"Alexa, I need towels."
"Alexa, call the front desk."
Those are just three of many requests hotel guests will be
able to make via Amazon's Echo, a device with a digital assistant called "Alexa,"
if they are staying at a property that signs up for Amazon's Alexa for
Hospitality program, announced last week.
The program, which places Echo devices in guestrooms, is
available to hospitality providers by invitation, but Amazon has also unveiled
an early partnership with Marriott International. The experience will be
available at select properties at a handful of Marriott brands this summer.
Hospitality providers can customize a number of features on
the devices based on guests' needs, ranging from where things are located to
requests for services like housekeeping and controlling other in-room devices.
Later this year, guests will also be able to temporarily connect their Amazon
account to the hotel's Echo, so they can access personal music and audiobooks.
Alexa for Hospitality is designed to work with existing
hotel technologies, and it uses features developed by companies such as
DigiValet, Intelity, Nuvola and Volara to enable guests to make requests that
are then routed into property management systems. Some hotels already have Echo
devices in rooms in partnership with third-party providers, but this is Amazon's
first official foray into the space.
"I think it's a really significant inflection point for
voice in hospitality," said David Berger, CEO of Volara, a company that
provides voice-based guest-engagement software for Echo devices.
Liron Torres, Amazon's senior manager of Alexa, said the
company started integrating Alexa services into hotel rooms in 2016. Guest
feedback was solid, so introducing Alexa for Hospitality was "a natural
Alexa for Hospitality isn't exactly the foray into travel
that analysts were expecting from Amazon, but it could pave the way for more
interesting uses of the devices, such as giving guests the ability to book
tours and activities, according to Lorraine Sileo, senior vice president of
research and business operations at Phocuswright.
"We've been expecting them to do something in the hotel
space in terms of distribution," Sileo said. "They've tried a couple
things. They've tried to enter the hotel distribution marketplace, but they've
In 2015, for example, Amazon enabled customers to book hotel
rooms on its Destinations site, but it has since pivoted away from that
"But I think it was also expected that they would make
an announcement in travel with voice, because we know that this is an
interesting guest technology, and there are a lot of other suppliers out there,"
Sileo said. "So we think it makes sense that Amazon wants to get a
foothold and build these relationships with some of the chains."
It also opens the possibility of offering things like activities
via Echo devices. Sileo said the activities marketplace is valued at more than
$150 billion, a "huge opportunity" for Amazon, albeit one in a
Placing an Echo device in a hotel room might leave some
guests with concerns about privacy. A recent online study conducted by the
digital agency Blue Fountain Media found that 90% of respondents had concerns
about their online privacy, and 5% had actually gotten rid of their Echo device
for security reasons.
Amazon said it has taken measures to ensure hotel guests'
data is safe. For example, recordings of commands are deleted daily. Even so,
security experts still have concerns.
Ian Thornton-Trump, chief technology officer of security
services firm Octopi Managed Services, called the introduction of Alexa for
Hospitality "both a blessing and a curse."
The blessing? Using an Echo to order food, find after-hours
entertainment or play your own music in a hotel room is "really cool,"
"But, it could be horrible," he warned. "It
could leak private information. It could be used to spy, it could be abused.
With cyber security, there are always two sides to the coin."
While many guests might be comfortable with the device in
their room, Thornton-Trump said he would likely unplug it.
"Folks should always have a choice before welcoming a
digital assistant into your residence, even if that residence is a hotel room,"
Berger, the CEO of Volara, said he believes that in the next
three to five years, just about every hotel brand will want to use voice
technology as part of its guest experience. The technology will, in turn, help
hotels meet business objectives.
"All voice is a means of communication," he said. "It's
an ancient means. We now have new tools that allow us to manage voice in a
scalable way. That alone doesn't achieve business objectives. What achieves
business objectives is when you use that means of communication in certain ways
to drive people toward certain activities, to serve them with a more limited
resource but at the same high standard."