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Dissecting the Marriott’s ‘Alexa for Hospitality’ Pilot Run

By harnessing the Internet of Things (IoT), voice assistants like the Amazon Echo are able to help guests control the lighting and temperature in their rooms, make calls and requests to the front desk, play music, check the weather, or play entertainment on the in-room television, for example.

To begin with, Amazon did some piloting on a small scale in a hotel context, which helped them understand more about how to work with hotels and what kinds of features they want.

A number of hotel brands have already piloted the use of the Amazon Echo in their rooms — Best Western, Dream Hotels, and Wynn Resorts among them.

Debut of Alexa in Hotels

Marriott also debuted its own IoT Guestroom Lab at its headquarters office in Bethesda, Maryland, which showcased the use of voice technology to control the room. Marriott’s Aloft brand has also carried out previous pilots with Apple’s Siri, in addition to Amazon’s Alexa.

Amazon’s team after doing a slew of pilots reported that –

  • Almost 90 percent of guests who have had an in-room Alexa experience have rated it as a good or excellent experience.
  • Seven out of 10 guests who have had an in-room Alexa experience would specifically request a room with Alexa in it for their next stay.

Since Alexa for Business debuted, Amazon has also been working on integrating its technology with back-of-house hotel technology platforms such as DigiValet, Intelity, Volara, and Nuvola. Integrating with these systems is something that, up to now, has been somewhat of a challenge for voice technology providers.

Alexa for Hospitality is also compatible with hotel guest room entertainment providers that include World Cinema and GuestTek, and with connected devices that use Crestron and Inncom by Honeywell.

When Marriott decided to Pilot Amazon Alexa

Marriott’s new pilot with Alexa for Hospitality began with 10 different hotels from five of its brands — Marriott, Autograph Collection, Westin, St. Regis, and Aloft — in the U.S., from cities that range from Irvine, California and Wichita, Kansas, to Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina.

For Marriott, the decision to run a pilot of this size with Amazon was influenced by its realization that voice-first experiences is becoming an increasingly important channel that has the potential to engage the guests, and the fact that Amazon is leading the market in this technology.

When the pilot debuted, guests were able to use the in-room Amazon Echo to do all the things they would normally ask it to do when they’re at home, along with other more hotel-specific tasks, or skills as Amazon calls them.

For example, Marriott could create its own curated music playlist that’s the default music list for Amazon Echo, and the devices would be integrated with the hotel’s back-office systems to enable guests to make simple requests from the front desk, or even call the front desk directly.

Marriott took things to the next level, where they thought about how each brand of Marriott could be voiced differently with Alexa for Hospitality.  

For example, the wellness-minded Westin might offer a skill that helps guests discover the best jogging routes from the hotel, or a guest staying at a Marriott hotel might easily play a TED talk thanks to the Marriott brand’s partnership with TED.

They also had plans to enable a guest to eventually be able to temporarily connect his in-room Amazon Echo to her own personal Amazon account to access his own media content, such as music or audio books.

At the outset, this pilot was more focused on improving the guest experience rather than acting as a tool for hotel employees, such as serving as a panic button, or enabling housekeeping to notify the front desk when a room is cleaned.

Amazon, however, did note that some of the hotels it has worked with have requested the development of more hotel employee tools.

Addressing Privacy Concerns and Voice Technology Challenges

Amazon emphasized that a number of measures are being built into the devices to ensure guest privacy.

With Alexa for Hospitality, guests don’t need to share personal information with Amazon to use Alexa in their hotel room, nor does the hotel need to provide guest information to Amazon. A hotel cannot access voice recordings of what a guest says or Alexa’s response to a guest’s request, and Amazon cannot link voice recordings to individual guests. Voice recordings will be automatically deleted daily.

As a default, all of the in-room Amazon Echo devices are muted, and guests have to unmute them to use them.

What the hotels do have access to, however, is to anonymized and aggregated data on how their guests are using these voice assistants. So, for example, if a hotel notices that restaurant recommendations are a very common request from guests using the devices, they might decide to add more suggestions as part of their Alexa for Hospitality skills set.

Amazon’s Future in Hospitality

The concept of smart speakers in hotel rooms is still in its infancy, but the hospitality industry wants to ensure that it grows with this technology trend, and doesn’t fall behind in adopting it.

This trend isn’t limited to hotels, either. In early 2019, ​Properly, a vacation rentals management platform announced that it developed a remote support system for Amazon Echo devices, enabling vacation rental property managers to place the technology in the homes in the hopes of improving the guest experience.

The overarching vision that hospitality brands — and Amazon — have for these devices is also very clear: to develop a connected platform that enables hotels to create truly personalized, frictionless experiences for their guests.

For Marriott, this Alexa for Hospitality pilot brought the company one step closer to achieving that vision at scale, and it builds on the concepts Marriott previously explored in its IoT Guestroom Lab.

This pilot also served as an example of how complex relationship between technology platforms like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, and travel brands like Marriott work. As much as they rely on one another, these brands are also competing for the attention of consumers.

Further down the line, hotels working with Amazon, Google, or Apple, will also have to ask themselves if and how they can influence voice search results as well. In other words, how does Marriott make sure that when an Amazon Echo user asks Alexa where to book a stay on his next trip, that a Marriott hotel is one of the suggestions?

It’s something that definitely should be thought about, the development of voice search and hotel bookings. Besides, Marriott is also thinking about following up with customers who have already stayed at Marriott and have an Alexa at home. It would definitely bring out a full circle connection to the experience.

Marriott and Amazon are playing their cards in this space. What remains to be seen is what other players, Apple, Microsoft, and Google included, have in store as well.

The bottom line :

The hospitality industry is one where quick response and an interactive interface can take customer experience to a new level and is key to increase revenue and sales. Therefore, there is a rise in AI-based concierge services in hotels that is helping save time and resource, leaving skilled hotel staff to other important jobs.

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