Amazon is on a mission to make everyday environments increasingly voice-enabled, including the rooms we sleep in while traveling.
Following the 2017 launch of Alexa for Business and the subsequent rollout of Alexa for Automobiles in early 2018, the company announced Tuesday that it will bring Amazon Echo devices into the hotel sphere with the launch of Alexa for Hospitality.
This summer, Alexa for Hospitality will introduce voice-enabled Amazon Echo devices to select hotel rooms, launching first in Marriott International properties, including Marriott Hotels, Westin Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Aloft Hotels, and Autograph Collection Hotels—with many other hotel brands, boutique properties, and vacation rental services to follow.
In-room Amazon Echo devices will be programmed with the capability to adjust lights, thermostats, blinds, TVs, and speaker systems. Guests also can ask the “digital assistant” for information like fitness center location or pool hours, request hotel services like room service or housekeeping, check airport wait times, discover nearby attractions, and even call the concierge to facilitate hotel checkout.
In an Alexa for Hospitality demonstration hosted in early June, Amazon’s vice president Daniel Rausch said the company’s research indicates that Alexa consumers want the virtual assistant’s capabilities to be enacted “in more contexts.” The launch of Alexa for Hospitality, Rausch explained, is part of the company’s continuous efforts to create more voice-enabled environments.
The Alexa for Hospitality experience—and the set of skills each in-room Amazon device offers—will be customized by individual participating hotels.
Bringing home to the hotel room
For hotels, Alexa for Hospitality is intended to help deepen and improve upon each individual property’s guest experience. Marriott International vice president of customer experience innovation, Jennifer Hsieh, described the hotel brand’s partnership and launch with Amazon as a move to bring the experience that consumers have at home into the hotel environment. “We want to transition what guests do at home to what they’re able to do during a hotel stay,” Hsieh said at the product demonstration. With features in development that will eventually allow Amazon customers to connect their personal Amazon accounts to the Alexa-enabled device in their hotel rooms, the hope is that hotel brands using Alexa for Hospitality will enable travelers to experience the comfort they feel at their homes during their hotel stays.
This isn’t the first time speech-enabled gadgets have made their way into hotel rooms. In December 2016, the Wynn Las Vegas announced plans to equip its 4,748 hotel rooms with Amazon’s Echo device. And last year, a digital assistant called Roxy launched, bringing concierge-like services to bedside tables in hotels across the United States. (The team behind Roxy previously worked at Amazon and Microsoft and had experience developing Alexa.)
As artificial intelligence moves into more of the spaces in which we operate daily, questions of privacy are both prevalent and practical. Earlier this year, a couple in Portland, Oregon, discovered that their Amazon Echo had recorded their conversation and sent it to a contact without their knowledge. Other similar instances have occurred: In June 2017, a North Carolina man reported that his voice-command system recorded a snippet of his conversation and sent it to his insurance agent.
“The Amazon Echo, despite being small, is a computer,” Daniel Kahn Gillmor, a staff technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the Washington Post. “It’s a computer with microphones, speakers, and it’s connected to the network. These are potential surveillance devices, and we have invited them further and further into our lives.”
So how is Amazon addressing potential security concerns with the launch of Alexa for Hospitality?
According to representatives from the company, in-room Amazon Echo devices will not save detailed information about the specific services that hotel guests request. However, each Alexa will store and flag general data—for example, the uptick in requests for recommended nearby restaurants—so that hotel properties and brands can work consumer-targeted skills and features into their in-room Alexa devices and also improve the customer experience offered onsite by staff. Additionally, when the aforementioned (but still unfinished) feature launches later this year allowing hotel guests to sync their Amazon accounts to in-room Alexa devices, Amazon promises that Alexa for Hospitality will automatically disconnects guests’ accounts from the AI device upon checkout.
Surveillance qualms aside, Amazon’s representatives noted that in a field test of Alexa for Hospitality, seven out of 10 participants said they would specifically request a room with Alexa in it for their next stay. The company trusts this means they’re onto something, and are “leaning in and doubling down,” Rausch said.
Those enthused by the thought of an in-room virtual assistant are in luck: Artificial intelligence in hotel rooms may one day be ubiquitious. For those unenthused, well, there’s always the “off” button.
The Charlotte Marriott City Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Marriott Irvine Spectrum in Irvine, California, will be the first Marriott International Properties to introduce Alexa for Hospitality this summer.
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