Are Nissan’s self-driving hotel slippers a sign of Japan’s tourism boom?
A Japanese inn is making use of automated technology to offer self-driving slippers.
Nissan Motor Corp has developed slippers which can “park” themselves at the entrance of the Inn, ready for guests to use on arrival when they take off their shoes.
The slippers have small wheels, a motor and sensors to drive them across the Inn’s wooden floors. They use the ProPilot Park Technology which is used in Nissan’s Leaf battery car, coupled with high tech cameras and sensors to allow the electric car to park by itself.
A simplified version of the tech has been implemented at the high-end, traditional Japanese Ryokan inn in the resort town of Hakoke which is a tourism hotspot known for its views of Mount Fuji.
The system is said to bring together traditional furnishings with the latest technology to maximise guest experience.
Nissan spokesperson Nick Maxfield said: “the self-parking slippers are meant to raise awareness of automated driving technologies, and their potential, non-driving applications”.
Indeed, the inn also features floor cushions and low tables that can drive into place automatically.
Ryokan is not the only hotel to take advantage of autonomous technology: M Social Singapore won two international awards late last year for its room service robot, AURA, which delivers items automatically to guests rooms and was praised for “addressing with innovation the serious manpower shortage in the hospitality sector”.
Is hospitality on the rise?
The move also points to an increasingly competitive hospitality market as tourism in Japan is on the rise, both in tourist numbers and dollars, suggesting foreign travellers are willing to go for more luxury experiences as they continue to bring more and more money into the country.
It has recently been found that due to a weaker yen, slightly relaxed visa restrictions and marketing campaigns, 2017 was the fifth year in a row that both arrivals and spending increased in Japan’s tourism sector.
In 2017, nearly 29mn visitors came to Japan according to the Asia Times, contributing $36bn to Japan’s GDP, in an economy now worth $5trn in total.
This marked a 19.3% year-on-year increase from 2016, when tourism accounted for 7.4% of the country’s GDP.
It is predicted that by 2020, Japan will be a destination for over 40mn tourists annually, and this is projected to a figure of 60mn by 2030.
However, it’s likely more innovations and change such as Nissan’s technology will be needed, as the Asia Times stated the tourism boom has highlighted several weak spots in the industry, including a lack of tourism infrastructure such as modernised airports and wifi provision, few skilled English speakers, and a lack of non-smoking areas. This leaves huge opportunities for businesses to gain a slice of the growing industry.
Q&A: Professor Loredana Padurean, Asia School of Business
As someone who is creating Asia Pacific’s business leaders of the future, what do you believe are the essential skills leaders require?
In many ways, we need leaders who are Renaissance women/men or polymaths, as opposed to specialists of an industry or a field. A polymath is a person with profound knowledge, proficiency and expertise in multiple fields and today’s leaders have to be able to combine various ideas, look at problems in novel and useful ways, and develop a broad and yet still deep set of skills, talents, and knowledge.
You’ve coined ‘smart’ and ‘sharp’ as skills of the future. What are these?
They are replacements for ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills, a concept coined by a US Army doctor in 1972 who observed that his pupils had different skills: dealing with machinery required ‘hard’ skills, while dealing with people and paper were ‘soft’ skills. This concept has served us well since, but I find it too binary, not to mention the semantic implications of the words themselves.
Soft implies gentle, delicate, mild, quiet, tender, weak. However, there is nothing soft in navigating competing perspectives and cultures, handling and delivering critical feedback or dealing with office politics. Instead, I prefer to call these skills ‘smart’. Hard implies rigid, difficult, heavy, static. But how can we think of engineering or software development as static or rigid? I believe ‘sharp’ is more apt as such skills need constant updating or sharpening.
I think it’s time to reflect on these classifications, because we can drastically change someone’s perspective by how we choose to talk about and frame something.
How important are smart skills in leadership today?
Smart skills are more important than ever because we live in a world of extreme diversity: generational, ethical, value-based, gender, etc. Gone are the days when giving an order was an effective act of leadership. I personally work with people from five different continents and across five different generations, therefore as leaders, we need to know how to adapt, motivate, inspire and connect. We need to increase our investment in learning about them in action, especially as smart skills are more difficult to develop.
I believe that a successful leader today has to be both smart and sharp. Take cognitive readiness, one of my top 10 smart skills. In order to be cognitive ready, one has to master system dynamics, one of my top 10 sharp skills. Also, did you know that one of the primary reasons why digital transformation fails is not the absence of digital literacy, a sharp skill, but the need for more validation and adaptability, both smart skills. So, instead of thinking of these skills as binary, I prefer to think of them as the yin and yang; co-existing and complementing each other.
So, you can teach leaders smart skills then?
Yes, you can, via a combination of the classroom experience, plus an action component supported by deeply embedded reflection. At ASB we call this Action Learning, and we teach it both in the MBA and in the executive programs. For example, in teaching a leader emotional maturity as a smart skill, first they need to learn what it is, and then act on it, before reflecting on what we did and how we did it. And then to repeat it, but this time with more expertise and awareness. It’s not easy, but that’s why my favourite mantra is ‘the job is easy, the people are not’.
Discover Professor Padurean's successful skills for a digital transformation here