Smart speakers have become a fixture in homes across the U.S. According to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, smart speaker ownership in the U.S. surpassed 76 million in 2019. Checking the weather, playing music, asking questions, and setting alarms and reminders are a few of the ways consumers are using these voice enabled devices.
Consumer industries are increasingly embracing smart speakers to enhance customer experience. The hospitality sector is one of the industries deploying voice technology to meet consumer expectations for more connected, personalized experiences. Hoteliers are evaluating the potential of this technology to improve guest experience and drive new revenue, while looking for ways to address privacy and data security concerns.
IHS Markit indicated that voice assistant technology will be a key disruptive trend in the hospitality sector, projecting that hospitality will be the second-largest commercial vertical market for smart speakers by 2022. Hoteliers appear to agree with this projection. According to Oracle’s Hotel 2025 report, 78% of hotel operators believe that voice-activated controls for lights, air conditioning, and room devices will be mainstream or in mass adoption by 2025.
The drive to improve guest experience and boost revenues is fueling the adoption of voice assistant technology in the hospitality sector. With smart speaker in-room technology guests can easily order room service, make reservations to dine in a hotel restaurant and book excursions. This provides the twin benefits of enhancing the guest experience as well as boosting hotel revenues.
A February 2019 Deloitte Consumer Review on smart speakers noted that the Marriott International Group plans to install smart speakers in some of its hotels and The Wynn Las Vegas has installed the technology in all 4,748 of its rooms. The report also noted that “if this trend continues many of the world’s estimated 187,500 hotels and 17.5 million guest rooms could feature smart speakers or voice control within the next decade.”
While smart speaker technology provides new ways to engage guests and drive revenues, there are some concerns about the technology. Issues surrounding the technology range from the eavesdropping tendencies of some of these devices, to data privacy and security, to inaccurate responses, to devices activating unprompted, waking guests up during the night.
Findings last year that Amazon and Google employees were listening to recordings to improve the quality of interactions with these devices are not making guests more comfortable with having them in their hotel rooms. Perhaps even more worrying to consumers is the data collected by these smart speakers and how this data might be used and shared. According to Pew Research, “54% of smart speaker owners (which amounts to 13% of all U.S. adults) say they are very or somewhat concerned about the amount of personal data their smart speakers collect.”
The good news is that voice recognition technology is evolving to eliminate concerns about in-room smart speakers. Recently a unique new technology has hit the market that addresses growing smart speaker data privacy concerns through an embedded solution that operate fully offline, so no data is ever stored. Alexa, Google and other voice assistants must function online and connected to the cloud because of their need for speech to text transcription in order to respond to commands. This new technology gets rid of the often complex and inaccurate step of translating speech into text and replace it with speech to intent, making it faster and much more accurate in following instructions while also removing the need to work online.
Another advantage of this recent development relates to its capability to understand any existing language, accent, or combination of languages or accents. This allows guests to interact with in-room voice recognition technology in their native language and natural way of speaking. AI technology with acoustic-only recognition makes this possible by understanding the user’s intent directly from their speech alone, without the need for speech to text transcription. This eliminates problems created by accents, noise, and impaired speech and results in more accurate, faster responses.
As an increasing number of consumers embrace voice recognition technology at home, hotels will need to deploy this in-room technology to meet the expectations of their tech savvy guests. Consider that millennial travelers, who grew up in the age of digital and have an affinity for technology, will reportedly make up more than 50% of all hotel guests worldwide this year. Guests want the convenience of being able to use voice recognition technology to order room service, control in-room devices, ask for extra towels and find out where the gym is located, without concerns about data privacy and security and without the frustration of not being understood.
New voice recognition technologies can help hotels offer guests convenience without the concern.
About the Author
Probal Lala is the CEO of Fluent.ai, a voice recognition solutions company that created fully offline, embedded technology. Prior to this position, Lala has been an active Angel Investor for the past 12 years as Chair of the Maple Leaf Angels Corporation. At Fluent, Lala will help propel company growth and leverage its range of artificial intelligence (AI) voice interface software products to offer up to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and service providers. Fluent.ai delivers offline, noise robust voice recognition solutions in any language, with the mission to voice enable the world’s devices.