‘Alexa, order my breakfast’: Why Marriott brought in Amazon to personalise hotels

Emil Blake looks into the benefits - and GDPR connotations - of voice tech in hosptiality

Marriott International recently announced the arrival of Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated service, to enhance their guests’ experience and customer service, across its portfolio of hotels.

“Our guests regularly tell us they want the same conveniences they have at home to be present when they travel – and integrating Alexa for Hospitality in our properties helps us achieve that guest request. Similar to any time we try something new, we will be listening to guest feedback in the coming months in order to evaluate next steps,” said the announcement.

The has come as no surprise, as Marriott announced that it had piloted both Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ and Apple’s ‘Siri’ voice assistants in its Aloft hotel in Boston last year. Alexa for Hospitality, which is supported on Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus models, will be initially integrated into 10 US hotels over the course of the summer months, with a greater uptake expected depending on overall feedback.

The service will provide travellers with four focus areas to help their stay: information, entertainment, service requests and home features. Information provides guests with answers to queries about their location – such as weather; entertainment will allow access to music, audiobooks or podcasts; service requests could notify reception for room service, for example; home features allows guests to dim room lights or change the thermostat settings.

“Features developed by DigiValet, Intelity, Nuvola, and Volara”

A spokesperson for Amazon said: “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.

Tracey Schroeder, a spokesperson for Marriott International said: “We recognised that voice-first experiences have become an increasingly important channel for our guests and are eager to hear guest feedback and learn how they use Alexa to add convenience to their stays.”

Alexa will be adapted to match the brand outlook in the Marriott portfolio: Westin, with its brand emphasis on well-being, could offer guests voice-assisted local information focusing on health and fitness, or ambient noise to aid sleep, or to advise on local restaurants for dietary requirements. Marriott has announced that its partnership with TED Talks will allow guests access to the latest talks on leadership, creativity, mindfulness and similar hot topics in demand with its client base.

In the post-GDPR landscape, and after issues that have risen around voice-activated technology ranging from the weird to the dystopian, the question of guests’ privacy and security looms large. Both Marriott and Amazon have gone to great lengths to emphasise that the new technology will be both safe and secure.

“Voice recordings will be automatically deleted daily”

Schroeder explained: “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. Voice recordings will be automatically deleted daily. When you check out, Alexa will disconnect your Amazon account from the in-room device.”

What remains unclear is how it will be received. Business executives tend to be tech-savvy partly because of the demands of their job, and partly through intellectual curiosity, yet having a listening device in a private space might be unsettling for some.

However, Marriott International point out that the service is an opt-in, rather than being built-in; therefore guests will have to switch on Alexa in their hotel room to use voice activation.

“Alexa for Hospitality is muted as a default, requiring guests to unmute the device in order to use it. Guests can disable Alexa’s ability to hear and respond to the wake word at any time simply by pressing the mute button on top of the Echo device in their room,” added Schroeder.

Marriott will use the technology’s analytics to monitor how much guest engagement occurs through Alexa in the trial run of 10 hotels. The company will gauge the popularity for voice-activated interaction, but the hotelier hopes that a broader range of services will soon be on offer, allowing guests to personalize their experience by logging-on to services such as Amazon Music, Spotify and Audible.

It is likely that this is the first step in a revolution for hoteliers worldwide, with other brands likely to be keeping a close eye on the outcome of the pilot. Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts announced in 2016 that it would equip all 4,748 rooms of the Wynn Las Vegas with Amazon Echo units and Alexa assistance with future plans to expand the initiative to the rest of its properties.

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