HNA Tourism Ventures, Tencent, iFlytek, and LanTing Capital have invested “tens of millions of USD” during a series A round of investment into Beijing robotics startup Yunji Technology. Details about the exact figure are still unknown. Yunji currently has three lines of robots to fill a variety of service roles. However, its “Run” and “Yunfan” models are marketed directly as concierge assistants for hotels, offices, government administrations, and retail settings.
The Run has already been implemented in several high-profile Western hotels in China
The Run has already been implemented in several high-profile Western hotels in China, including the InterContinental Suzhou, Sheraton Zhoushan Hotel, and the Holiday Inn Dahuahongqiao Shanghai. Yunji describes the primary function of Run, or the Intelligent Commercial Service Robot, as delivery of goods to the rooms of hotel guests and disseminating information.
Yunji claims the robot can utilize elevators and contact customers in their rooms with no direct human assistance. The firm also claims that not only does Run allow hotel staff to work more efficiently, but also markets the robot as a “fashionable and stylish” addition to a hotel. Yunji argues that guests will likely post photos of the robot on their Wechat moments, increasing a hotel’s online visibility.
Yunji claims its robots are “fashionable and stylish” and will raise a hotel’s profile on WeChat
The Yunfan on the other hand serves as a large, interactive screen with voice capabilities to serve in a reception role to assist guests and customers and can be utilized in retail, bank, and hospitality settings. Much like the Run, the Yunfan is capable of moving around independently to guide guests.
Overall, the use of robots in a hotel setting may prove popular and fashionable among hotels and guests alike. However, the long-term success of such technology hinges on basic cost-benefit considerations. While labor prices in Chinese cities have risen, especially in large cities like Shanghai, the salaries of low-level hotel staff isn’t likely to be higher than the cost of purchasing and maintaining concierge robots.
Moreover, the guests of high-end hotels often expect personalized service and luxury experiences. It’s unclear if any of Yunji’s robots can efficiently provide what these kinds of guests are looking for. At lower-end hotels this may be less of an issue.
Product support is another key concern. Many of the firms that are developing robotics technologies for customer service roles are startups. There’s no guarantee that these companies will stick around in the long-erm to provide customer support in the event of hardware malfunctions or software issues.
Nonetheless, there is substantial potential for robotics industry. The McKinsey Global Institute, for example, estimates that by 2025 the advanced robotics sector will have a potential global economic impact between $1.7 trillion and $4.5 trillion. Of course, this prediction does not soley focus on the hospitality industry and includes a wide array of applications like medicine, prosthetics, cleaning, lawn care, food preparation etc.
What is clear is that tourism-oriented firms like HNA, and to a lesser-extent Tencent, want to get in on the ground floor of this kind of technology before it becomes an industry standard. However, this investment into Yunji is also a reflection of the trepidation big Chinese firms like HNA and Tencent are experiencing in regards to overseas investments. There have been several high-profile domestic investments, like HNA’s $7.5 billion HiApp investment, already this year.