Speaking during the recent HTNG Insight Summit, Two Roads Hospitality Chief Information Officer Andrew Arthurs talked about how his company has embraced voice technology.
SUNNYVALE, California—Two Roads Hospitality Chief Information Officer Andrew Arthurs has seen the ups and downs of being an early adopter up close with the company’s relatively recent embrace of in-room voice technology.
Speaking during the recent HTNG Insight Summit, Arthurs shared some takeaways of how the process has gone of rolling out voice-controlled Amazon Alexa devices at some of the company’s properties, joking that he’d like to say, “Everything’s been perfect so far.”
He said there are two top concerns that come to mind when talking about voice tech.
“It’s no surprise that privacy is the No. 1 concern,” he said. “We take that seriously, but we believe what Amazon says to be true” in regards to the device only activating under certain criteria and not improperly sharing information.
“Alexa does not listen unless you say its awake word, and it’s encrypted up to the cloud,” he continued. “We don’t have the ability to drill down to guest-level details. And it has a mute button that works, and the plug works as well. Those are all pieces that helped me get around (privacy concerns).”
He said that can sometimes be a tough sell for some because “everyone has an opinion, and some of them are well-informed and some of them are poorly-informed.”
Arthurs said his company has approached voice as an “opt-out” decision, meaning the technology is enabled in-room by default but guests have the option to disable it. But as the company’s program grows to more properties, he said deciding between opt-in or opt-out could be based at least somewhat on how tech-forward the markets are.
He noted that housekeepers also have the option to mute the devices while working in rooms.
The other major hurdle was driven more by owner perception than guest perception, Arthurs said, and that’s convincing owners that there is a return on investment in voice technology. He said that can also be a difficult sale in these early days of the technology, although owners have grown to trust the company to make “smart decisions when we get to spend other people’s money on technology.”
“Owners always want to see ROI, and we don’t have ROI yet around voice,” he said. “We’re seeing efficiencies around guest engagement and feedback, but we can’t say we replaced a person with Alexa. It comes down to a more efficient, seamless experience for guests.”
Despite those headwinds, it’s impossible to ignore the tailwind of consumer adoption of voice technology, he said, with both Amazon and Google devices growing to be ubiquitous in homes.
Arthurs said it’s hard to guess how broadly in-room voice technology will be adopted in a few years, even though Marriott International is also rolling out the technology at some properties, but the consumer trends make it too much to ignore.
“It will take a little while (for the hotel industry to catch up to home use), but it’s not unreasonable to expect within three to five years that 25% of hotels have voice capability,” he said. “It won’t be as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi, but it also won’t be as slow in adoption as mobile key.”
How is the technology used?
Arthurs said he was surprised to learn that most guests seem to use their voice to control the in-room television, which he said is a more intuitive process than navigating multiple menus and screens to find a channel you want.
“The remote is the dirty secret in hospitality; it’s the dirtiest thing in the room,” he said. “But I didn’t realize the level of adopting with TV would be so high. It’s the No. 1 requested item.”
Arthurs said he recently stayed at a luxury hotel with a complicated in-room entertainment setup where it took “nine clicks on the remote to get to ESPN.”
“That’s nine clicks with a device that’s dirty,” he said. “So you have the choice between nine clicks or voice activation. We see tremendous growth opportunities (for voice) across different markets and different scales of offerings.”