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Reading time: 5 minute read!
Your holidays are about to look a lot different
Next time you check into the Marriott Hotel in Ghent, Belgium, keep an eye out for Mario. Not that you can miss him, he’s concierge. He’s also the figure marching atop the front desk handing out key cards and recommending local attractions. Good man Mario. Except he’s not. A man that is.
He’s a robot.
56cm high and weighing in at 6kg, Mario is a chatty pint-sized android built by tech giant, IBM. He can walk, talk, blink and sing. Give him half a chance and he’ll dance too. On hand to detail every hotel feature and amenity, Mario can speak an impressive 19 languages, never gets stressed, fails to get tired, and if needs must, he’ll jump into the dining room and help out with breakfast. He is quite literally the all singing, all dancing face of the future.
And the Marriott in Ghent isn’t the only residence to feature a humanoid workforce. Royal Caribbean have installed robot bartenders called B1-O and N1-C, which together spell BIONIC. Fittingly, they both work at the ‘Bionic Bar’ on-board Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas. Albeit not as cute as Mario (they resemble something more akin to a Nespresso machine) the duo will fetch you a drink. Punch in your order using smart tablets, or let them run free. N1-C possesses quite the talent for creating cocktails.
Then there’s the somewhat gimmicky Henn-na Hotel located in a theme park in Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture. Here there are female androids wearing buttoned tunics, and rather bizarrely, a talking dinosaur who likes to don a bow tie. Robot porters cart your luggage to guestrooms, keyless doors use facial recognition and the lights are controlled by something pink sitting by your bedside. Need assistance? Type your request into a tablet. Want an extra blanket? There are vending machines full of conveniences. The only thing the world's first robot hotel doesn’t have, is human staff.
These are just some examples of what the future of travel looks like. Potentially it’s a robotic one. (But let’s not jump to conclusions, in the 1980s we predicted the hover board and we're still waiting). Nevertheless, as technology continues to accelerate, the manner in which we travel is adapting.
The future’s bright. And easy
With digital masters such as Google building driverless cars, future airport transfers won’t require language skills, apt negotiation or a lengthy discussion about the meter being set. And if Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop has anything to do with it, passports will be obsolete by the turn of the decade. Using cloud stored data to save personal information such as biometric data, digital photos and other identification, we could completely eliminate the need to carry a passport. Imagine that. No more cold sweats as you arrive at the terminal frantically patting your pockets and emptying your holdall.
Even today, in the elementary stages of 2017, the majority of us are using smart phones as a lightweight guidebook, over 60% of us track holiday sunshine using weather apps, and most of us rely heavily on Google Maps to get just about anywhere. Even the most lacklustre technophobes hop online to post an epic selfie with a heavenly backdrop. And yet, in an age of such rapid development, even the phone selfie is on the cusp of extinction.
2017. The year of the dronie
Late last year the “drone selfie” (or dronie as the cool kids have coined it) caught the world’s attention with The Hover Camera. A creation by Chinese start-up company, Zero Zero Robotics. Looking less like a drone and more like a notebook, it works by being thrown in the air. Controlled by a smart phone, it hovers, takes a few pictures, and floats back into its receiver’s hands, folding gracefully into a compact black book. But that of course, is so very 2016. Next!
The latest dronie-making machine is called The AirSelfie. A pocket-sized drone that slides into a customised phone case and charges while it’s parked. Manoeuvred by a virtual joystick (accessed via an app on both Androids and iPhones), it’s similar to The Hover Camera because it will float autonomously, but what really has the tech community excited, is its ability to fit into the palm of your hand. Available from March 2017, The AirSelfie is so small, and so agile, it makes the geriatric selfie stick look like a cumbersome oaf.
How is the travel industry reacting?
Contrary to what the naysayers suggest, Google cars and robot hotels are unlikely to dispel the need for mankind. Granted, one or two drones have caused pandemonium for a handful of air traffic controllers (hence why you now need a $5 drone license in the USA) but industry leaders, including the Marriott and Hilton, regard digital inclu¬sion as a collaboration, not an AI invasion. And it helps you, the traveller, too. We now live in a world where you can test drive a hotel prior to booking via virtual reality devices such as Samsung’s Gear VR. A concept that many hotels, including Marriott, are readily embracing. Similarly, you can discover a 3D world from the comfort of your armchair. Ever wondered whether you’re more of a Rome person, or Paris? Pop on your VR headset and find out.
Disney’s gone digital
And guess who’s most on-board with digital change? Mickey Mouse. And if Mick's a fan - a guy, (or rodent) who has seen at least eight decades of change - shouldn’t we all be?
Stay at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando and the MyMagic+ wristband system will allow you to consolidate payments, gain hands-free room access, complete hotel check-in and jump on the Magical Express shuttle service. It can be linked to a credit card for contactless payments (complete with spending limits) and The FastPass+ service allows guests to pre-book up to three Disney attractions every day. Oh and it’s also waterproof. How’s that for interactive? Well done Mickey, the mouse done good.
Keep it personal
Nobody wants their holiday experience to become impersonal. As travellers, we appreciate the charm found in cultural interaction; a shared joke; a spot of sarcasm. Ultimately, consumers still want (and need) human involvement. But, when an alliance is forged between machine and man, it can actively enhance the visitor experience.
The proof lies with Mario.
During a recent business trip to the ITB Convention, which the dinky cyborg had to abandon his position on the front desk to attend, all out anarchy ensued. Not because the Marriott staff couldn't cope in his absence, but because scores of guests were left sorely disappointed. Mario is something of a local celebrity. The all singing, all dancing robot brings a smile to everybody's face.
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