The front desk at the Henn na hotel in eastern Tokyo is eerily quiet until guests approach the dinosaur robots who are handling the front desk. Their sensors detect movement and they bellows “Welcome”.
This might be the strangest check-in experience possible, but that’s exactly the point of the Henn na chain (whose name means “weird”), which claims to offer the first hotels in the world. world with robots.
Front desk staff are a pair of giant dinosaurs that resemble cast members from the Jurassic Park movies, except for the tiny groom hats perched on their heads.
The dinosaur robots process the recordings through a tablet system that also allows customers to choose the language – Japanese, English, Chinese or Korean – they wish to use to communicate with the multilingual robots.
The effect is bizarre, with the large dinosaurs gesturing with their long arms and uttering short, fixed sentences. Yukio Nagai, manager of Henn na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay, admits that some guests find this slightly annoying.
“We haven’t quite understood when exactly guests want to be served by people, and when it’s okay to be served by robots,” he told AFP.
But for other guests, the novelty is the charm: Each room features mini-robots that look a bit like the Star Wars BB-8 spherical droid, and help guests with everything from changing channels to playing music.
Even the fish swimming in the lobby are battery-operated, with electric lights in their articulated bodies that turn on and off as they weave their way around giant tanks.
“The dinosaurs looked intriguing, and I thought my son would love it,” said Chigusa Hosoi, who was at the hotel with her three-year-old.
“My son is really happy. There’s an egg-shaped robot inside the room. He played with it a lot.”
The first Henn na hotel opened in Nagasaki in 2015 and was certified the following year by Guinness World Records as the world’s first hotel with robots on staff.
The travel agency group that operates the chain now operates eight hotels across the country, all with robots on staff, some of them dinosaurs, but others taking a more humanoid form.
Some humans are also on-call to intervene in case of issues, which according to customer reviews online is a fairly common issue during check-in.
But Nagai said relying on robots for everything from reception to cleaning has proven to be an effective choice in a country with a shrinking labor market.
“It is becoming difficult to find enough manpower in hotels. To solve this problem, we have robots at the service of the customers.”