Japan Has a Hotel Staffed by Robots

Androids, velociraptors and talking toys are all part of the experience at the Henn-na Hotel

Interacting with a velociraptor robot is just part of the Henn-na Hotel's efficient charm. HUISTEN BOSCH
Robotic porters carry luggage to hotel rooms. HUISTEN BOSCH
The hotel is located within a large amusement park, which is based on the Netherlands. HUISTEN BOSCH

How efficient was your last vacation? You may have confirmed your registration online, skipped the long security line and bypassed the car rental counter, but once you got to your hotel, were robots waiting to serve you? At an idiosyncratic hotel in Nagasaki, Japan, there are no humans manning the front desk—every primary staff member at the Henn-na Hotel is a robot.

The robotic staff members are part of an ambitious attempt to create a completely new kind of hotel. On its website, Henn-na brags about its energy-efficient features, like letting guests use tablets instead of TVs and having lights shut off automatically when people leave rooms.

Henn-na's commitment to efficiency is illustrated by having 90 percent of its hotel services operated by robots. Setting the tone for the hotel are three check-in robots, cloaked as a humanoid woman, a velociraptor and a talking toy, respectively. A robot arm checks and retrieves coats, and robot porters drag suitcases to and fro. Facial technology “keys” open and close rooms and a “smart kiosk” serves light snacks in the café. People must pay extra to have their beds made, but towels and bath mats are changed daily, by you guessed it, robots. Each room also contains its very own robotic concierge, “Chu-ri-Robo."

If the name of the hotel seems a bit odd, that's by design. As WIRED’s Gideon Lewis-Kraus reports, Henn-na is “an untranslatable double entendre” that means both “strange” and “evolve.” And the hotel is part of a still weirder attraction: the Huis Ten Bosch. It's a theme park that recreates the Netherlands complete with windmills, a tulip festival and Dutch-style buildings, which belie its location near a Japanese naval port.

Just how efficient are Henn-na’s robots? Lewis-Kraus rates them a resounding “kind of”—his piece on his communication difficulties with the robots (and the uncanny nature of the hotel itself) is a can’t-miss. The Guardian’s Monisha Rajesh is even more critical about the hotel. After her stay, she quips "for hotel hospitality, you still can’t beat the human touch.” Perhaps the Henn-na Hotel’s robot staff still have some work to do to brush up on their efficiency, especially seeing as the hotel is soon going to have to accommodate even more guests, as a planned expansion of the hotel will open this month. Then again, maybe it’s nice to know that robots aren’t likely to take over the hospitality industry any time soon.