ALEXA, SIRI BAT­TLING TO SERVE TRAV­EL­ERS

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Hui-yong Yu and Spencer Soper

Ama­zon.com’s bat­tle with Ap­ple over dig­i­tal as­sis­tants is mov­ing to a new venue: ho­tel rooms, where Alexa and Siri are vy­ing to be the voice-con­trolled plat­form of choice for trav­el­ers.

Ama­zon.com’s bat­tle with Ap­ple over dig­i­tal as­sis­tants is mov­ing to a new venue: ho­tel rooms, where Alexa and Siri are vy­ing to be the voice-con­trolled plat­form of choice for trav­el­ers.

Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional, the world’s big­gest lodg­ing com­pany, is test­ing de­vices from the two tech giants at its Aloft ho­tel in Bos­ton’s Sea­port dis­trict to de­ter­mine which is best to let guests turn on lights, close drapes, con­trol room tem­per­a­ture and change tele­vi­sion chan­nels via voice com­mand. In De­cem­ber, Wynn Re­sorts Ltd. be­came the first ho­tel com­pany to in­stall Alexa-pow­ered Echo de­vices, start­ing with suites at its flag­ship Wynn Las Ve­gas prop­erty.

Tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies are us­ing ho­tel rooms as show­rooms for new ser­vices and de­vices that also can con­trol so-called smart homes. Ama­zon and Ap­ple are com­pet­ing for dom­i­nance in the nascent mar­ket, which prom­ises to let con­sumers ac­cess and man­age house­hold sys­tems such as heat­ing, cool­ing, light­ing and en­ter­tain­ment by speak­ing a re­quest at home or us­ing a smart­phone from afar.

Mar­riott ex­pects to de­cide whether to adopt the tech­nol­ogy for one or more of its chains as early as mid-year, po­ten­tially boost­ing sales for the de­vice of choice. More im­por­tant, it will in­crease the win­ning com­pany’s ex­po­sure in the mar­ket for voice-ac­ti­vated de­vices, which are gain­ing more main­stream trac­tion.

“Those two play­ers are in the game right now,” said Toni Stoeckl, who over­sees the Aloft, El­e­ment, AC and Moxy chains as global brand leader for life­style brands at Mar­riott. There are al­most 130 Aloft ho­tels in the U.S., and more than 100 ad­di­tional ones planned.

Two decades af­ter Mi­crosoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates first in­stalled smart-home soft­ware in his com­pound on Lake Wash­ing­ton fac­ing Seat­tle, busi­nesses from home­builders and car­mak­ers to ho­tel op­er­a­tors are adopt­ing such tech­nol­ogy for the av­er­age con­sumer.

Ho­tel rooms are an ideal place for Ama­zon and Ap­ple to show­case their de­vices and let guests see how they can be used to make their lives more con­ve­nient, said Carolina Mi­lanesi, an an­a­lyst at San Jose, Calif.-based re­search firm Cre­ative Strate­gies Inc. She likened it to ho­tel rooms in­stalling iPhone dock­ing sta­tions years ago so peo­ple could en­joy their own mu­sic in their rooms.

A key ques­tion is whether the in­ter­ac­tion will be per­son­al­ized, al­low­ing guests fa­mil­iar with the de­vices to log into their own ac­counts, or in­stead use a stan­dard set of skills rel­e­vant to a ho­tel stay, like get­ting news re­ports, check­ing weather fore­casts or call­ing for an Uber — com­mands more ap­pro­pri­ate for those un­fa­mil­iar with the tech­nol­ogy.

“It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how much ed­u­ca­tion they have to go through to get guests to use them,” Mi­lanesi said. “This is not mass-mar­ket tech­nol­ogy.”

Cre­stron Elec­tron­ics Inc., a closely held res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial au­to­ma­tion com­pany that en­ables tech­nolo­gies such as Alexa to work with var­i­ous ap­pli­ca­tions, says ho­tels are a newer mar­ket — and one it ex­pects to grow. Lodg­ing cur­rently ac­counts for 5 per­cent to 10 per­cent of the firm’s an­nual sales of about $1.5 bil­lion.

“You’re start­ing to see more of this home-au­to­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy be­ing de­ployed in these spa­ces,” said John Clancy, vice pres­i­dent of res­i­den­tial sys­tems at Rock­leigh, N.J.-based Cre­stron. “Ini­tially, there was a big fear about whether it works and what the cus­tomer ex­pects.”

The new Wal­dorf As­to­ria lux­ury ho­tel in Bev­erly Hills, Calif., op­er­ated by Hil­ton World­wide Hold­ings Inc. and set to open in June, will have Cre­stron tech­nol­ogy in iPads that let guests con­trol things such as light­ing, tem­per­a­ture, TVs, alarm clocks and room ser­vice, but the ap­pli­ca­tion re­lies on typ­ing, not voice com­mands.

“We are cur­rently work­ing with var­i­ous voice as­sis­tants and, while we do not have Siri in­te­gra­tion at the mo­ment, it is def­i­nitely some­thing we con­tinue to ex­plore and con­sider,” Clancy said. Siri works on Ap­ple mo­bile de­vices such as iPhones and iPads.

The JW Mar­riott San An­to­nio Hill Coun­try Re­sort & Spa, a Texas prop­erty with 1,002 rooms, has in­stalled Alexa de­vices in 10 of its most pop­u­lar rooms, with plans to equip an ad­di­tional 100 rooms next month. The dig­i­tal as­sis­tant can be used to con­trol lights in five of the rooms, but the fo­cus is on us­ing Alexa as a per­sonal concierge for or­der­ing room ser­vice, or re­quest­ing tow­els or toothpaste from house­keep­ing. The re­sort said it has been test­ing the Ama­zon tech­nol­ogy since Oc­to­ber.

Mar­riott’s Stoeckl said his com­pany is “look­ing for the ideal so­lu­tion to make this a global plat­form.” Aloft ho­tels act as a “tech in­cu­ba­tor” for new con­cepts, and a suc­cess­ful test may de­ter­mine whether dig­i­tal as­sis­tants — and which ones — are in­stalled at other Mar­riott chains, he said.

Even­tu­ally, the dig­i­tal as­sis­tants will be able to per­form more concierge-like ser­vices and con­nect with a guest’s per­sonal de­vice to do things such as set an au­to­matic wake-up tem­per­a­ture or have the drapes open at a cer­tain time, Stoeckl said.

Wynn Re­sorts has said it plans to equip all 4,748 rooms at the Las Ve­gas ho­tel by this sum­mer. The com­pany is con­sid­er­ing in­stalling Echo at other re­sorts, ho­tel spokesman Michael Weaver said in an email. The Ve­gas prop­erty is ex­pand­ing the range of func­tions con­trolled by Alexa. It re­cently en­abled guests to lis­ten to mu­sic via most ra­dio sta­tions and is about to add a sta­tion of songs cho­sen by Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Steve Wynn per­son­ally, Weaver said. Also in the works is an au­dio guest di­rec­tory to re­place the printed ver­sion.

Ho­tels are just one new av­enue for Ama­zon to get its tech­nol­ogy in front of more cus­tomers. Ford Mo­tor Co. said in Jan­uary that it plans to be­gin of­fer­ing Alexa this sum­mer in ve­hi­cles equipped with its Sync 3 in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. An au­to­mo­tive ver­sion of the Echo as­sis­tant will let driv­ers or­der items on Ama­zon, lis­ten to au­dio books, play mu­sic, check news, search for res­tau­rants and get di­rec­tions. Ama­zon also is work­ing with BMW to in­te­grate Alexa into its lux­ury cars. Al­pha­bet Inc.’s Google has the Google As­sis­tant, which pow­ers its Home in­ter­net-con­nected speaker and An­droid phones, in­clud­ing its in-house Pixel hand­sets, and is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Hyundai Mo­tor Co. on voice com­mands for its cars.

For Mar­riott’s Aloft, a de­ci­sion be­tween Alexa and Siri could come by sum­mer.

“Prob­a­bly by the end of the first half of this year, we’ll have a pretty good in­di­ca­tion of where we’re headed,” Stoeckl said. “The race is still on.”

An Ama­zon Echo sits on a ta­ble in New York. The dig­i­tal as­sis­tant is vy­ing with Ap­ple’s Siri to be the plat­form of choice for trav­el­ers at the na­tion’s ho­tels. As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

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