British travellers are completely divided in their acceptance of robots being used in the travel and tourism industry, according to a new study on the global acceptance of robots and artificial intelligence by Travelzoo.
The study shows that Chinese and Brazilian consumers are the most optimistic about the benefits of robots featuring as part of their holiday experience, but British respondents were less convinced.
Half of British respondents said they found robots frightening, and almost two thirds expressed concern about handing over day-to-day travel responsibilities to machines.
The independent survey of more than 6,000 people in Asia, Europe, North America and South America also revealed that nearly 80% of respondents globally expect robots to play a big part in their lives before 2020, with three quarters believing they will make their lives significantly better.
Robots are still new to the travel industry – the majority of robots globally are being employed in manufacturing, research and development and by the military.
Early adopters include large hotel chains such as Marriot International, who has a robot called Mario in a customer-facing role at the Marriot in Ghent, Belgium. Starwood Hotels also has a butler robot and a hotel in Japan has Toshiba’s ‘communication android’ Chihira Aico welcoming guests. Cruise companies and airports are also starting to use robots.
The survey revealed that British consumers expressed a preference for being greeted by a human receptionist in a hotel, with 86% preferring a human over a robot in this role. Opinion shifted, however, if the robot receptionist were able to handle questions more accurately and process more information than its human equivalent – 52% would choose a robot over a human in this scenario.
Nearly three quarters of UK respondents also believe robots have better memories than humans, can process data faster and are better at learning multiple languages.
Learning a language is one thing, but understanding cultural nuances, irony and humour is quite another, and robots were not seen to be strong in this area. British respondents were the most concerned about robots and the subtle understanding of language – 78% of respondents doubted a robot’s ability to understand informal language such as slang, idiomatic phrases, irony and humour.
Professor Stephen Page of Bournemouth University, a leading global authority on travel and tourism, said: “Robots represent a major innovation to 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.”
Other results from the survey found that: UK travellers seem fairly happy with robots being used within the travel industry, as long as a human is accompanying them; speaking to a real person when booking a holiday is important to UK travellers – they are the second-least likely to agree that they would welcome the use of a robot when taking holiday bookings over the phone (49%); a third of UK respondents wouldn’t accept the use of a robot as a waiter under any circumstance (33%); and British respondents were the most averse to robots being used in nurseries or kids’ clubs in resorts, with 55% saying they wouldn’t accept this.
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