Guests staying at a Sextant hotel in New Orleans check in without any interaction with a human being. They’re greeted by a virtual concierge visible on a computer monitor but based thousands of miles away. And if they want to wind down from a stressful flight, a shot of Maker’s Mark bourbon from the lobby’s automated booze dispenser will cost them $5 — but if someone isn’t there in-person that day to check their IDs and present them with a special card for the machine, they’re out of luck.

Welcome to the fast-evolving world of hotel automation, where wall monitors and chatbots have replaced in-person interactions with human staff, and third-party tech and services partnerships are a core part of the business model.

For hospitality startups like Sextant Stays, which owns and operates apartment buildings and homes in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New Orleans that are available for short- and long-term stays, the desire for contactless interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a mission to make larger spaces and premium amenities accessible to guests at lower prices by integrating automated tech and reducing labor costs. Yet, while automation adds novelty and convenience, it opens the door to new technical glitches and introduces unique labor dynamics that go beyond the usual tensions when robots replace humans.

“We don't want to take away all human interaction. We're just trying to rethink traditional hotel cost structure,” said Sextant Stays CEO Andreas King-Geovanis.

Some large hotel chains introduced contactless features during the pandemic such as online check-out and digital room keys, and many use automated systems to enable personalized, digital communications with guests. A minimal number of hotels today have experimented with actual robots to enable check-in and concierge services or to deliver drinks or food to guests. However, hospitality startups like Sextant, Sonder and others are paving the way toward what the broader hospitality industry could look like someday.

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