Everyone wants a personal concierge. You can travel without one, sure, but then you’re stuck checking the weather or looking for room service menus like some kind of animal. Of course, most people can’t afford to stay in places where a top-of-the-line concierge service is provided. With the new Alexa for Hospitality product, Amazon is hoping that a technological stand-in will suffice, and it’s already found partners who think it will.
The company announced that its voice assistant would move in to select rooms at the Marriott Hotels, Westin Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Aloft Hotels, and Autograph Collection Hotels this summer thanks to a partnership with Marriott International. So if you’re planning to go somewhere later this year and you’re just dying to make sure Alexa will be right there with you, well, now your hopes will be realized.
Amazon said Alexa for Hospitality would run on Echo speakers in each hotel room. The service will do pretty much what you expect. You can ask for information regarding the weather, hotel amenities, or travel services; call for room service, housekeeping, or the real-live concierge; and control internet-connected devices just like you would at home. It’s the Alexa you already know with hotel-specific information programmed in.
If you do already use Alexa, sometime in the future you’ll be able to sign in to Alexa for hospitality with your existing Amazon account to play music or listen to audiobooks, and Amazon said you’ll automatically be signed out when you check out of the hotel. But it’s not clear exactly how that sign-out process will function, and if it doesn’t work perfectly, you’re stuck having your account connected to a public device. That’s not great.
There are some other things to worry about regarding Alexa for Hospitality. Despite the voice assistant’s increasing popularity, it’s become increasingly evident that not all the kinks have been worked out. The most notable issue arose when Alexa mistakenly recorded parts of a family’s conversation and sent it to a random contact. Not only did it misinterpret a string of commands needed to perform those functions, but it also wasn’t loud enough in its requests for confirmation for the family to realize that something had gone wrong. It was the perfect storm.
That’s bad enough when it happens in your own home. Hotel rooms are smaller, which means Alexa could hear more parts of a conversation, and people often have “private time” in their hotel rooms that they don’t want to share with anyone else. (Of course, being in a smaller space could help even the hard-hearing realize that Alexa’s asking for permission to record and share the noises they’re making with the outside world.)
You also have to wonder how the hotels plan to ensure their Echo speakers’ physical security as well. Countless people have access to those devices–any security vulnerabilities found in them would be relatively easy to exploit from the comfort of a hotel room. Researchers have already demonstrated exploits in Echo products and, even if they’ve already been fixed, it makes it clear that these products aren’t infallible.
All of which brings us right to the common question: are you willing to risk your privacy in exchange for convenience? Alexa for Hospitality doesn’t offer any information you can’t find elsewhere; hotels are chock full of resources meant to make planning your trip easier. Amazon’s voice assistant merely lets you access that info by talking to a robot instead of leafing through pamphlets or conversing with another human.