Are Robots Taking Tourism Jobs?

Tourism industries around the world are struggling to rebound in the post-pandemic boom. Can robots help tourism recover, or are they coming for our jobs?

Artificial Intelligence remains a hot topic for discussion. From what AI will mean for creatives and agencies like TimeZoneOne, to the ongoing writers and actors strike across North America, it’s clear this developing technology will have wide and far-reaching consequences.

So what is it likely to mean for our tourism and hospitality sectors?

Open For Business Tourism and Hospitality

AI, Robots, and Tourism

On Jul 31, 2023, New Zealand marked the one year anniversary of reopening our borders and welcoming back international tourism. One year on, New Zealand’s tourism and hospitality industries are still struggling to fill all of the vacant roles that would allow the country to fire on all cylinders.

Is AI The Answer?

Aotearoa is not alone, with labor shortages also impacting America’s ability to deliver on pre-pandemic hospitality and tourism levels.

Chief operating officer of Sudima Hotels in New Zealand, Les Morgan believes at least part of the solution lies with AI.

“New Zealand has picked up the theme of robots pretty quickly. They are common enough overseas and we’ve deployed robots in the restaurant and bars and have done so pretty successfully,” he says.

What will these robots be doing? Looking forward, they aim to have robots that will deliver room service, provide some housekeeping assistance, and eventually have a porter service that will deliver your bags to your room.

“The robots are used for more or the mundane tasks, for instance clearing dishes. Plates are taken off tables, put onto a robot, they’ll be taken out back of house where someone unloads them. Equally another robot will deliver food from the kitchen to the table, and again guests can either help themselves or one of our people will do that for you,” says Les Morgan.

Are Robots Stealing Our Jobs?

In many cases, these robots are not ‘taking people’s jobs’. Both New Zealand and America are experiencing low unemployment.

Many tourist destinations, especially those in more out-of-the-way locations struggle to attract and house people. Other accommodation providers have found it difficult finding people to work night shifts. Having robots fill some of these roles will certainly help ease some of the pressure.

This news prompted some discussion in the TZO office. What do we think of having a robot server?

There’s a family friendly restaurant in Christchurch that already has one, and watching this robot deliver food to tables is a big hit with the kids. But is that what you want from a fine-dining experience?

A New Story To Tell

“People have an expectation of what their night will look like when they go out for dinner,” says TimeZoneOne General Manager, Christine Gibbs. “Generally, the fancier the restaurant, the higher the expectations. So, if you’re planning on using robots to clear away dishes or to bring meals to the table, how are you going to manage your customers’ expectations so they understand the experience you’re providing?”

Early adopters of new technology can probably get some mileage from a PR bump. After all, the first restaurant or hotel in New Zealand to offer robot waiters or porters will be a novelty. Less so, the 35th.

Special news coverage aside, how will you work any new technology or experiences like robots or AI into your marketing and the story you tell about your business? The last thing you want is for people to be surprised by the use of a robot waiter or room service delivery when they open up the door.

We may be many years away from the likes of Japan, which boasts hotels fully staffed by robots.

DALLE 2023 08 01 10.05.58 Photo of an animatronic robot velociraptor working as a concierge in a classy hotel. High resolution. 4k. Photo realism. Sitting behind a reception d

More accurately - eerily humanoid robots that greet you at reception. Or would you prefer to confirm your booking with a velociraptor? he point here is, venues like Tokyo’s Henn Na Hotel have built robot and AI into their story and people come and stay for those reasons.

Are You Being Authentic?

After the likes of Chat GPT exploded into the mainstream, there was a slew of commentary across social media and the news announcing that their most recent post, speech, or introduction had in-fact been written by AI! The first one you saw made you pause. By the thirtieth one, the ‘grand reveal’ had lost most of it’s sparkle. 

While many businesses are working out new ways where AI can streamline their workflow, others are proudly boasting “Chat GPT-Free Workplaces.”

As businesses around the world are figuring out their stance on AI like Bard, Chat GPT and Dall-E 2, our tourism and hospitality partners will have to do the same as new technology becomes more commonplace.

“One of the key motivators for travel is seeking out authentic experiences,” says Christine Gibbs. For some tourism operators or hospitality providers, a robot server or contactless check-in is going to fit seamlessly into their offering. Less so for others. Either way, it will be up to businesses and RTOs to update their story and manage people’s expectations”


Like the Sudima, do you have your sights set on integrating new technology like robots into your hospitality offering? Are you an early adopter of new technologies, or do you need a new story to set yourself apart in an ever changing world?
Let’s talk.

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