By Natalie Holmes
“Alexa, where can I get good sushi around here?” Digital concierges have arrived, bringing hotel guests unprecedented levels of personalization and control.
As the technology driving AI and recommendation engines continues to evolve, hotels are starting to embrace the power of digital concierges to provide a customized and on-demand service.
In June 2018, Amazon announced Alexa for Hospitality, an in-room version of its voice-activated virtual assistant designed especially for the hotel industry. As part of the launch, Marriott International is set to introduce the experience at a number of properties in their brand portfolio, including Marriott, Westin, St. Regis, Aloft, and the Autograph Collection.
Marriott will also trial smart mirrors in one of its Autograph properties in Texas. The full-length mirror doubles as an interactive touchscreen and TV that provides guests access to room controls along with digital concierge services. Moreover, guests are increasingly able to engage with branded chatbots as part of their end-to-end hotel experience.
A burgeoning market
Third-party companies are helping expand this niche marketplace by offering hotel brands the ability to outsource their digital concierge services. When in Roam, for example, crafts curated travel experiences and has partnered with Hotel Chicago to offer the service to guests. Porter24 assists guests via large interactive touchscreens and sends relevant destination details to their phone.
“The trend matches how people process and access information today, which is increasingly by smartphone,” says Geraldine Guichardo, Vice President of JLL Americas Hotels Research. And as voice-activated assistants become commonplace, people are growing more comfortable with screenless interaction that mimics human conversation.
For guests, access to a digital concierge offers instant, up-to-the-minute information that would otherwise be difficult to discover, such as if a restaurant is closed for a private event, or a festival is cancelled due to rain. “It also frees up hotel staff to focus on aspects of the guest experience that require a human touch,” says Guichardo.
As digital concierges become a more established feature, regular visitors to a particular hotel or brand can receive an increasingly personalized service. In the digital sphere, data can be gathered, stored and analyzed to create recommendations that better reflect a guest’s preferences and behavior, as the system learns and improves. “It takes much more effort for human concierges to offer this level of customization,” says Guichardo.
Knowing the audience
Despite the advantages, digital concierges do not suit every type of hotel. “Guests of luxury, five-star hotels expect intuitive human interaction as standard,” says Guichardo. Outsourcing such services to a digital concierge risks ruining the guest experience and harming the brand.
According to Guichardo, digital concierges make most sense for new or up-and-coming brands like Marriott’s Moxy or Tru by Hilton, which target the Millennial market, as well as independent hotels trying to build a reputation as cutting-edge. “Rather than assume everyone wants a digital concierge, it’s essential to ask whether this type of service resonates with the specific target market,” she says.
Another risk inherent in current Internet of Things technology is security. Hotels need to ensure their devices and software are secure to avoid hacking and potential data breaches.
On account of these challenges, along with the high cost of today’s technology, Guichardo believes the trend will develop relatively slowly.
“It’s an investment, and owners have to consider the benefits and returns of digital concierge versus, for example, renovating a common space,” she concludes. “If Amazon’s partnership with Marriott is successful, however, it could prove a catalyst for mass adoption in relevant brands across the industry.”