Can Robots Reboot Travel Industry?

By Reuters
March 14,2016
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New service robots welcome visitors at the international travel fair in Berlin, and could soon be the face of the check-in desk at international hotels. Ivor Bennett reports on how the latest wave of disruptive technology is impacting the travel industry.

It's not exactly service with a smile. But not the attitude either.

"Discover 50 exciting travel stories in our new book 'From Berlin with Love'"

This is Chihira Kanae - Toshiba's vision of check-in desks of the future.

"Born in June, I am a 26-year-old Gemini"

The lifelike robot is able to answer certain pre-programmed questions in four different languages. A function many travel operators are already using to help reboot the industry.

Check-in to the Marriott hotel in Ghent and you'll get your room key from Mario. And there are robots on hand to give you directions, should you get lost in Amsterdam's sprawling Schiphol airport.

European President of Travelzoo Internet Company, Richard Singer, saying:

"Robots can take a lot more efficiency, they can do things more consistently, they have better data recall, but how humans interact alongside those it's really what's gonna make service and travel a lot more improved in the future."

Mario's makers insist their aim is not replace humans. Because there of course certain things robots don't do - like irony.

Journalist Volker Feuerstein, saying:

"I'm slightly disappointed that she wouldn't answer my more specific questions. I wanted to invite her for dinner, but it didn't work out."

The idea of robots doesn't push everyone's buttons though.

Visitor Elisa Hoening, saying:

"Slightly scary. You don't expect her to turn around and change her facial expression. She's blinking! This is the future, a scary future."

While robots can offer a helpful hand, it seems there's no substitute for that human touch.