S/African hotel turns to robots as COVID-19 solution

With the coronavirus vaccines the latest tools being used to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa, a Johannesburg hotel…

With the coronavirus vaccines the latest tools being used to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa, a Johannesburg hotel has gone a step farther of utilising robotic employees as part of its contribution to stop the virus from spreading.Hotel Sky’s employees named Lexi, Micah and Ariel are in fact robots who are working with no fears of social distancing, mask-wearing or getting infection during this Covid-19 pandemic while serving guests at this upmarket hotel in Sandton, a Johannesburg suburb.

According to Hotel Sky’s managing director Paul Kelley, his new employees working as concierges “cannot breathe germs on people even if they wanted to.” 

The mechanical employees, in fact, are an answer to an industry that’s been hit hard by the deadly coronavirus, and this new and innovative solution of using robots is meant to help the facility to stay afloat, Kelley said. 

Those familiar with this technology, robot hospitality was not new — especially in countries like Japan where its hotels have been deploying them for years, he added.

Five years ago, Tokyo’s Henn’na Hotel became the first to be fully staffed by such machines. Several robot-staffed Tokyo accommodations were now using them to serve guests with mild Covid-19 symptoms, Kelley said.

Hotel Sky, launched this year, is the first in Africa to use these automated attendants, a concept that could cause a stir in a country with one of the world’s worst jobless rates, according to the managing director. 

“The robots will never replace people but they are going to change the space,” Kelley said, adding: “I think that it is the future of this industry.” 

If the hotel receives a guest with Covid-19 symptoms, the robots are deployed instead of people as a precaution, he noted.

“And guests can choose whether they want to interact with staff members or make use of the self-service — which is all controlled by their phones,” said Herman Brits, the hotel’s general manager. 

How did Ernest Mulenga, a hotel guest, feel about being served by one of the dedicated robotic employees during his brief stay at Hotel Sky?

“I am not yet used to it,” Mulenga said, adding: “The human touch is still something that is appealing to me.” 

Meanwhile, Lexi, Micah and Ariel continue to deliver room service, provide travel information and drag up to 300 kg of luggage from the marble-floored lobby to the rooms 24/7 — and with no salary at the end of the month — without complaining. 

What more could you ask from such dedicated employees like Lexi, Micah and Ariel?