Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour activates robot hotel staff in wake of coronavirus

A couple of Jerry Schwartz's hotel workers, somewhat devoid of the true human touch, have been standing around doing nothing since his hotel opened a few years ago.

But, suddenly, in the midst of a pandemic, he's finally found a role for them.

Originally acquired as a novelty to be deployed in the bar of the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour, which Dr Schwartz owns,  the two robots will be put to work delivering essential hand-sanitiser to house-guests.

But while the use of robots in hotels is not new, with the Japanese and the Chinese, having mastered the art some time ago, they're no longer a gimmick. In the wake of COVID-19, automation has emerged as an attractive tool in a newly germaphobic world, no less so than in the people-facing hotel business.

In addition to his robots, Dr Schwartz is trailing a brand new check-in and check-out keyless access system while the Sofitel is nearly devoid of guests. Developed in New Zealand by travel technology firm GuestTraction, the robots will allow guests, from the point of arrival to departure, to completely bypass, or socially distance, staff at reception.

"Airlines have been able to introduce seamless booking and check-in via smartphone and I want to replicate that for hotel stays," said Dr Schwartz.

"It has been something I've been pushing for quite a while, long before COVID-19. But the impact of the virus and the move towards social-distancing has made the transition even more an imperative."

Dr Schwartz said that lengthy hotel check-in and check-out is one of the most frustrating aspects for travellers, especially for highly-valued regular guests. The new online registration and booking system allows the guest to make a reservation remotely using a credit card. The hotel then provides the guest with a code that works as a digital key.

"The issue is that staying at a hotel requires many different functions for keyless access," Dr Schwartz said. "For instance, the digital key has to interface with the lift to take you to your room, it needs to unlock your door, provide access to pools, gyms, and the guest lounge, and then also cover payment at spas, gift shops, restaurants and bars."

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Once the new technology is successfully implemented, Dr Schwartz believes the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour will be the first major hotel in Australia to offer it.

But both the keyless system and robots are merely the beginning for hotels in the COVID-19 era. Chinese hotels are already using robots to deep-cleanse hotel rooms with one property offering voice-activated television operation, a relief to those aware of the fact that TV remote control unit can be the most germ-ridden hotel object of all.

See also: Naomi Campbell was right: I followed her extreme hygiene rules on a flight

See also: Can masks actually protect you from coronavirus?

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