TOKYO -- Japan's H.I.S. plans to have 100 hotels in operation within three years, the company best known for its travel agencies has said recently.
H.I.S., which runs the Henn na ("strange") Hotel chain, where robots perform most of reception and cleaning work, is shifting more of its focus to the profitable hotel business amid fierce competition in its main hotel and flight-booking operations.
The company opened the first Henn na Hotel in 2015, in the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in the southwestern Japanese prefecture of Nagasaki. The location was recognized as the world's first robot-staffed hotel by Guinness World Records.
The Henn na chain has since expanded to six locations, including one near Tokyo's Hamamatsucho Station. Henn na hotels typically have 100 or so rooms and employ fewer than 10 people, leaving most of the reception, cleaning and porter work to robots.
Plans are already underway to open another 50 Henn na hotels by 2020, according to H.I.S. Hotel Holdings executive Yuji Iwama. These will be located near train stations and leisure facilities in popular tourist destinations, such as Kanazawa, Osaka and Fukuoka.
After completing these hotels, H.I.S. plans to expand further by buying and renovating existing properties, or winning contracts to manage locations on behalf of other hotel operators.
As part of the expansion, H.I.S. will also develop hotels in other parts of Asia. It currently operates about 20 hotels overseas, including locations in Australia and Taiwan, mostly under the Green World Hotel brand.
"Many foreign guests at Henn na hotels are from Asia. Robot-staffed hotels will be popular once we introduce them," said Iwama.
In addition to operating highly automated hotels, H.I.S. is spending heavily on an unmanned reception system for sale to other operators. The goal is to have the system installed at 1,000 hotels.
Laws in Japan and elsewhere do not allow hotels to operate without human staff. "But we are preparing to make our Henn na hotels the first totally-unmanned hotel one day, when all the hurdles are cleared," said Iwama.
While the competition in the travel sector is intensifying, H.I.S.'s hotel business had sales of 8.2 billion yen ($74 million) for the year ended in October 2017, up 24% on the year. Its operating profit rose 38% to 764 million yen.