A survey of more than 6,000 travellers in Asia, Europe, North America and South America reveals nearly 80% of respondents expect robots to play a big part in their lives by 2020, with three quarters believing they will make their lives significantly better. Almost two thirds of respondents would be comfortable with robots being used in the travel industry.
Travelzoo (NASDAQ: TZOO) conducted the research as part of its Future of Travel project exploring consumer acceptance of robots in the travel and tourism industry. Richard Singer, Travelzoo’s European President, will make a keynote speech on the findings at this year’s ITB Berlin – Europe’s largest travel trade show. On March 11, Mr. Singer will share the stage with Toshiba’s Chihira Kanae – one of the world’s most human-looking robots, who will make her European debut at the event.
According to the survey, international travellers are largely comfortable with robots playing a role in their holiday, though some nations appear more cautious than others. German and French respondents were the most averse, while Chinese and Brazilians were the most positive about how robotics and artificial intelligence could enhance a holiday or travel in general – 92% of Chinese were comfortable with the idea.
The main advantages respondents see in robots are related to general efficiency, data retention and recall. More than three-quarters of respondents think that robots would be better than humans at handling data (81%) and dealing with different languages (79%), while 76% believe robots have better memories. 81% of respondents selected their untiring energy as an advantage.
Commenting on the survey’s findings, Mr. Singer said, “Right now is a very exciting moment in the history of the travel industry – groundbreaking technology is revolutionising what is possible from the perspective of customer service, entertainment and personalisation. Robots and artificial intelligence are making their debut on the tourism stage, and our research into global acceptance of robots working in the travel industry is largely positive. Most nations are starting to open up to the idea of robots in travel and see the tangible benefits heading our way in the very near future.”
Singer continued, “While the advent of technology such as robot butlers and bartenders is hugely exciting, it’s also very clear from our research that consumers see the combination of robots and humans working in tandem in customer-facing roles as the ideal solution.”
“Consumers still want humans in the picture, as otherwise there is a genuine fear that cultural nuances, humour and irony will be missed and the holiday experience could become too impersonal. If we don’t respect the desire for the human touch, we risk ‘robophobia’ setting in, when in fact technology can significantly improve the holiday experience when used appropriately.”
Professor Stephen Page of Bournemouth University, which is one of the leading global authorities on travel and tourism, said, “Robots represent a major innovation in the tourism sector and their potential impact and use offers many new avenues to enhance and develop the visitor experience of travel and hospitality. Understanding how consumers will embrace and interact with this new technology will be critical to their adoption and dissemination in an industry that is one of the market leaders in the use of technology.”
Toshiba is pioneering ‘human-looking’ robot technology and has created three ‘communication androids,’ two of which are already being used in Tokyo in a hotel reception and a shopping mall. Hitoshi Tokuda, Chief Specialist at Toshiba’s Research and Development Division said, “Chihira Kanae is a taste of things to come – we look forward to working with the travel industry to refine her, so that she can enable better holiday experiences for consumers.”
The survey for Travelzoo’s Future of Travel project was conducted via an online questionnaire by third-party research agency Norstat. The questionnaire was completed by 6,211 travellers in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdomand the United States.