Robo-distancing? Africa's 'first' robot concierges

At Johannesburg's Hotel Sky, staff adhere to strict guidelines including wearing masks and physically distancing from guests as much as possible - that is, except Lexi, Micah and Ariel.

[Robot, saying:] "Welcome to Hotel Sky"

Though to be fair, they couldn't breathe germs on you if they tried.

Robot hospitality is nothing new. Japan has had them for years, for example, but this isn't Japan.

[Hotel Sky managing director Paul Kelley, saying:] "This is the very first hotel in Africa, that has robots."

Hotel Sky's managing director Paul Kelley says the addition of the three automated concierges is unique for South Africa and the wider continent.

"Robots will never ever replace people, never, especially in, you know, hospitality environment we you know we we are, we humans that want people contact we want that social interaction, and and robots just can't do that. But what they can do is they can offer you a great concierge experience."

Nevertheless, the use of the robots could be seen as controversial in a country with one of the world's worst jobless rate - over 30% according President Cyril Ramaphosa's state of the nation address last Thursday (February 11).

In the upmarket Sandton district, Lexi, Micah and Ariel can drag 300kg of luggage from the lobby to the rooms, can scan faces to measure a guest's mood and could be deployed to serve high-risk guests amid the health crisis.

However, guests can opt to interact with more traditional staff if they don't want to lose that human touch.