Once every few years, the world gets its hands on a piece of technology that really makes jaws drop. Of late this phenomenon has started to occur annually, keeping tech buffs, such as myself, on the edge of our seats counting down the days to the next update or a replacement to an already existing piece of technology.
The hospitality landscape is no stranger to this phenomenon. Automation in the industry has, on a yearly basis, seen improvements apart from the array of other products aimed at assisting hoteliers and the properties they manage. One such development is in the field of voice automation which, over the last 5 years, has entered the home automation industry. Hotel’s, in a sense, are a home away from home for many, so it was but a matter of time that the hotel industry too followed suite and adopted the voice automation technology.
Amazon definitely proved to be a visionary when earlier this year, they launched their voice assistant Alexa for Hospitality. Since its debut in 2014, the Amazon echo has gone through a major revamp and the reason for this is partly because of how far Artificial Intelligence (AI) has come over the years. The platform lets you teach your device new skills and the possibilities are endless considering the number of automation products the device is compatible with.
Think of the device as a personal butler for the guests staying at your hotel. Now, imagine having one device for every room your property has and what you get is an extremely personalised experience. What’s better is that you’ll never have to worry about them forming a union protesting and complaining about being overworked.
What’s the set-up like?
Well, it’s pretty simple. On the one hand you have the echo device, which is what your guests will be interacting with and on the other is the centralised console to which all of your echo devices are connected. This centralised console claims to be able to manage over a 100 devices, allowing you to:
- Specify device volume amd settings
- Check the devices state (On/Off)
- And remotely reset devices, prepping for the next guest
How smart is it?
Amazon has gone ahead and taught the device a couple of skills relevant to hotels. Some of them are:
- Contacting the front desk
- Ordering room service
- Helping guests with check-outs
- Ordering some provisions
These are just a few of the skills that Amazon has teased, and it isn’t like Alexa cannot learn any more. Amazon provides you with the tools, documentation and code samples that can help you teach the device skills based on the most common demands of your guests.
For the most part Alexa is capable of booking you an uber and reading you the news, apart from the obvious home automation skills- Automation of the electronics in your rooms to respond to your guests commands.
Alexa is capable of redirecting guests commands to the right department in the hotel, enabling your staff to focus more on guest experience and improving it. If you’re under the misconception that the echo can’t make a conversation with your guests, i’m guessing you have never spoken to one. It’s smart, and how smart it can get, is all on you. This maybe a skill that you will have to develop over time, but Alexa can be trained to give some really witty replies.
A great addition to this package is that users can sync their Amazon Prime accounts to watch their favourite shows and have access to their own playlists and audiobooks. If you’re worried about guests being skeptical about interacting with the echo, the urge to interact with the device is too strong to ignore. Unless you’re anti-technology and you’re under the misconception that the government doesn’t already know enough about you.
No seriously, is it worth it?
Let me be honest, the echo is no replacement for your Hotel staff, but it is a great addition to it. The thing with AI and machine learning is that it gets smarter by the day. There are no off days, no calling in sick and no unproductive days, just things it can and cannot do as of this moment. But you know technology, and the now yearly phenomenon I was speaking about. It will get better from here and that is certain.
So if it’s not that great yet, why adopt this now?
Well, the underlying advantage is data. Over time, data can not only help the machine learn but also help you derive insights that are sure to help you on the guest experience front. Yes, it is true that the device will be feature-rich in the future, but that skill for personalising guest experience will only come over time. The sheer number of tasks that the echo can be taught is, in a way, an extension of your imagination. I wouldn’t say you need to be a risk taker to adopt the echo as part of your staff but it requires some out of the box thinking to use this technology well.
Yes, Alexa can notify you about the two extra pillows needed in Room no. 305, or the large pizza with extra cheese that Mark ordered, but why restrict Alexa to the trivial?
If you have been having trouble collecting guest reviews, you could set up a simple Q&A for Alexa to ask your guest a series of questions during the check-out.
Or maybe go one step deeper and get Alexa to prompt the elderly couple couple staying at your hotel to take their medicines at the right time.
Maybe even act as a tour guide, suggesting the tourists staying at your hotel, the must-see sights in and around the city.
Who knows, over time the Echo could learn enough to personalise the way it communicates with your repeat guests, referring to them by their first name and prompting them about ordering in their favourite meal or drink. In fact, why even call it Alexa? Personalise the wake word* for the echo and call it what you want.
*Wake word is the keyword that activates the echo.
We have a few hotels that adopted the echo way before they were retrofitted for hotels. The Marriott group will be adopting it for a few select hotels. Westin, St. Regis and Aloft Hotels to name a few, will be next in line for this revolution. Don’t let the size of your hotel determine whether you adopt this new wave of automation. Take wild guesses about the possibilities and make your decision because not all success stories are born from being conventional!