In Netflix new cyberpunk science fiction mystery, Altered Carbon, the somewhat dystopian urban future is dotted with AI hotels - that is a hotel run entirely by an artificially intelligent system and no human staff. Whenever guests have a request they can say it out loud and wherever they are in the hotel the “virtual concierge” will appear, the intelligent system is in control of every element of the hotel and will understand guest behavior to anticipate their every need. The latest technology-hospitality development, in the real world, may represent one of the early steps towards this kind of future hospitality experience.
Amazon has announced Alexa for Hospitality, a new experience offered by invitation to hoteliers that brings the simplicity and convenience of Alexa to hotels, vacation rentals, and other hospitality locations. Using the Amazon Echo in their room, guests can now ask Alexa for hotel information, contact the hotel to request guest services, play music in their room and more. For hotels, Alexa for Hospitality helps deepen guest engagement through seamless voice-first experiences that offer new ways for guests to access services and amenities during their stay.
“Customers tell us they love how easy it is to get information, enjoy entertainment, and control connected devices by simply asking Alexa, and we want to offer those experiences everywhere customers want them,” said Daniel Rausch, Vice President, Amazon. “Alexa for Hospitality makes your hotel stay a little more like being at home and gives hospitality providers new ways to create memorable stays for their guests.”
Hotels will be able to enable and customize a range of voice-first features based on their guests’ needs. Guests can ask Alexa for information like pool hours or fitness center location, request hotel services like room service or housekeeping, call the concierge, and more. Alexa can also be configured by hospitality providers to allow guests to control and adjust in-room devices like lights, thermostats, blinds, TV and music.
While this is some way off the AI hotels of Altered Carbon and other science fiction, it is a hugely significant step in that direction. The specially designed Alexa system gives guests access to thousands of services, be it to check airport wait times, play games, get in a quick guided workout, play white noise to help them fall asleep and so on. More skills will be added as the system is developed by Amazon with feedback from hotels and their guests. The first major proving ground for Alexa will be the Marriott International Group including Westin Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Aloft Hotels, and Autograph Collection Hotels.
“Marriott has a long track record of innovating for our guests, and we’re thrilled to be among the first to offer Alexa for Hospitality,” said Jennifer Hsieh, Vice President Customer Experience Innovation, Marriott International. “So many of our guests use voice technology in their home, and we want to extend that convenience to their travel experience. Guests of Charlotte Marriott City Center and Marriott Irvine Spectrum will be among the first to experience a curated list of Alexa for Hospitality features.”
What’s more Alexa for Hospitality is built to work with existing hotel technologies, reducing or eliminating the need to retrofit or upgrade existing investments and works with a range of trusted hospitality solution providers. Features developed by DigiValet, Intelity, Nuvola, and Volara allow guests to make requests like “Alexa, order wine,” or “Alexa, book a spa appointment,” with requests routed to hotel property management systems.
Alexa for Hospitality also works with in-room control of connected devices using Crestron and Inncom by Honeywell, as well as popular guest room entertainment providers including World Cinema and GuestTek for voice control of TV experiences. Guests of Marriott Hotels, for example, can take advantage of the brand’s partnership with TED by requesting Alexa play a TED Talk on mindfulness, creativity or leadership.
Alexa for Hospitality is not the first of its kind. In 2016, the Hilton Hotel Group launched ‘Connie’ an AI concierge powered by IBM’s Watson AI system. Named after Hilton’s founder Conrad Hilton, Connie was dubbed “the first Watson-enabled robot concierge in the hospitality industry.” The system draws on domain knowledge from Watson and WayBlazer to inform guests on local tourist attractions, dining recommendations and hotel features and amenities, it also learns from each guest interaction and continually builds his knowledge.
“This project with Hilton and WayBlazer represents an important shift in human-machine interaction, enabled by the embodiment of Watson’s cognitive computing,” said Rob High, IBM fellow and vice president and chief technology officer of IBM Watson. “Watson helps Connie understand and respond naturally to the needs and interests of Hilton’s guests — which is an experience that’s particularly powerful in a hospitality setting, where it can lead to deeper guest engagement.”
Systems like this will only get smarter as they are put into practice. They will learn with every guest interaction, every successful service provision and every mistake. In Altered Carbon, the Netflix series set hundreds of years in the future, the AI hotels are considered old fashioned. Being everywhere all the time and always listening, the digital concierges come across little creepy and over attentive, so no one stays in AI hotels anymore.
We may just be at the stage of adding voice control to hotels but the road ahead will no doubt bring greater levels of artificial intelligence into the guest experience. Whether it will be the perfect addition to the hotel experience or a creepy in-room device trying to guess your desires remains to be seen but with developments like Alexa and Connie we won’t have to wait long to find out.