Inhuman punishment for Japanese hotel workers

A Japanese hotel has culled most of its staff for being too high maintenance.

Drastic, maybe, but the more than 100 sacked workers harbour no hard feelings – they are among an army of rogue room-service droids at the world’s first robot hotels.

Henn Na Hotels, the first of which opened in Nagasaki in 2015, are world famous for their dino-bot concierges and droids which roam the halls and guest rooms.

Henn Na means ‘weird’ and the eight-strong hotel chain prides itself on offering guests an out-there experience guided by cyber staff.

But according to The Wall Street Journal, it has now ditched more than half of its 243 robots following numerous complaints from customers.

The chain’s initial goal was also to tackle labour shortages and cut staff costs by using robots for everyday tasks like luggage carrying, cleaning and even cocktail making.

But many turned out to create more problems than they solved, with one Henn Na employee reportedly saying: “Its easier now that we’re not being frequently called by guests to help with problems with the robot”.

The robot assistant in each room named ‘Churi’ was apparently one of the first to be let go, after guests discovered it was unable to answer basic questions easily dealt with by Siri or Alexa. One visitor claimed his bot kept waking him up as it was being triggered by his snoring.

Atsushi Nishiguchi, a guest at the hotel in 2017, told the Journal that after a fruitless exchange with Churi he decided to phone the hotel reception, only to find there was no phone in the room because the assistant was supposed to handle guests’ requests.

“She got a bad reputation,” admitted Hideo Sawada, president of the travel company HIS that owns the hotel.  

Many of the luggage-carrying bots have failed to work, say complainants, and humans have been drafted in to help the check-in dinosaurs scan passports.

Puppy-sized dog robot dancers intended to entertain the lobby crowds were also susceptible to frequent break downs.

Henn Na was launched as an expo of Japan’s technological prowess, tapping into the image of the nation as smart, developed and forward-thinking.

“Enjoy conversations with robots with a humanly kind of warmth, while they work efficiently,” the company invited patrons prior to opening.

However, the cost of servicing the robots, and of replacing them as technology marches ever forward, means many have been replaced with human counterparts.

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