Henn-na Hotel, the Changing Hotel, is Moving On
The Henn-na Hotel opened in July 2015 adjacent to the theme park, Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki prefecture. It is registered in the Guinness Book of Records as the first ever robot staffed hotel and has not disappointed three years on.
Eye-catching, Efficient, and Expanding
The hotel has expanded to nine locations, as of October 2018, and it plans to open a further seven by the end of 2019. They are all in large cities, close to the major tourist attractions, such as theme parks (Huis ten Bosch, Disneyland), shopping and business districts (Ginza, Haneda), or historical monuments (Kyoto, Asakusa).
They intend to expand towards the 2020 Olympics and beyond, up to 100 hotels.
The robot staff contributed to achieving exceptional efficiency by reducing the share of the work done by humans to 20% of the total tasks, not only limited to maintenance works but also customer service. There were six models, 82 robots and 30 human staff at the opening, and the balance changed to 27 models, 243 robots and just seven humans in two years. During the same period, capacity increased from 72 rooms to 144.
With their charm and efficiency, the robots are the top element allowing the Henn-na Hotel to achieve a high operating margin, nearly double the industry standard.
The efficiency savings are directly invested in technological innovation and new ways of customer service differentiation. The beautiful Huis Ten Bosch, owned by the same holding company H.I.S, is used as a technology experiment field. Drones fly about, and renewable energy lights up the flowerbeds and interactive robots entertain guests in Virtual Reality environments.
Not the Highest Rated, but Comfortable
The hotel chain positions itself at the higher middle range, neither standard economy nor luxury. It provides a higher specification of room for a comfortable stay, but also by unique and varied services depending on locations and guest profiles.
For example, for business and inbound tourist customers in the inner-city, the hotels offer convenience more than novelty experience. Here, reception robots are human androids, not dinosaurs, there are free clothing refreshing machines, and a handheld tablet in each room for easy internet access and communication.
Management is acutely aware that the attraction of dinosaur receptionists will wear off, and it is relentless in pursuing new ideas to be on the frontline of innovation. It could come from technological breakthrough, or from collaboration with animation/manga characters, or from increased accuracy of facial and voice recognition services, or from secure and detailed customer information and analysis systems. They are not afraid to drop anything that fails to achieve the intended result. The speed of decisions is the centre of the business model.
Robots in Retirement
Three years since opening, the original Henn-na Hotel is withdrawing many robots. The voice recognition robots were not sensitive enough, causing many call outs from the guests for the human to resolve, and the efficiency of cleaning dropped, causing checks by humans to take longer.
IT maintenance cost has increased, and problems with starting and shutting down the systems have become more frequent. In September 2018, only 16 models, 85 robots are operational.
On the other hand, the newest addition, the third wing scheduled to open in December, will be an all Japanese style guest rooms. Interest from overseas visitors and less time for bed making and cleaning (because guests are requested to take shoes off) will increase the occupancy rate and efficiency at the same time.
Thriving by Changing, Growing with New Ideas
Management acknowledges the speed of change in technology. The hotel was never intended to be fixed in one place. The original concept was to create a hotel which continually changes, according to trends, technological improvements and the needs of customers. It is still the core of the hotel chain.
The robots will stay where they can add value, but mostly as an entertaining attraction for now. The concept of continuous change and always being incomplete (room for improvement!) is a part of the customer experience. It seemed incredibly risky, but the hotel network thrives with feedback from well-wishing guests, especially regarding robot services.
It is ultimately humans who thinks how to build a fruitful relationship between people and technology. The Henn-na Hotel will continue to be a cradle for ideas and improvements.
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