By Robert McGarvey
Amazon has sounded its intentions loudly: it really, really wants to see its voice controlled artificial intelligence device Alexa (aka Echo) in tens of thousands of hotel rooms, pronto.
I am all for this. It’s an easy way to make my every hotel stay a little more comfortable.
I am aware of concerns about Alexa’s potential to spy – dealt with below – but I am not deterred. I want such gear in my hotel rooms.
I’ve been an Alexa user since early 2015 and have also supported its penetration into banking – Capital One has had a live skill for many months that I’ve used and liked. Presently I own an Echo, a Dot, an Echo Look, and I recently added a Google Home mini. I’ve gotten into asking my devices for the information and actions I want. It’s a whole lot simpler, and more accurate, than me typing into a cellphone. Exactly that is why, suddenly, big tech powerhouses like Google and Amazon have plunged into voice controlled devices
And I can imagine dozens of uses for Alexa in my next hotel room, if only it’s there.
For sure, Amazon wants it there. In a recent Amazon Web Services conference in Las Vegas, Amazon executive Werner Vogels noted that Wynn is rolling Alexa out to its many thousands of hotel rooms and will let guests use it to lower the blinds, turn on the TV, turn on lights, adjust the temperature, etc.
I can already picture myself waking up in a Las Vegas hotel room and asking Alexa for the day’s weather. Also my calendar. I can get news headlines read to me. And, yes, I’d definitely use Alexa to open and close the blinds (a continuing struggle for me in Las Vegas and only in Las Vegas, I can’t explain why), to adjust the room temperature, and to turn lights on and off. No more learning curve for the inroom technology.
And with Alexa, there really is no learning curve. Just preface any request with: Alexa. That tells the device you want something. Then ask. Sometimes it won’t know the answer but Alexa confesses ignorance and moves on to the next question.
Concur, the big corporate travel manager, has also integrated an Alexa skill that will let travelers ask for their itinerary – and that’s often a question on my mind. “Alexa, when’s my flight today? Where am I going?”
Skift reports that Alexa is in trials with Marriott, also Best Western. Skift elaborated: “At Best Western Plus Hawthorne Terrace, the Echo device greets guests on arrival in the room. Guests can ask it for services like more towels or ask it for the hotel’s recommendations on places to dine locally by cuisine and time of day.”
Hotel Management, in its reporting on the Hawthorne Terrace deployment, said: “The new device acts as a gateway to all the local happenings in Lakeview East, the vibrant neighborhood where Hawthorne Terrace resides and encourages them to ‘Live. Play. Stay. Like a local,’ which is Hawthorne Terrace’s overarching purpose.”
A big player in this niche is Volara, a third party that helps hotels build out customized skills and that’s key because to be truly useful, the Alexa in my hotel room has to have knowledge about the room, the hotel, the city that I don’t readily have.
Particularly cool is that Volara – and doubtless competitors – can build in answers for Alexa, what’s the WiFi password? What are the fitness center hours? When does the restaurant open for breakfast? Can I get towels brought to my room?
Work through the many demos on the Volara demo page and you get a sense of how useful this will be.
Think of it this way. You could call the front desk with all your questions. Or you could ask Alexa. Which do you believe will be faster? More accurate? I know my answer.
A frightening question: can Alexa spy on you? The answer seems to be yes. Sort of. Definitely it has the potential to hear everything said in its range and, theoretically, could transmit it to others. Is there proof this has happened? Not that I’m aware of but I would say that if I were having a hush-hush, on the QT convo with Jeff Bezos, I’d be surprised if he didn’t unplug Alexa before he got into the nitty gritty of his plans for throttling WalMart and making the Washington Post the nation’s best newspaper.
Do likewise. If you are having a sensitive discussion in a hotel room equipped with Alexa, unplug it. How hard is that?
When you’re done talking, plug it in and within a minute or two it’ll be ready for new questions and commands. It’s really that simple.
This is one hotel in-room technology revolution I am all in with. Color me impatient: I want it now.
12/9 – Changed “she” pronouns to “it,” per reader suggestion.