New service robots welcome visitors at the international travel fair in Berlin. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: This is Chihira Kanae. She can help check you into your flight or help you book a room in several dozen different languages. She's very personable..although she's not a person. Chihira is a robot programmed to keep weary travelers at airports and hotels happy. Chihira is being showcased at ITB, the world's largest tourism convention in Berlin. Her life-like facial movements may be scary to some…but according to some industry experts, Chihira and robots like her, might just transform the travel industry. (SOUNDBITE) (English) EUROPEAN PRESIDENT OF TRAVELZOO INTERNET COMPANY, RICHARD SINGER, SAYING: "I think what we seeing them being used today is with sort of lower skilled roles, things like room service or you know luggage sorting, so we are seeing that already today, but I think it's really about the next development of robots which is going to play a really significant part of travel going into the future." Mario is also showing off his people skills at the convention. He can hand out hotels keys, wave hello, and read out powerpoint presentations at business meetings. But it's his ability to interact in new ways with travelers that has the industry excited. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GENERAL MANAGER OF MARRIOTT HOTEL IN GHENT, ROGER LANGHOUT, SAYING: "He can dance, he can sing, he can put on a show and he can also interact during a sports game, with kids for instance." And if you can keep the kids happy, the parents will be happy too.. While these robots can automate much of the front office work at hotels and airports, some say they can never replace humans completely. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REPRESENTATIVE FORM LVIV CITY COUNCIL IN WESTERN UKRAINE, OLGA KULCHYTSKA, SAYING: "I think it's fun entertainment, but I don't think that robots in the future can change or replace completely the human factor, because humans are humans." …and robots are robots. How they fit into the future of travel is still a guessing game.