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Will Automation Replace Las Vegas' Service Industry Jobs?

Casey Morell

The robot Pepper stands at the Mandarin Oriental ready to help guests.

Automation and computers have replaced people in many jobs over the last few decades. Cashiers. Factory workers and film projectionists, to name a few. 

Over the next 20 years, some 60 percent of Nevada’s service industry jobs are expected to be replaced. Casino servers, concierges, room-service attendants, drivers and more. 

But will those jobs really be replaced by automation—kiosks, say, or even robots? 

UNLV researcher Beth Wi says automation is already working well in some cities—but not all.

According to Wi, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is expectations. For instance, a hotel in Japan has more than hundred automation stations and robots for guests but one robot concierge in one Las Vegas hotel never worked out.

She said the Japanese hotel was less expensive and it is not unusual for people in Japan to interact with robots and automated stations; however, at a luxury hotel in Las Vegas, people expect more personal interaction and high-touch service.

Another example of expectations is a bartender. If a customer just wants to grab a quick beer before going to an event, an automated bar might work but if someone wants to order a drink and sit around talking to a bartender it won't work.

Wi said technology can be used to enhance a customer's experience if it used the right way and customers are given a choice. 

For instance, when she was working as a flight attendant the passenger manifest was hand delivered on paper and it had to be manually checked by the staff. 

When they were given tablets, they were able to see the passenger list and check for food allergies or preferences and see if a passenger had filed complaints or complements in the past.

The same could be true of automated stations and robots in hospitality roles.

“A lot of the robots is not replacing an employee it is enhancing the whole workload,” she said.

Beth Wi, graduate student, UNLV College of Hospitality

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.