Hong Kong malls turn to robots and new technologies to adapt to the outbreak

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, landlords in Hong Kong and mainland China are adopting new technologies as many are struggling with declining retail visitors and rents.

Several landlords have now deployed machines to replace humans and also offering rent concessions to help retailers overcome the economic downturn.

Infinitus Plaza in Sheung Wan, JLL’s offices in One Taikoo Place and Dorset House in Quarry Bay have all employed robot cleaning machines. Other than that, these machines are also deployed to Swire Properties’ HKRI Taikoo Hui mall and office towers in Shanghai and One Indigo office tower in Beijing.

“We have used this opportunity to explore and adopt new and innovative measures to keep our customers, tenants and staff safe,” said a spokesperson at Swire Properties.

“We’re looking into how we can extend its use in other areas, such as car parks or surrounding areas around our malls.”

Retail sales fell by a record 44% in February, as border closures and event cancellations directly affect the tourist arrivals that have become their main source of income for shop owners.

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In Swire’s locations, automatic cleaning machines run on programmed orders to clean within the areas in their systems. They complement daily cleaning works by workers and help lessen direct human contact.

Robots can assure staff safety by minimising the chances of exposing the virus, making cleaning more cost-effective in the long run, said Chung Chi-hung, Head of Property Management at JLL.

“We would suggest the property with busy human traffic to use the robot. We believe there will be a higher adoption rate in time to come and should continue when the health crisis improves,” said Chung.

Its buildings like Sunlight Tower in Wan Chai and Strand 50 in Sheung Wan are using the “Rapid Infrared Screening System” for rapid temperature screening to filter potential COVID-19 cases among building tenants and visitors.

Link Reit, Asia’s largest real estate investment trust also uses thermal-cameras to check body temperature at The Quayside, a commercial property in Kowloon East.

According to CBRE, robots and other technology applications are being valued within commercial real estate facilities because they offer reliable services, save on human resources and lessen human contact.

“It is not just about saving costs but about the way people deliver services and reduce human contact for containing the virus outbreak,” said Ada Choi, who oversees Greater China research and also occupier research across Asia-Pacific.

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