Ted's Technology Summit 2020

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Friday 13 November 2020 

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Industry Updates

Voice Activation and Its Impact on Hotel Industry

Hotel technology typically follows consumer technology and voice is no exception.  With voice activated tech now significantly prevalent in mainstream consumer electronics thanks to major tech giants like Apple, Google and Amazon—hotels are now able to seamlessly weave voice technology into their operations and the guest experience to drive efficiencies and convenience for their guests and staff.

Many hotels across the globe have begun implementing voice activated devices into hotel guest rooms to make it more convenient for guests to do things like order room service, request housekeeping, adjust room controls (thermostat, blinds, lights, etc.) and ask location-specific questions such as what time the hotel pool closes or where the fitness centre is.

Personal service has traditionally been at the heart of hospitality. Yet as the business environment has become more price competitive, hotels – not dissimilar from other business verticals – have sought to leverage technology to drive efficiencies and augment their staff. These new technologies will enable personal service to scale resulting in measurable benefits aligned to key hotel KPIs.

Early concerns about this voice technology centred around 3 items

  1. Protecting Guest Privacy in the face of a live microphone
  2. Securely Integrating Existing Technologies while Protecting Proprietary Data Assets
  3. Improving the Accuracy of speech recognition  rates as the early roll out of these systems was not good  including my Australian accent not being fully understood at a hotel I stayed at in late 2017 that   had an early version of this technology

However these issues have to a large extent been addressed by the main suppliers and have as a result led to an upsurge in interest in this AI based technology.

 

 

Consider these facts.

  1. There are now more than 100 million plus voice  devices in US homes with the market dominated by Amazon ( reputed to have 75% market share  and Google with Mini Hub – according to  a panel at this year’s CES 
  2. It is predicted that by 2022 55% of all US homes will have at least one device with estimates of over 170 million devices installed
  3. There are now close to 100 hotels in US with some form of this technology installed and this is rapidly growing
  4. There are over 1,000 positive reviews on Trip Advisor from guest staying at hotels with the this technology
  5. In a recent survey of hotel technology investments in 2019 by  a leading hotel  magazine 33% of those surveyed stated that they were going to invest in voice technology in the next 12 months

 

    In order to study the technology in detail I stayed earlier this year at the Motif Hotel in Seattle and during my stay interviewed the management at the hotel and these are the answers to the questions they provided:

    When did you first install Voice Activation? 

    System was first installed at Motif in August, 2018.  Motif is the largest independent hotel in Seattle and this deployment was the largest to date in a single property with all 319 rooms equipped with Amazon Alexa.

    What services do you offer on system?

    We wanted guests to take advantage of all that the system has to offer. This includes ensuring that guests receive the information or services they request. Guests can ask Alexa for various amenities and Motif specific information such as the WIFI password or hours of operations for hotel gyms, restaurants and bars, as well as request local recommendations for the best places to dine shop, listen to music, grab a cocktail and more. One of our goals when deciding to install Alexa was to provide guests an easy way to explore all that the Emerald City has to offer including its great arts and culture. Guests are also able to control the TV as well as call the front desk with simple voice commands.

     

    Take up of the system over the last 12 months

    So far guests have really enjoyed using the voice activated service that Motif offers. The most used benefits we’ve found have been guests asking for directions to local spots or even recommendations for where to go to dinner etc. Another has been requesting amenities to the room such as hair dryer or extra towels.  Of course our amazing human team is also available but having the easy option of in-room guest engagement via Amazon Alexa provides a new option that has been well received in many cases.  Early adoption has been good; for example we have found that approximately 33% of guest request are coming from Alexa which is integrated with our service request and 7% of our guests are using Alexa to utilize our in-room TV which we have integrated with our supplier

     

    Have guest take up rates risen over the 12 months?

    Guests are absolutely taking to the Alexa in the rooms. We have seen an increase of feedback and positive guest reviews in the past couple of months. As people are becoming more adapted to using voice recognition devices in their everyday whether at home or at work, we have noticed our guests taking to it even more while they are on the road.  Of course there are those that decide to mute or unplug the device and while we have not had anyone ask us to remove the device from their room that is always an option if someone is that adverse to a device.

     

    Trip advisor comments on the system or other guest feedback

    We have received quite a few TripAdvisor comments and feedback on Alexa. We are excited to say that the majority have been incredibly positive. Guests have really like the ease of use in terms of having simple amenities delivered or a quick direction to a destination within walking distance.  Of course, there are those who are opposed in totality to voice recognition technology or those that expect the experience to be 100% on par with their in-home experience which is something we are constantly looking at resources and functionality.  We have seen that families in particular like the devices as they have commented that their children enjoy the interaction with the devices and find them very practical during a visit to a new city.

    Dream Hotel in NYC is among one of the first hotels in the world to go live with a new voice solution: a fully integrated hospitality-grade deployment of Google’s live translation technology covering dozens of languages. (Latest version of Google Assistant was launched at CES 2019 and now claims to cover 70 languages)

    The new technology is expected to greatly improve the quality of interactions between hotel staff and guests from around the world, resulting in better communications and high-value guest service.

    By simply saying, for example: “Hey Google, be my Chinese interpreter,” guests will be able to experience a simultaneous real-time translation that supports their needs.

    Complementing this translation functionality is software that enables Dream Downtown guests to ask the Google Assistant for hotel information, concierge recommendations, or services – each resulting in seamless, personal, and powerfully-curated responses from the hotel.

    By adding two fully integrated Google Hubs running Google Assistant Interpreter at guest check-in and the concierge desk, Dream Hotel Group aims to deliver a frictionless experience for its guests from around the world, no matter what language they speak.

     

    Major Benefits of voice activated systems

    1. MORE EFFICIENT GUEST SERVICE

    30% of all guest requests are routed directly from the guests’ voice to the hotel’s work order management system both reducing room for errors as well as time spent tracking follow-up.

    1. IMPROVED TREVPAR

    Reducing friction for guests to communicate unlocks thousands of additional opportunities to communicate with, and influence, your guests as well as promote, offer and sell ancillary hotel services.

    1. ONLINE REPUTATION AND GUEST DELIGHT

    Reviews are revenue and when guests leave them, they write about what was unique, memorable and helpful.  Reviews from travelers at hotels with voice activated in room devices often mention the amenity as novel, unique and memorable.

    Metrics

    One of the major vendors in this space has recently collected stats on their existing sites and this is what they came up with 

    • 82% of weekend guests engage with the voice assistant
    • 60% of weekday guests engage with the voice assistant
    • Once a guest engages once, they will use the voice assistant an average of 8 times per night
    • These utilization rates dwarf the usage of the in-room telephone and are competing strongly against the in-room television
    • 30% of all guest requests for items/services are coming through the voice assistant
    • Half the utilization of guest room voice assistants is entertainment related – e.g., tv controls, music, jokes
    • The other half of utilization is utility requests (e.g., hotel information, concierge recommendation, and requests)

     

    In summary, it is clear to me that voice activated technology is rapidly becoming the next big thing in the hotel industry. This technology provides many benefits to both hotels and guests alike and because it has now become mainstream in the consumer space and with the major players such as Amazon and Google investing heavily in these devices I have no doubt that over the next 5 years this technology will become mainstream in hotels also.


    Ted Horner, E Horner & Associates based in Sydney
    ted@hornertech.com.au

     

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