Alibaba’s new hotel: robot bellboys and face-recognition gimmick

A major upgrade in the hotel industry is underway, driven by an internet company.

China’s Alibaba has finally opened its first unmanned hotel after two years of trial preparations. The hotel, named ‘FlyZoo’, is an unmanned hotel located on the east side of Hangzhou, where the e-commerce giant headquartered.

Codenamed the ‘Future Hotel’, the site will be operated in a similar manner as Alibaba’s other ventures in the restaurant and bookstore industry, leveraging on technologies to transform traditional businesses. In this case, the hotel’s all processes, from check-in to check-out, will be unmanned, and provided by robots.

During a guest’s stay, all work traditionally done by hotel attendants will be done by robots, and, they may request for services via the numerous smart devices in the guest room without having to leave their beds.

The check-in process also differs from that of traditional hotels. Upon arrival in the hotel lobby, guests will be welcomed by a ‘cute’ robot nearly one meter tall, which will use facial recognition technology to verify the identity of the person.

Hotel reception: streamlined and simple with a hi-tech feel

After which, the robot will guide the guests to the elevators. All facilities in the hotel that require doors will use a facial recognition system.

The elevator will identify the guests and bring them to the right floor. Similarly, the room door identification equipment will verify the guests and identify their motives, and will open the door for the guests automatically.

The robot is guiding a guest to his room

Gone are the days of putting a room card in a slot for electricity; when a guest enters, everything – from TV to lighting – is automatic. The air conditioners, TVs, lights, curtains and other room equipment do not need to be operated by hand – guests can control them from their beds by giving instructions to the room’s Tmall Genie smart speaker.

At the end of the stay, there’s no check-out process like a traditional hotel: guests can complete the check-out using the hotel app.  Then, the hotel will inform the nearest cleaner to clean the just-vacated room as soon as possible.

The Future Hotel’s configuration makes it a display window for several of Alibaba’s smart products: Tmall Elf, smart robot and so on. The Future Hotel is also a result of a concerted effort among several different business units within Alibaba.

Alibaba’s OTA service Fliggy designed the hotel experience process, its DAMO Academy  provided hotel innovation research, Alibaba Cloud offered stable and secure big data underlying services, its AI Labs  designed intelligent robots; and the company’s Intelligent Scene Division completed the development of the hotel’s digital operations platform, intelligent service centre and intelligent scene system. Tmall chipped in with room designs, and provided a supply chain for hotel rooms furniture & bedding.

And if the guest happen to like the furniture, bedding and other items in the room they are staying, they could easily place an order on Tmall.

Guest room

The hotel industry has long been undergoing a process of homogenization, and suffering from high labor costs, making technical improvements a good solution. The Future Hotel could not only create a unique atmosphere through a variety of “hacker” technologies, but also save labour costs and improve the operational efficiency through unmanned operations.

Wang Qun, CEO of the Future Hotel, told us that, “through the improvements to the hotel management system platform, the Future Hotel is 1.5 times more efficient than traditional hotels of the same standard.”

As the hospitality industry seeks to ‘smarten’ its hotels, so as to improve efficiency and cut labour costs, major players are relying to various degrees on the technical prowess of BAT  (China’s tech giants: Baidu, Alibaba & Tencent).

In July 2018, InterContinental Hotels opened the smart rooms in Beijing’s Sanlitun district, with Baidu providing the hotel’s intelligent solutions. According to Qdaily.com, the smart rooms not only adopt Baidu’s smart devices for controlling lights, curtains, etc, but also use voice-activated AI assistance and room service orders.

Two WeChat mini-programs, Youzan and Weimeng, also provide digital marketing and cost-effective small-scale direct sales solutions to the hotel.

Editor: Elaine Huang & Ben Jiang