Game Changers

Robotics, virtual reality and smart chips key to luring tourists but don’t lose human touch, Game Changers forum told

Advancements crucial to enticing younger tourists, but industry insiders warn against taking warmth out of hospitality

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 8:19pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 2:57pm

What do robots, virtual reality headsets and smart chip technology have in common? Not only are they cutting-edge innovations, these products have been utilised by the tourism and hospitality sectors to attract a tech- ­savvy generation of customers.

Adopting technology might improve efficiency, but it must be done with caution to avoid taking away too much of the “human element”, industry insiders said on Tuesday at the South China Morning Post’s Game Changers conference in Hong Kong.

A study by US travel technology provider Sabre Corporation this year outlined nine trends which may shape the travel sector in the years to come.

One of them is autonomous delivery, by the use of drones or other means, to bring luggage to customers, eliminating the hassle of lugging around heavy suitcases.

Jean Michel Offe, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts’ executive vice-president of food and beverage, gave a more immediate example of how advancements in technology were being used.

Two robot butlers have been introduced at two of the group’s hotels in Singapore. The automated robots are able to deliver food and other service orders, and even travel to different floors using the lift.

Mike Hill, chief executive officer of Magnetic Asia, the company behind the annual Clockenflap music festival, said they have been using smart wristbands equipped with radio-frequency identification, or RFID, chips.

The smart chips, which provide access at the gates and can be topped up with cash to be used at booths, would in turn collect data for the firm to analyse consumer behaviour of customers.

Likewise, Ocean Park is trying to refresh its experience by teaming up with Samsung to roll out a virtual reality headset option for one of its roller-coaster rides.

But the use of technology must not take away the authenticity of its services, said Robin Kwok, who leads Airbnb’s Asia-Pacific business operations and strategy.

“The balance of technology and human touch is important,” she said, adding a service is no good if it doesn’t connect with the customers.

Tim Alpe, chief operating officer of Ovolo Hotels, agreed.

While the Hong Kong-based hotel chain targets younger travellers, he said the company is careful in retaining traditional services, such as reception desks staffed by people.