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Room With A Voice

Heightened in-room entertainment is not about offering guests convenience, but about matching their expectations, and ensuring they are more relaxed and productive during their stay

By Pradeep Suvarna

In a conventional situation, when guest want amenities or towels, they have to call the housekeeping department from the room phone and place their request. Well, things are evolving. In some Marriott hotels, guests can soon state their requests for these items to an Amazon Echo device in their rooms and the housekeeping department will simply send it to their room.

How, you ask?
It is courtesy the recent Alexa for Hospitality programme by Amazon, which the company announced in June 2018, nearly seven months after announcing Alexa for Business. It offers hotels an Amazon Echo device that can be used as a voice-activated virtual concierge in each room.
While explaining the programme’s functionality and utility at a New York preview, Amazon’s VP, Daniel Rausch said, “It is a set of tools that allows hotels to build immersive experiences with Alexa right into the hotel context, the brand context and the guest stay.”
Initially, Marriott International has signed up as Amazon’s launch partner on the new platform, since it has been testing both Siri and Alexa devices for various other applications. It is expected that the hotel chain will introduce the new Alexa solution at select properties in Westin Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Aloft Hotels, and Autograph Collection Hotels in the Americas. At the same time, Amazon is also inviting other hospitality providers to leverage this solution using customised Echo devices that will be installed in guest rooms.
If you thought that this solution can only be used for ordering stuff from the housekeeping department, you have another think coming. Guests can use the Alexa solution to place in-room dining requests, speak to the concierge or the front desk or book spa appointments.
What is also impressive is that the Alexa system can be customised further to control even the in-room entertainment on the TV. Amazon said that the technology specifically works with guest room entertainment providers like World Cinema and GuestTek for voice control of TV experiences, and offers in-room control of connected devices using Crestron and Inncom by Honeywell.
Additionally, guests can play music and radio over audio services like iHeartRadio and TuneIn, and hotels can tweak these to play those music stations or create playlists that match its brand ethos. They can also give guests the option to access third-party apps like live streaming sites, depending on their nature of engagement with that entity.

THE DIGITAL PUSH
There is a reason why hotels are bullish on innovating when it comes to in-room entertainment – many guests have smart TVs at home as well as Alexa-supported devices; they expect the same with the luxury and business hotels that they check into. For hoteliers, it is not just a matter of offering convenience to their guests, but matching their expectations and ensuring travellers are more relaxed or productive during their travel experience.
This is one reason why an increasing number of hotels are investing in interactive TV content, as they believe there is a distinct possibility that it will have a direct impact on guest satisfaction and loyalty. Take the case of Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park, which provides 50 plus channels along with SPGtv as part of interactive TV content in its guest rooms. The SPGtv has been curated to engage guests with global content in terms of destinations, brands, events and promotions, which directly impacts customer engagement and loyalty for the brand.
Similarly, at the recently opened Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty, keeping in line with Hyatt’s concepts of sustainability and environmentally conscious processes, the hotel chose to reduce paper and related collaterals and opted to maximise its content on the interactive TV. Every guest room’s TV sports an in-house promotions page, which shows the latest hotel offers and is frequently updated. “It is also used to showcase the property’s expansive in-room dining and F&B outlet menus as well as the comprehensive list of Destination Experiences specially curated for its guests, from trekking in the forests of Kodanad to a star-lit backwater cruise on the Vembanad Lake, overlooking the hotel,” said Girish Bhagat, general manager, Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty.

CHANGE, THE ONLY CONSTANT
In-room entertainment has evolved rapidly over the past few years and TV in guestrooms today play multiple roles. It has to show sitcoms and movies in addition to hotel content. Additionally, a guest should be able to port their Netflix or Amazon Prime content from their mobile device to watch it. Some might want to cast or mirror their phone on the TV to watch content from their mobile device on a bigger screen.
With so many changes taking place when it comes to digital technologies, it is important that hoteliers provide their guests with the option to make their own choice for their in-room entertainment, without making it a complex affair. Additionally, it is important to ensure that this is done in a seamless way.
Citing the example of his own hotel, Amit Kumar, hotel manager, Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park said, “Aloft as a brand is tech-forward and serves as the R&D lab of what a hotel will be in the future. It consistently looks at strategically aligning itself in terms of technology in selecting the right solution for in room entertainment for its guests. In line with guest experience and technology choices, we are the only hotel in Bengaluru that offers complimentary 100 Mbps internet to their guests. Our high speed internet which is a key for in-room entertainment, is 100% secure with firewall and updated software to ensure we do not comprise on security at the hotel.”
This speed is highly advantageous since more often than not guests really want to stream their own content to the TV. What’s more, they expect the in-room TV viewing experience to either match the one they have at home, or even be better.
Understanding this perspective, Kumar pointed out that Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park offers plug in and play away features wherein the guests can enjoy content from their portable electronic devices on the 42 inches TV screen in their rooms. “All they need to do is, plug into the all-in-one connectively panel, and the video source will pop up on the screen. To amplify the guest experience even more, free cables are provided at the front desk,” he stated.
It is undeniable that in-room entertainment has become very significant to guests, and therefore essential to their travel experience. Hotels have to, therefore, view the TV as more than a dumb screen. Instead, they have to consider it as an interactive nucleus where they can portray their brand identity and also use it as a platform to showcase various stay-enhancing activities.

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