Robots lose out in hospitality

Wet, tired David checked in with robot receptionist at the Hyatt Place in Roanoke, Va.

Jeremy Hobson: Here in this country, many jobs are being replaced by machines -- which brings us to David Brancaccio of Marketplace's Economy 4.0 team, who is currently driving 3,200 miles across this country without interacting with humans.

Here's his report on some technology that made that trip possible.


David Brancaccio: It doesn't have arms or eyes or a voice like this.

"Lost in Space" Robot from Museum of Science: I've been trying to overload my power cells and burn out my primary memory banks.

But this kiosk at Hyatt Place hotels lets you check in with swipes of the credit card. The thing prints your room number and receipt on a thin strip of paper, and out of a slot comes a plastic card so you can let yourself into the room. When Hyatt strung enough of these hotels across the country so I could reach each one in a long day's drive, it made possible this strange idea of a journey across America dealing only with technology. At each of the hotels, I've also found a human receptionist full of customer service enthusiasm, but I've been trying to avoid them without being a jerk.

But it's not all smooth sailing. Each time I've tried, it's taken at least four swipes to get it to take and I had to switch to my back-up credit card twice.

Brancaccio in hotel: After 10 swipes, it works.

In fact, when I called ahead before the trip, the hotel in Albuquerque told me I'd better get there quick, because they're getting rid of their kiosk in a few weeks. The one in Las Vegas had already removed the kiosks, something about repair costs was the hint.

So I had to scout for a competing Westin Element hotel that had one of the bots up and working. Some labor market experts note that robots don't require health care coverage, and in this way technology has an advantage over the human workforce. But at least we don't need a repairman.

Brancaccio: Deposit applied, outstanding balance zero. That's what we like. Confirm!

To confirm what I was hearing, we reached out to Hyatt. It's official: the company is eliminating the robots. Word is, only 2 percent of travelers are using them and the company says the guests really like the "Gallery Hosts" instead. So here's the news: in the battle versus the robots, the humans have just won a major skirmish in the hospitality industry.

On the road, I'm David Brancaccio for Marketplace.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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