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As somebody who’s helped to grow a company from 13 people to nearly a thousand, I know very well the excitement that comes with having a mindset focused entirely on growth. Every newly acquired customer, every new office and every milestone means the gap between you and your nearest competitor is that much bigger and that much harder to overtake.

As the travel industry begins to rally, technology companies are taking steps to help their customers get back to business. Strategies run the gamut from complimentary webinars and virtual learning events to special promotions and discounts, all designed to enable hotels and other hospitality venues to reopen confidently and economically amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Room Service and the New Normal - Food always has been, and always will be, a major part of the travel experience. But in a post-pandemic world, change is inevitable. Crowded restaurants and menus which have been handled many times may well (even temporarily) be avoided by wary travelers.

Over the past few years, there has been much media hype around the concept of a voice-controlled hotel room. It’s not hard to see why: voice assistant devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home achieved remarkable penetration in the consumer market in just a few years. Statista reports that about 157 million smart speakers were installed in U.S. households as of December 2019, an astonishing 1.22 devices per household. I haven’t found hard numbers on penetration in hotels, but based on the companies in the market and what I know of their size and success, it’s still very low, probably still under 1% of US hotel rooms. Is that about to change? Should it?

As we examine and develop new strategies for the changes that we can expect to see in the hospitality industry post-crisis, we are also starting to envision the world beyond the pandemic and to the new normal of radically shifted travel consumer expectations and preferences. The probability of guest technology expectations worldwide significantly changing becomes high as guests prefer a more touchless and fully mobile-enabled hospitality experience post-COVID-19. The future of hospitality has always been mobile–but COVID-19 will accelerate this trend from a nice-to-have to a must-have for hoteliers.



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The Central Role Voice AI Will Play in Our Future

11/01/2017 Tagged as: AI, voice recognition
by Brendon Granger
The idea of putting voice-controlled assistants into hotel rooms is gathering momentum. Both Marriott and Wynn Resorts are running trials with Amazon Echo, while Best Western Hotels & Resorts have recently tested the merits of the Amazon Dot. Today, a growing number of brands believe that AI assistants have the power to enhance the guest experience. Being able to control in-room devices, request room service, and receive tailored recommendations through a simple voice command is seen as an obvious perk that many will love, and hotels only stand to profit.
 
But the sentiment isn’t shared by all.
 
While some embrace the potential, a great deal of hoteliers believe that voice AI is just a fad. There’s also a concern that if machine intelligence starts reducing the need for human interaction, something vital in the hotel-guest relationship will be lost.
 
However, rather than eroding relationships, automation has the potential to strengthen them. As voice assistants become integrated into everyday life, it’s also fair to assume that their place in hotel rooms will become highly desired, even expected by travelers.
 
Mass Global Adoption is Coming
There’s simply no denying that voice assistants are going to play a central role in our future. The race toward AI is intensifying while the likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple battle it out to globalize their own platforms. While in China, search engine giant Baidu has developed DuerOS - a voice assistant platform that the company plans to make the most widely used voice assistant on the planet.
 
This intense level of competition continues to drive innovation and speed adoption. In fact, AI voice assistants quickly look set to change from being seen as fun and frivolous to must-have and mainstream. According to a forecast by market research group Ovum, there’ll be 7.5 billion active digital assistants by 2021 - leaping up from 3.6 billion in 2016. That’s a staggering level of growth.
 
Along with huge global uptake, we can expect greater user engagement as voice assistants shift to new platforms such as wearables, smart home devices and TV sets. In particular, Ovum expects that TV devices (i.e., smart TVs, set-top boxes and media streamers) will account for 57 percent of the installed base by 2021. Based on these projections, it’s clear that AI will increasingly become integrated in our homes, helping to coordinate day-to-day life. Soon, the idea of ‘asking’ the TV to order our shopping, remind us about our social plans, or book a table at our favourite restaurant will become second nature.
 
Relied on in the home, it’s easy to see how guests may come to seek and eventually expect that hotel rooms feature the same technology, just as they now expect to find them equipped with home comforts such as Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs.
 
Can Voice Assistants Enhance the Guest Experience? 
Talking to a device instead of a human might allow hotels to streamline communication and speed service, but at what cost? Some fear greater dependence on technology will mean less personal interaction with hotel staff, leading to a generally less human experience.
 
It’s a valid concern. Providing personal, face-to-face contact is imperative, and nothing should detract from the building of rapport and relationships with guests. But it’s important to say that AI shouldn’t lead as a customer service tool, nor should it replace human interaction. Its true potential actually lies in freeing up hotel staff to dedicate more time with guests at critical moments.
 
By dealing with simple queries and service requests, automation can relieve a busy front desk and allow them more time to welcome guests at check in, or spend longer on the phone dealing with booking requests. Both situations represent golden opportunities to really learn about a guest’s preferences and needs, helping to personalize their experience in a way that limited time doesn’t always allow.
 
Will all guests want to make use of an in-room voice assistant? Almost certainly not, and that is okay. Not everybody takes advantage of mobile check-in at the airport. Some aren’t comfortable booking their hotel room online. Mass adoption isn’t required for a service to be rolled out and considered good business sense.
 
In the end, it all comes down to choice and providing alternate options to cater to all. As such, voice-controlled assistants should be seen as one way, not the only way, that guests can communicate during their stay.
 
A Future of Voice AI in Hotels
With the prediction that there will be more voice assistants on the planet than people by 2021, their ubiquity in our very near future looks assured.
 
In the home, we’ll become habituated into talking with AI to help us make decisions, order services, coordinate our calendar and organize our daily plans. As familiarity and dependency grows, it’s almost certain that hotels will begin introducing the technology to provide similar benefits to guests.
 
Just as mobile check-in, messaging platforms and chatbots once seemed novelties, it’s inevitable that digital assistants will also become widely accepted, and expected, as they take a central role in our AI-driven futures.
About The Author
Brendon Granger
Director
Technology4Hotels


With a great passion for all things hotels, but in particular technology and a desire to help others, his role as director at Technology4Hotels allows him to do both.

Brendon has worked with hundreds of hotels to help them with their in-room technology. In the last few years he has helped them to increase guest satisfaction, strengthen guest loyalty and encourage repeat bookings as well as win awards such as the best business hotel, best city hotel, best upscale hotel and best luxury hotel in Australasia.

Always going the extra mile, Brendon began his hospitality career over 25 years ago working in five-star hotels whilst completing his bachelor of business in hotel management. He has held various management positions within five-star hotels, worked as a consultant in both hotel feasibility and technology and has an extensive background in hotel technology.

 
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