From room service to housekeeping services, robotic technology has been making its presence felt in the tourism sector in recent years, increasing its presence and role in service automation year after year. In hotels abroad, which have already incorporated such services on a large scale, customer service with robotic technology and artificial intelligence is being promoted as an element of highlighting the level of a hotel and a tool to attract bookings. At the same time, the market for robotics in the hospitality sector was valued at around $290 million in 2020, 11% by 2022 and by 2027 the market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 25%. The issue was recently highlighted during the presentation of the Consultants in Tourism Digitisation Certification Scheme, the dTour project, during which the President of the Larnaca RTAP Dinos Lefkaritis said that since more than 95% of travelers within Europe use digital media, promoting digital transformation in the tourism industry is imperative. At the same time, research records that digitalization improves the customer experience, and the functionality of the business. It is therefore described as a win-win situation.
Customers' preference for digitized and automated processes in the hospitality sector is also highlighted in a recent study conducted by Oracle Hospitality internationally, which involved 5,266 consumers and 633 hotel executives globally. It, therefore, emerges that 73% will prefer to book their holiday at a hotel that offers self-service technology in order to limit contact with both staff and other guests. In the same direction, 38% of respondents' responses for full self-service with staff available only at the guest's request point in the same direction. Meanwhile, 39% opt for room service or chatbot, while 49% also seek contactless transactions. In addition, a very small percentage of the survey sample, around 5%, choose to pay the cost of their stay at the facility via cryptocurrency. A similar trend is gaining momentum in Cyprus. More and more tourists are opting for online check-in, using the hotel's platform, which they seem to use both for receiving information and for their requests regarding room services such as food, cleaning, etc.
The pros and cons
It is estimated that the changes in the hospitality sector in terms of digitization will be rapid by 2030. The march in this direction has been accelerated by the pandemic since it has reduced, to some extent, the need for face-to-face contact. Hotel guests now seek more privacy, with all that this implies: online reservations and orders, contactless transactions and cleaning and disinfection services. These needs seem to be best served through automated processes offered by digitalization and artificial intelligence. At the same time, the automation of processes and the integration of robotics in the hospitality sector may potentially gradually reduce the volume of staff work and the industry's human resource needs, making it less vulnerable to the shortages of recent years. At the same time, they can provide a consistent level of high-quality services without relying entirely on the skills and competencies of human resources. According to survey findings, the majority of hoteliers want to integrate new technologies as part of their strategy to address labor shortages and attract new talent. In addition, 54% make it a priority by 2025 to adopt technology that improves or eliminates the need for front desk experience.
This approach may be better suited to business-oriented destinations rather than destinations such as Cyprus, says the president of PASYDIXE (Pancyprian Association of Hotel Managers) Christos Angelides. He commented that it is unfortunate that a destination such as Cyprus should sideline the human element in the hospitality sector and keep artificial intelligence, as this can depersonalize holidays. He also expressed the view that possibly a hybrid model would be the most ideal for Cyprus hotels. On the one hand, retain the human element in direct service (e.g. receptionists and front desk) and on the other hand, integrate AI and robotics in laborious tasks and departments that do not come into contact with customers; e.g. housekeeping, kitchen and so on. On this basis, he believes that the practices already followed in the industry, especially in Asian hotels and more recently, in units in Greece, will not be implemented in Cyprus, at least in the medium term.
The digital transformation of the Cypriot tourism sector is progressing rapidly but remains below the EU average on the DESI. The EU targets are that by 2030, three out of four EU companies should be using cloud services and digital intelligence, while 90% of SMEs should have at least a basic level of digital intensity. Only 3% of Cypriot companies use AI technologies, while one in three use the Internet. This is higher than the European average. These were reported as part of the dTour presentation. This is a project that introduces digitalization by empowering small and medium enterprises in tourism and hospitality to use new technologies to offer high-quality digital services, thus expanding the target market in a competitive environment and future challenges.