THE CENTRAL ROLE OF VOICE AI

 

By Brendon Granger, Technology 4 Hotels

The idea of putting voice-controlled assistants into hotel rooms is gathering momentum. Both Marriott and Wynn Resorts have been 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 whole 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. Hotels only stand to profit.

But the sentiment isn’t shared by all.

While some embrace the potential, a lot 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.

The following article argues this fear is misplaced.

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 next-generation travellers.

Mass global adoption is coming

There’s simply no denying the fact that voice assistants are going to play a central role in all of our futures.

The race towards AI is intensifying amongst the likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple as they battle it out to globalise 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 up 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 to see 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% 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 enough, 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.

Will voice assistants really enhance the guest experience?

Talking to a device instead of a human might allow hotels to streamline communication and speed up 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 focus on building 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.

For instance, 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 personalise 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’s 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 all of our AI-driven futures.