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Alexa for Hospitality brings AI voice assistant to hotel rooms

Alexa for Hospitality will let hotels equip guest rooms with an AI voice assistant familiar to consumers. But Amazon will have to assuage concerns about privacy.

Amazon has released a line of Echo smart speakers custom-built for hotel rooms. Alexa for Hospitality is the company's latest attempt to capitalize on the consumer success of its AI voice assistant to penetrate the enterprise market.

Alexa for Hospitality lets hotel guests place calls, set alarms, play music, order room service, summon housekeeping and control in-room smart devices. In the future, Amazon will allow guests to sign into their personal Alexa accounts on the hotel room devices.

The platform comes with a centralized console, so hotel administrators can remotely control the Echo devices in every room, managing default settings and resetting devices between guests.

Amazon's platform is a logical first step for bringing AI to the enterprise market, said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Mass. But Amazon will eventually need to build a business-grade platform with a more specific set of capabilities.

"Don't just connect me to the spa, but know that the last four times I stayed there, this is the type of massage I got," Kerravala said. "That level of personalization comes with having much deeper domain knowledge, and that's what the consumer products aren't meant for. They are meant to be broad platforms."

Consumer smart speakers grow in the enterprise market

AI voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home have grown in popularity among consumers in recent years. The worldwide market for smart speakers is projected to increase at an annual rate of 23.7% per year between now and 2022, according to research released this week by IDC.

As more and more consumers become accustomed to AI voice assistants, tech giants like Amazon are stepping up efforts to sell those devices in the enterprise market. By 2022, for example, London-based research firm IHS Markit forecasts hotels will have installed more than 1.2 million smart speakers in rooms. 

Amazon has already netted one big customer, Marriott International, which will deploy Alexa for Hospitality in a select number of hotels starting this summer. Amazon has invited other hotel chains to apply for an invitation to use the product.

Alexa for Hospitality should complement the software and services provided by traditional networking and telephony providers. But it could make it harder for those vendors to sell some of their newer technologies.

In March, for example, Avaya released a version of its Avaya Vantage desk phone designed for the hospitality industry. Hotels can use the Avaya Breeze Client SDK to customize the capabilities of the Vantage touchscreen device, which also runs an AI voice assistant.

"Alexa for Hospitality and competitors like Avaya's Vantage ... offer identical features to hotel guests," said Bryan Montany, an analyst at IHS Markit. "As Marriott is the largest hotel chain in the world, Amazon's partnership with Marriott will definitely put some pressure on these competitors."

Security concerns a hurdle for Amazon

Alexa for Hospitality customers will have to educate hotel guests about how AI voice assistant devices work, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

Many people may fear that the Alexa app is recording everything it hears in the room. In reality, the Echo devices only begin transmitting information to the Amazon cloud when activated by a wake word, such as "Alexa."

Amazon faced similar concerns from enterprise IT buyers when it rolled out Alexa for Business last year. That platform connects to enterprise messaging and meeting software, letting users place calls and pull information with voice commands. 

Businesses have expressed trepidation about the fact that Amazon processes the data from its devices in the cloud. In contrast, the IBM Watson Assistant -- a toolkit for building AI virtual assistants for the enterprise -- gives business more control over their data.

"I'm not sure that the general population, at this point, is going to be excited about having an Amazon device potentially listening to them while they are in hotel rooms," Lazar said.

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