Every traveler appreciates an attentive hotel staff, such as the way a bartender remembers last night’s drink order. Housekeeping delivers extra pillows promptly, the front desk isn’t juggling phones during check-in, and the concierge recommends a great jazz trio based (we think) on the way we bopped our head to the Ornette Coleman playing by the elevator. That kind of service takes a lot of people working at the top of their hospitality game.
An in-room device named Roxy is aiming to make that sort of magic happen automatically. The bedside appliance—which resembles nothing more than a clock radio—is in fact a voice-activated personal assistant of the Amazon Alexa/Apple Siri type, although one created specifically for the hotel industry.
“The biggest chunk of requests that are made are ones you see over and over again,” says Roxy CEO Cameron Urban. “It’s ‘Where’s the pool?’ and ‘How late is the restaurant open?’’’ Those tasks are better answered by a digital assistant than a hotel employee, he notes, since these quotidian questions bog down staff members who could be busy making a guest experience exceptional. “People can be more valuable if they’re not just answering the Top 10 questions.”
Rather than have you pick up the phone and dictate demands to the front desk receptionist (who may need to put you on hold briefly), Roxy uses customized AI to handle things for you. If you need to order room service, have your car brought around, or ask about the weather, just call Roxy’s name, and it will wake to display your request on the screen for your verification. It will then relay the exact request to the appropriate hotel department. Complicated or multipart requests reach all the involved departments immediately and don’t suffer from transcription errors as the staff plays a game of telephone.
Importantly, Roxy can also be customized for the hotel that installs it (meaning your Roxy might be called Anabelle, or Carl, or the Motel 8 Super Intelligent Requestorizer, and answer you in a brand-appropriate voice), and it will integrate with the property’s existing property management system. Although Roxy can be configured to reach into the wider World Wide Web, it’s designed to offer guests a “curated” information experience. That’s a different approach than some hotels are taking. The Wynn Las Vegas has placed nearly 5,000 Amazon Echos in its rooms to control in-room amenities, and Marriott seems to be running a contest to decide if Alexa or Siri will rule its suites. Marriott/Starwood’s Aloft badge recently installed Siri-enabled iPads in rooms at two hotels, through which guests can control temperature and lighting, play music, and ask an AI concierge all sorts of questions—although the tablet seems to be more of a gee-whiz amenity than a true in-room concierge. The reality is that most of us are carrying a personal digital assistant in our pockets if we have big questions, but not one that can control the curtains.
Hotel G, just off Union Square in San Francisco, installed 28 Roxy units in its premium rooms recently. “It starts as a novelty,” says hotel manager Mariely Huddleston. “Guests start by asking it for jokes, but soon they realize that they can ask for directions and get them texted to their phone.” At Hotel G, Roxy is busiest offering recommendations for local restaurants—each of them added by the hotel staff—with service requests a close second. The hotel doesn’t advertise that some suites have the digital assistant; instead, guests are greeted with a small informational card next to the Roxy at the bedside. So far, says Huddleston, guests have enjoyed the novelty that Roxy brings, and the hotel’s front desk has enjoyed shorter lines.
Is it a little weird to have such personal service at pillowside, listening attentively? Is something lost because your preferences are entered into a database rather than into the ears of the bright-eyed reception staff? Perhaps, but the dirty secret of great service is that your preferences, habits, past requests, and personal foibles are likely already logged into a database that helps a hotel manage you as it would manage any other profit center. When you ask Roxy for afternoon recreation opportunities, you can bet that a 90-minute Reiki at the hotel spa will be among the options, and that the $34 breakfast buffet will be mentioned before the Yelp-championed greasy spoon down the street. But the concierge desk wasn’t going to mention the diner anyway.
Thus far, Roxy’s interaction is decidedly concierge-like: A guest has a need and Roxy either provides the answer or relays a request to the staff. It doesn’t, for instance, note your past habits and ask if you’d care for room service to deliver a gin-and-tonic to you at 4:43 p.m. “We haven’t crossed that line,” says Urban, “but the hotel has the information to delight the guest in that way if it sees fit.” But there’s nothing to prevent Roxy and its kin from becoming more butlerlike—noting your preferences from day to day and from stay to stay, anticipating your needs, and delivering a touch of exceptional service unbidden. A great hotel can turn any bit of its database into a great guest experience.
And what about privacy? Like Alexa and Siri and Google Home, Roxy doesn’t send anything to the cloud until it has heard its “wake word.” But if those assurances aren’t enough for you, says Urban, “There’s a big, fat button right on top that you can use to turn it off.” Room guests can also choose to wake Roxy with a touch rather than a voice command.
Which is reassuring. Because while every traveler appreciates an attentive hotel staff, it’s also true that we appreciate the solitude and anonymity of a great hotel room. But then, we also enjoy chatting up the concierge desk, where there’s often a bowl of candy.
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