Hospitality group Ascott in talks with Dubai-based robotics firms in AI push

Serviced apartments provider expanding in the GCC with plan for 5,000 homes by 2020

Robot Robby Pepper's hand is seen in the foreground as it welcomes guests at the front desk of hotel in Peschiera del Garda, northern Italy, Monday, March 12, 2018. Robby Pepper, billed as Italy’s first robot concierge, has been programed to answer simple guest questions in Italian, English and German, the humanoid, speaking robot will be deployed all season at a hotel on the popular Garda Lake to help relieve the desk staff of simple, repetitive questions. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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Ascott Limited, a mid-market serviced apartments provider with 40,000 residences across the US, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, is in discussions with two Dubai-based robotics firms as it looks to use robots to conduct basic services at its properties, such as bringing clean towels to its guests.

“Ascott is exploring new technologies across the serviced residence sector as automation becomes an integral part of business,” said Vincent Miccolis, Ascott’s regional general manager for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

If a deal is reached with one of the firms – unlikely to happen until next year, Mr Miccolis told The National – Ascott would start commissioning the production of small-scale robots to deploy across its portfolio.

“The idea is not to replace our staff,” he added, during the ATM travel conference in Dubai, “but to complement their work and make operations even more efficient.”

Ascott has been orchestrating tests in China in conjunction with a Chinese robotics firm, which have shown that the proposed type of robots it would use can move around independently within the properties, including in elevators.

In particular, they can be used to deliver items to apartments, such as slippers, charging cables and groceries, while also collecting items such as laundry. They could also perform a concierge function – providing information about a particular serviced residence and its surroundings, and greeting guests as they arrive. The tests have achived a 98.64 per cent success rate, Ascott said.

The company is actively looking for other firms in the Middle East that could help it introduce robotics technology to its properties.


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Artificial Intelligence (AI), including robotics, is expected to push global GDP up to 14 per cent higher by 2030 than it is now – the equivalent of an additional $15.7 trillion – according to forecasts from consultancy PwC.

The use of robots is part of Ascott’s broader expansion plans in the region. The company has more than 3,500 units in operation and pipeline in 11 cities across the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, and aims to increase this to 5,000 by 2020, Mr Miccolis said.

Its properties are largely operated under management agreements, but it has recently started offering franchise agreements, too. This month, Ascott signed a franchise agreement with UAE real estate developer The First Group to operate a serviced residence property in Dubai under its new mid-tier Citadines brand. This will be Ascott’s fourth in Dubai, and it is planning to bring its youthful Lyf brand – targeted at millennials – to the emirate in the next two years.

Ascott is also expanding in Saudi Arabia, where it has four properties at present and two set to open in the second half of this year, in Al Khobar and Jeddah. Another four are scheduled to open by 2020, bringing the total to 12 properties and 1,624 units.

Africa is another market with significant growth potential, Mr Miccolis said. Ascott plans to open its first property on the continent, in Ghana, by the end of this year and is exploring opportunities in Kenya and elsewhere in east Africa, Nigeria and Morocco.

“The growth of mid-tier brands in the market continues to gain momentum – we see an increase in demand for quality serviced residences in the region with the growth of millennials and family travellers,” the general manager said.