Room for More? Voice Technology’s Role in the Guestroom

HOUSTON—Users welcome voice-controlled technology into their homes unflinchingly—these devices are often embraced as not only novel but helpful—but how does this translate to the hospitality industry? Are guests ready, and even more importantly, comfortable, to introduce voice-activation technology in their guestroom?

There’s a certain level of privacy that a home provides that a guestroom simply cannot, and along with privacy issues surrounding these devices, there are concerns still lingering before these can fully integrate into the hotel room.

At this year’s HITEC, panelists discussed this technology—both the concerns and benefits—at “Super Session: Is More A Perfect Hotel Room?”

While there was some divergence about this technology’s role in the room, all of the panelists agreed that hotels need to play catch up, while still putting employee and guest safety first.

CitizenM Hotels CIO Nick Price—who is also a director on the HFTP Global board and an inductee to the HFTP International Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame—was confident that this technology is coming, but that a target domain must be established to enable its success.

“Technology has to have a lasting value, a real purpose. We don’t need a third way to turn on the lights; it’s a novelty that will wear off very quickly,” Price said. He mentioned that an effective way to use voice control would be through entertainment functions, such as asking the device to find a specific channel, or through a concierge system like making dinner reservations. “It needs to be something that’s difficult to do in another way,” the CIO said.

President/CEO for Sonesta International Hotels Corporation, Carlos Flores, warned that while voice-activation may seem like a shiny new gadget, there must be an appreciation for each piece of technology brought into a hotel, as each is an investment.

“The reality is that trying to differentiate yourself within the market using technology is amazingly capital-intensive,” Flores said. “We all have drawers full of useless technology at home. The lifespan of this stuff is so short. You really have to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing; otherwise, you’re just going to keep spending your owner’s money.”

The roadmap for this type of technology was debated, but all panelists recognized the necessity for a strong technological foundation before moving forward.

“We need to get back to what we do best, what the basic pieces are and that they work flawlessly. The wireless works, the TV works; if you don’t get the foundational piece down, we can’t build upon it,” said Ken Barnes, CIO for Omni Hotels & Resorts.

However, concerns aren’t just about functionality. “If I went into a room and there’s a microphone there, I would feel uncomfortable,” said Gustaf Burman, CIO for Montage Hotels & Resorts.

All panelists recognized that hotels not only need to be doing more to ensure that all technology functions, but that guests feel comfortable using everything in their room to make their stay seamless and safe.

“Guests need a clean and safe place to stay; if you lose sight of that, you’re screwed,” Flores said. “How can you enrich the stay? How do you make it a more pleasant experience? If I have failed conduits and can’t get an internet signal into the room, I’m not terribly concerned about if Alexa’s going to open up the drapes or not.”