Amazon Wants to Put Alexa in Hotel Rooms. Here’s Why That’s a Big Deal
June 19, 2018 | Contributed by: Greg Sterling
This morning Amazon announced a new program called “Alexa for Hospitality” as well as a partnership with Marriott to install Echo devices in hotel rooms to act as a kind of “virtual concierge.” The initial rollout will be at “select” Marriott properties (e.g., Courtyard and others in that category) later this summer.
Marriott is the largest hotel chain in the world, with roughly 6,000 properties globally (including Ritz Carlton and all the Starwood hotels). It has multiple categories and classes of hotels; so it’s interesting that Marriott is starting not at its luxury properties but at its mid-range hotels catering to business travelers. It must have determined that these guests will be most receptive to the service.
There are a range of standard and customized tasks that Alexa devices in hotel rooms will do:
- Order room service
- Contact hospitality for more towels
- Check out
- Conduct a local search for restaurants and attractions
- Make calls
- Control room lights, TV, thermostat (smart home functions)
- Contact the front desk or conceirge
- Make appointments on the property
If it works well, it will essentially replace the hotel room telephone. Some hotels have implemented text messaging to provide better service, but an in-room virtual assistant can do more and offers a potentially much better customer experience. Hotel owners will gain access to a range of data points around usage and engagement, which may have operational implications (e.g., staffing, hours, services).
One would also expect travel-relevant, if not all, Alexa skills (e.g., OpenTable) to be available. Users then might conduct limited local searches or book tickets and attractions through these in-room Echo devices. It thus becomes an important potential channel (assuming mass distribution) for various categories of service providers that cater to business travelers and tourists — encouraging them to develop skills or improve their existing skills. (Most Alexa skills are pretty poor right now.)
The elephant in the room, so to speak, will be privacy. That must be addressed head on.
Recent stories in the media about Alexa devices recording or “eavesdropping” on owners will concern some customers who might fear being recorded in their rooms — what happens in Vegas might not stay in Vegas. So Marriott and Amazon will have to provide assurances about guest privacy. Hence the limited rollout to test reactions.
If the early rollout with Marriott succeeds it will likely be adopted by other hotel chains. This represents a major distribution opportunity for Amazon given that there are more than 5 million hotel rooms in the US alone. Users exposed to Alexa devices in hotel rooms, who don’t already own one, might then be inclined to buy for their homes.
This could all fizzle if guests don’t like Alexa in their rooms. But my guess is that the program will succeed, at least in some customer and hotel segments. Hotels then become a significant new channel for Alexa devices, generating revenue and awareness. Apple is unlikely to develop a comparable program, but Google and Microsoft potentially will.
Amazon has previously said it’s sold “tens of millions” of Alexa devices but hasn’t released precise figures. It’s a safe bet that more than 50 million smart speakers have now been sold in the US alone. The company that controls the smart speaker market is also in a position to control the smart home ecosystem.