Inside Japan’s First Robot Hotel
A hotel being controlled by robots sounded like from a terrifying sci-fi movie. It seems future has arrived and I am not surprised it’s in Japan.
I’ve a thing for unique accommodation, so whenever I get the chance to stay at a hotel that’s different from the usual- I’m in for it!
And since I am a hotelier, I was curious to see how robots are going to replace humans in daily operations.
When I visited Japan in April I paid a visit to the Henn-na Hotel in Japan’s south. Even though Sasebo, that’s where the hotel is located, was not really on my way or anywhere nearby, I traveled to this remote location just for one night to experience the hotel.
What is a robot hotel?
Henn-na was recognized by Guinness World Records as “the first robot-staffed hotel” in the world. It’s staffed only by robots, with just 10 people ‘behind the scenes’ to supervise security and cleaning.
Tasks such as window-cleaning and vacuuming are also handled by robots. You’ll not see any human staff (unless you need help).
The aim of the hotel is to make it the most efficient hotel in the world.
The name Henn-na is a play on a Japanese word meaning “strange,” but it’s also very close to the word for “evolve”.
Recently a second Henn-na Hotel has opened its doors in Tokyo.
About the location
As mentioned, Henn-na Hotel is located in Sasebo, in the Nagasaki prefecture. More specifically on the grounds of Huis Ten Bosch.
Huis Ten Bosch is a theme park designed to bring The Netherlands to Japan with the recreation of Dutch towns and old Dutch buildings.
The spacious resort is suffused with a European atmosphere with picturesque canals, iconic windmills and beautiful gardens.
Sounds bit odd but yes, that’s where they decided to build the first robot hotel.
And let me be clear, there is nothing else around to see or do. Either you visit the theme park or you are stuck in the hotel.
If you stay at the Henn-na Hotel you won’t have automatically full access to the park. You need to buy an entrance ticket at full price (no discount for hotel guests).
Sasebo is just about that theme park. If you expect a nice little town that you can explore, then I’ll have to disappoint you.
Logically the far majority of hotel guests have been Japanese families visiting the park. Foreigners coming to Japan don’t come to see the Dutch version of Disneyland. They come to see Japan.
Inside the Robot Hotel
Be aware that you can not check in before 3pm. If you get there earlier, robots are still in inactive mode, and your only option is to store our luggage there (that won’t work if your luggage is too big).
Once you enter the hotel, a tiny robot will great you (in Japanese and English). Then you proceed to one of the check-in counters.
The reception desk is handled by robots that speak Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean (in theory). It took me a great while to switch my “robot receptionist” to English.
There are 3 “receptionists”. One lifelike girl robot wearing a cream jacket and a smirk that not only looks human, but also simulates the facial expressions and movements and – two velociraptors. The velociraptors wear a bow tie and a bellhop hat and look a bit creepy. My Jurassic Park déjà vu.
It’s kind of fun, but I wouldn’t call them robots, because they are not interactive. They are puppets with a inbuilt speaker.
The check-in is more or less a self-check-in on a machine. You check-in through a touch screen and scanning your passport. After that you pay at a machine and you’ll get a paper slip with your room number.
If you want a “human” to help you, you have to press a button.
After several attempts of scanning my passport I pressed the help button, but no one showed up. Eventually it worked and I could get myself checked in.
From the check in a robotic porter will take your bags and deliver them to your room. Again, in theory. This only happens if you have been allocated a room in the A Wing and if you arrive before 10pm.
Othrwise you will have to carry or own luggage and no one tells you the way.
Using facial recognition software, you’ll let yourself into the room. Once you register your face, you will be free from the hassle of carrying the room key around or worrying about losing it. That’s pretty cool and it actually worked.
The rooms are really nice – spotless clean, a comfortable bed, a nice deep bath (quite big for a Japanese bath.) Overall the rooms are very spacious for Japanese standards. I liked the wooden walls and the separate seating area. Made it really cozy.
A small lamp-sized character sits on the bedside table, looking like a tulip-shaped doll. Her name is Chu-ri-chan, a cute little electronic creature.
She will offer weather forecasts and wake-up calls. Again, in theory.
Chu-ri-chan is a Japanese doll and in order to make her speak English you have to give her instructions in Japanese. Not very smart. Since foreigners will hardly get the pronunciations right, it’s kind of a dead end. I got her talking a lot, but nothing I would have understood.
Oh – and she’ll also perk up after being silent for an hour and scare the crap out of you.
Other than that there is air-conditioning that responds to your body temperature and room facilities can be controlled using a tablet. The tablet also gives you some general information about the hotel, the facilities and surroundings (also in English).
Hotel breakfast, lunch and dinner is served at the Aura restaurant, around 5 min walk from the hotel building. It’s called the “Healthy Restaurant” with the aim to serve mostly healthy food. It’s buffet only.
I had the dinner there, which consisted of a decent variety of Japanese and western foods as well as tea and water. Other drinks have to be paid extra.
The food was good, but quite expensive. Breakfast costs ¥2.200 (USD 20) and dinner ¥2.800 (USD 25).
Your alternative is to get some snacks from one of the several vending machines in the lobby and to eat at the canteen style area in the lobby. The vending machines offer savory snacks, ice cream, hot and cold drinks.
What else is in the hotel?
There are a few more “robots” at the hotel. If you want to store your luggage (small piece) a robot will do that for you. A giant mechanical arm in a glass case puts the luggage in individual drawers for ¥500 (USD 4.50).
There’s also a foot-high “concierge” who explains breakfast times, transportation, hotel facilities and locations, but – only in Japanese.
You will also find several other vending machines, selling Henn-na Hotel souvenirs.
And that’s pretty much it – there is no spa, no room service, no leisure facilities. WiFi is available throughout the hotel and it works pretty well.
If you want housekeeping other than change the towels and empty the trash you have to pay extra. There is a full list of services and extra items you can purchase available on there website. But everything at extra cost.
The robots are just a gimmick at this stage. In the future it may become more automated.
I expected more actual robots and the language barrier made it really hard to enjoy the robots that were there.
Yes, it’s a new idea and a unique experience. I just feel that the technology is not there yet, it still needs some improvements, especially if they want to cater international (English speaking) guests as well.
Until that’s done the room rates should be lowered. Currently the rates are around USD 200 per night.
It’s too expensive for what it is.
As a hotelier I think humans can’t be replaced in the hospitality business. Especially at the reception, robots cannot overcome the need for real people.
It needs personal touch. When there are questions or problems that arise, you really want to talk with someone who can address them.
Maybe robots can handle certain tasks behind the scene, but not when in contact with guests.