Amazon recently announced the release of Alexa for Hospitality, a new software kit that would allow hotels to link the voice assistant to their property-management systems. Some hotels, such as Las Vegas-based Wynn, had already been experimenting, having installed Echo — the device that hosts the Alexa program — in all of its 4,748 rooms. Echo already allowed guests to do the same things they could in their homes — control the lights, the temperature or the TV — but, with the release of the hospitality-specific software, the capabilities of the tech expanded significantly.
Now, Alexa can answer questions about the hotel facilities, book appointments at the spa or make reservations at the restaurant. It can also help sort out travel arrangements and bookings. The technology is being deployed at select Marriott International brands, including Westin Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Aloft Hotels and Autograph Collection Hotels properties.
Alexa is perhaps the best-known example of how the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the guest experience and streamlining operations at hotels, but it’s not the only way. Hotelier spoke with a few leading experts to find out what’s coming down the pipe in Canadian hotels.
IT STARTS AT THE DOOR
Arguably one of the most widely adopted and earliest pieces of IoT technology in any industry, took off in hotels: the electronic key, which was born out of necessity. “If housekeeping loses a key that can open 4,000 rooms, that can be very dangerous,” explains Nicols Aznar, president of the Americas division for Assa Abloy Hospitality. Hence the need to be able to deactivate that card remotely.
Now, the key is once again evolving. One of the more recent developments has been the rise of low-energy Bluetooth. Previously, one of the greatest limitations of Bluetooth was the fact it sapped battery unreasonably fast, making the prospect of using a smartphone as a room key unfeasible. No longer. In Canada, this technology is already in use at hotels such as the Victoria Inn in Winnipeg, the Delta in Kananaskis, Alta. and the Brookstreet Hotel in Ottawa.
THE PHONE IS THE KEY
Aznar emphasized that using mobile phones as room keys opens up new possibilities for connecting the room to a hotel/brand’s app, which is just another way of connecting with the guest. Pre-setting the temperature, having the blinds open when guests first arrive, programming a welcome message or personalizing song or show settings — all of this can be automated using a phone-key.
Low-energy Bluetooth not only allows the phone to stay connected to the room, but also to the sensors that will, likely one day, connect guests to every aspect of the hotel experience. Called beacon technology, it’s one of the latest and, according to Aznar, one of the most consequential IoT developments in recent years. Beacons are the sensors set up around the hotel that can track guest movement and send personalized notifications to them based on their behaviour.
“It allows for heat mapping,” says Dave Weinstein, the vice-president of Kube Systems. “So, by looking at this dashboard, the (hotel) can see if all the guests are in their rooms or in common areas; they can leverage those insights.”
For example, if the manager sees an unusually high number of guests are in their rooms at eight p.m. on a Thursday, she may push a preprogrammed notification for discounts on cocktails to draw people out.
Kube specializes in developing charging stations for mobile phones — what Weinstein refers to as the “lynchpin” of the IoT world. While the company’s core products aren’t themselves IoT devices, Weinstein says Kube will be integrating Gimbal’s beacons into its mobile-charging solutions, meaning that, in some hotels in the near future, there will not only be a beacon in most of the common areas, but in the rooms as well.
This means far higher resolution data and, according to Aznar, that could have big benefits for the hotel. “[This includes] smarter and more efficient housekeeping, knowing exactly who is out and who is available and exactly how it’s going to be received.” Automating building services and personalizing room settings, as this tech allows you to do, means “not only are you improving experience, you’re also saving money.”
Written by Tristan Bronca