By Jack Stubbs
Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based service that allows users to build voice-based experiences and offer customers a more seamless way of interacting with technology to accomplish day-to-day tasks, could be set to transform the evolving hospitality and even the broader business industry.
Amazon began incorporating Alexa into the business world with its announcement in November 2017 of Alexa for Business—a service that helps users accomplish various day-to-day tasks in the workplace—and the tech giant has now set its sights on launching Alexa in the hospitality industry as well.
The installation of Alexa, the voice control system behind Amazon’s Echo speaker, was spearheaded by a hotel in Las Vegas. In December 2016, the Wynn Las Vegas announced its plans with Amazon to equip all 4,748 hotel rooms with Echo, beginning with the suites, according to a statement released by the company. The launching of the device at the Wynn—Alexa was available in all of the guest rooms rooms by summer 2017—allowed guests to control various features like room lights, temperature, drapery and the television.
The announcement was a first for Wynn and a first in the broader context of technology’s role in the evolving hospitality industry. “As we have moved through the years, technology has always played an important part in our resorts,” said Steve Wynn, Chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts in the statement. “If I have ever seen anything in my 49 years of developing resorts that has made our job of delivering a perfect experience to our guests easier and help us get to another level, it is Alexa,” he said. “The ability to talk to your room is effortlessly convenient. In partnership with Amazon, becoming the first resort in the world in which guests can verbally control every aspect of lighting, temperature and the audio-visual components of a hotel room is yet another example of our leadership in the world of technology for the benefit of all of our guests.”
Further afield, Amazon has since had ongoing conversations with various different hotel brands regarding the installation of Alexa into hotel rooms, according to a representative from the company’s Seattle office. To date, there are two different hotels in Seattle that utilize Alexa. The Alexis Kimpton Hotel in downtown Seattle features the voice-controlled assistant. Alexa is also featured in every room of the 282-unit Embassy Suites by Hilton, which announced its grand opening in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood in March 2018.
Looking ahead, Amazon sees significant opportunity in being able to help its customers find information through features like SmartHome voice controls. Alexa provides responses to a variety of questions, and will also read the news, recite calendar appointments, set timers and alarms and check sports scores, among many other capabilities. According to the company representative, there are over 30,000 skills available in Alexa.
In the world of commercial real estate, Amazon sees unique opportunities for property owners and managers to be able to incorporate these various skills into hospitality settings for hotel guests—especially from a customer’s point of view, who can call on Alexa rather than flipping through the traditional information booklet or calling down to the hotel’s front desk. More generally, the hope is that with Alexa, Amazon can help eliminate inefficiencies for property providers on the back end, as well. Ultimately, it is up to the specific property owners and managers what sort of customizable expense that they want to provide for their guests.
More broadly, Amazon Alexa is focused on scaling the service out; and the team’s efforts currently span the U.S., with individual teams working on both coasts to integrate Alexa into other sectors beyond hospitality. Amazon Alexa has done some work with property management company Tishman Speyer and other home builders who are offering move-in ready smart-homes. According to a May 9th article written by USA Today, Lennar, one of the nation’s largest home-builders, announced that standard features in its new homes will include built-in wifi smart locks, doorbells, thermostats and lights, all controlled by Alexa. Lennar and Amazon opened eight model homes across the country featuring the built-in technology.
Regarding the future application of Alexa to industries beyond that of hospitality, there’s a possibility that the voice-based service could be implemented in sectors like the hospital industry. The company feels there are many similarities between the kind of experiences that one would have in a hospital as in assisted living facilities—and, more broadly, the successful application of Alexa depends on changing ideas about how voice allows users to interact with the devices around them. In the case of Alexa, the operation of the technology is based on the premise that users are never more than one question away from trying to accomplish what they want.
And in spite of the strides being made in terms of implementing Alexa in both hospitality and business sectors, the broader challenge might be the fact that Alexa actually allows too many possibilities for its users, which leads to some uncertainty over the technology can best be utilized, according to the company’s representative. There will always be a segment of the wider population who will be less interested in connecting with the voice-based technology that Alexa depends on, and in broader terms, the bigger issue that Amazon is facing is about how to increase awareness about—and technical comprehension of—the different tools that Alexa can provide its users with.