Written By: Evita Ma
These days, technology is transforming the customer experience at an alarming rate. Many hoteliers wonder what the future hotel will look like. Flyzoo Hotel, regarded as Alibaba Group’s first future hotel, was opened in mid-December 2018. Numerous news and media outlets applauded its futuristic design and artificial intelligence (AI) applications within the hotel. After three months of operation, it is a proper amount of time to examine guest’s experiences from their feedback. Could it possibly be a “shining star” to lead future hotel development, or more of a meteor — just a momentary bright streak?
Flyzoo Hotel’s operation is largely powered by AI. Automated check-in machines are provided in the lobby. Facial recognition technology is adopted everywhere including rooms, restaurants, fitness center and elevators. Tmall Genie is an AI system in each room that controls the lights, curtains, temperature, music, household appliances and in-room dining order functions, which can be activated by voice. The robots operate as receptionists, housekeepers or servers, and take care of customized services like meal delivery. Andy Wang, CEO of the Alibaba FlyZoo Hotel estimated that the hotel was 1.5 times more efficient compared with other traditional hotels in the same market, by virtue of the upgraded hotel management system capability (Wu, Li & Wu, 2018).
Up through March 14, 2019, there are 168 non-repeated reviews on Fliggy, the online travel platform under Alibaba Group. The Flyzoo Hotel scored 4.3 out of 5 points, with 80 percent of customers indicating satisfaction in terms of their overall experience. The remaining 20 percent of guests either reported complaints or could not find any outstanding memory of their stay. Through careful investigation of the customer ratings and comments on the website, it was determined that 48 percent of reviews are just scores with no detailed evaluation. For the remaining 87 comments, regardless of their satisfaction level, 42 guests highlighted the service failures they encountered: 22 reported high prices and 16 customers complained that the AI or robots did not work well. For instance, the facial recognition technology failed to open the room door or the in-room control system was not listening to the guest’s request. Robot malfunctions were often remarked on and led to customer disappointment. It is intelligible that these systems and products will always require a debugging and modifying phase. In this scenario, basic services and facility staff should be prepared to appease customers.
However, Flyzoo Hotel was a bit neglectful of hotel operation fundamentals. First, the market positioning is a bit ambiguous. Some guests concluded that the room rate does not conform to the overall service, facility and decoration of the hotel. Hotel supplies such as slippers and personal care products were comparative to other middle-scale hotels, but came with an upper-scale hotel room rate. There does not appear to be a focus on business or leisure travelers. The fitness room is large, but lacking other typical hotel services for business guests. Family travelers grumbled about the tiny room space and absence of child-friendly facilities. Secondly, traditional guest support is somewhat lacking. For example, no staff picked up the call when customers dialed in and asked for help. Some staff were not proficient in some of the smart facilities and hotel relevant information, so they were unable to help when customers reached them. Thirdly, the exaggerated advertisements raised customers’ expectations prior to arrival. For example, guests did not find a Dyson hair dryer in some rooms as shown in the ads. Some media even quoted it as an unmanned hotel in the early publicity, and absolutely, the stay could not fulfill customers’ fantasies. Last but not least, there were some issues that were unacceptable for a brand new hotel like pipe blockages, power outages and parking fee arrangements.
Similar to the negative feedback from customer reviews for Flyzoo Hotel, Henn na Hotel in Japan, as the world’s first robot-staffed hotel, also received numerous complaints on its robotic servers, both from customers and staff. Recently, Henn na Hotel decided to fire half of its robots after thoughtful consideration (Hertzfeld, 2019). Undoubtedly, advanced technology empowers the hotels to deliver a more novel experience to the guests, and smart systems and robots possess the unparalleled advantages to improve the working efficiency and effectiveness. For instance, they rarely need to take leave and could become adept at completing repeated tasks. Yet, they are not designed for increasing the service standard. Eliminating the interaction between people might not be a good goal for hotels (Meetingsnet, 2019). It is the time for hoteliers to rethink the decision of the high-end technology adoption.
Traditional market positioning and service standards should not be ignored. With a clear target, an in-depth analysis of customer needs and service scenarios could help identify what service can be delivered by robots and what cannot. Standard operating procedures (SOP) could be adjusted cooperating with smart technology adoption, whereas the purpose of the innovation should maintain or even improve the guest experience. Basic service failures such as a lack of a human receptionist picking up the phone is not acceptable. Especially during a period of introducing new products, alternative backup plans must always be prepared in advance. Considering that robotic servers are pretty new to guests, employees need to be trained beforehand to instruct guests during the operation.
Except for hoteliers, suppliers will also need to reassess the product usage scenarios. By scrutinizing the product capability and delving into target customers’ needs, identify the direction of development. Smart technology devices are designed to make things more satisfactory, simple and maintain a stable performance, instead of creating more complaints.
Broadly speaking, future hotels will be a fusion of human and technology efforts. Nevertheless, we cannot forget the true essence of a business in the process of pursuing the innovation. Service quality and customer experience can never be overlooked whenever there is a new product.
- Hertzfeld, E. (2019). Japan’s Henn an Hotel fires half its robot workforce. Hotel Management. Retrieved from https://www.hotelmanagement.net/tech/japan-s-henn-na-hotel-fires-half-its-robot-workforce
- Meetingsnet. (2019). The robot hotel: the future or a failure? Retrieved from https://www.meetingsnet.com/destination-venue-news/robot-hotel-future-or-failure
- Wu, L., Li J., & Wu S. (2018, December). Technological innovation: Alibaba’s futuristic hotel opens amid concerns. CGTN.com. Retrieved from https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d774d3545544e31457a6333566d54/share_p.html
Evita Ma is the executive director at the HFTP Asia Research Center. Contact Evita at email@example.com or +1 (512) 220-4039.