con Val­ley loca­tion and has not yet deter­mined whether to roll out robots at oth­er prop­er­ties. And Con­nie, A.L.O. and Dash could be a sign of things to come. A Savioke rep says it recent­ly rolled out anoth­er robot but­ler, Wal­ly, at a Res­i­dence Inn near LAX.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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