From high-touch to high-tech: COVID-19 drives robotics adoption

Zhanjing Zeng, Po Ju Chen, Alan A. Lew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

409 Scopus citations


Global economic and social life has been severely challenged since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 disease a pandemic. Travel, tourism and hospitality, in particular, has been massively impacted by the lockdowns used to maintain social distance to manage the disease. Robotics, artificial intelligence, and human-robot interactions have gained an increased presence to help manage the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals, airports, transportation systems, recreation and scenic areas, hotels, restaurants, and communities in general. Humanoid robots, autonomous vehicles, drones, and other intelligent robots are used in many different ways to reduce human contact and the potential spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including delivering materials, disinfecting and sterilizing public spaces, detecting or measuring body temperature, providing safety or security, and comforting and entertaining patients. While controversial in the past due to concerns over job losses and data privacy, the adoption of robotics and artificial intelligence in travel and tourism will likely continue after the COVID-19 pandemic becomes less serious. Tourism scholars should seize this opportunity to develop robotic applications that enhance tourist experiences, the protection of natural and cultural resources, citizen participation in tourism development decision making, and the emergence of new ‘high-touch’ employment opportunities for travel, tourism and hospitality workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)724-734
Number of pages11
JournalTourism Geographies
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 26 2020


  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Robotics
  • artificial Intelligence
  • drones
  • high-tech
  • high-touch
  • human-robot interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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