The fourth industrial revolution, heralded by the increasing ubiquity of intelligent and interconnected cyber-physical information systems, has seen the market size of artificial intelligence (AI) forecasted to grow to 1.5 trillion USD by 2030 (Statista, 2022). Accordingly, the labour-intensive tourism and hospitality sector is experiencing increasing adoption of a new breed of fully automated hospitality services, from the automation of repetitive menial tasks to fully robotised hotels. Research on Tourism 4.0 points to the rapid diffusion of service robots across all sections of the visitor experience and consumer decision journey (Fusté-Forné & Jamal, 2021). By 2030, robots are predicted to constitute about twenty-five percent of the hospitality industry’s workforce (Bowen & Morosan, 2018). However, the limited empirical research in the areas of Human-AI interaction in the service industry means implications around ethics, inclusiveness, and responsible human-robot design remain largely unknown for the future of AI-facilitated experiences in the visitor economy for practitioners and policymakers (Grundner & Neuhofer, 2021).
This research aims to explore human-robot interactions in the service industry. More specifically, research questions will centre around the effect of service robots on various stakeholders and actors in the visitor economy, including frontline employees and customers, in socially complex environments. The project aims to adopt a mixed-method approach, combining quantitative and qualitative methods with a longitudinal approach. The availability and utilisation of service robots will allow for data collection of responses from various stakeholders in ‘live’ settings. Industry collaborations with sectors such as hotels, restaurants, and heritage attractions will allow for empirical insights in diverse contexts of variable suitability. The use of psychophysiological measures will also be considered.
Findings from the project will provide invaluable insights to practitioners and policymakers addressing UNWTO’s SDGs 5 (Gender Equality), 8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth), 9 (Industry, Innovation, Infrastructure), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 11 (Sustainable Cities & Communities), and 13 (Climate Action). As Grundner & Neuhofer (2021) posit, the approach to application and adaptation of AI into the service sector will establish a future in the industry that points to either co-creation or co-destruction. Various critical questions remain around the SDG themes above, including but not limited to – gendered approaches to human-robot interactions, concerns around the future of work, and the importance of inclusion and diversity in robotics development. Your supervisory team will consist of Dr Ryan Yung, Dr Fatema Kawaf, and Dr Menna Jones.