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Smart Home

Amazon's Alexa for Hospitality handles hotel checkout, pool time and more

Get ready to start chatting with Alexa in your hotel room.

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That's me relaxing in a Marriott suite and reading up on Alexa for Hospitality.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Daniel Rausch, Amazon's vice president of smart home, walked into a darkened hotel suite on the top floor of the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge.

"Alexa, turn on the lights," he casually said, and the lights dutifully turned themselves on in the kitchenette, living room and entryway.

Rausch last week was showing off Alexa for Hospitality, the newest iteration of Amazon's popular voice assistant. This version's made specifically for hotels, letting you use an Echo speaker in your room to call the front desk, check what times the hotel's pool is open and get recommendations for nearby restaurants. You can even order a toothbrush if you forgot yours at home.

On Tuesday, Amazon officially launched Alexa for Hospitality together with Marriott International, which said it's bringing the new feature to about 10 of its US locations over the summer, including Charlotte Marriott City Center in North Carolina and Marriott Irvine Spectrum in California. Alexa for Hospitality will also be available to other hoteliers by invitation only.

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"We want to strip away the things that might create unexpected surprises or bumps in the road and create as seamless an experience as possible," Jennifer Hsieh, Marriott's vice president of customer experience innovation, said at the demo, mentioning Alexa's new ability to check you out of your room so you won't have to stop by the front desk.

Since releasing its original Echo speaker four years ago, Amazon has focused on building lots of new Alexa-powered devices to get customers to stick Echo speakers throughout their homes, in their bedrooms and living rooms and kitchens. This year, the company has instead worked on building up specialized versions of Alexa itself, releasing a children's version of the voice assistant for the new Echo Dot Kids Edition, an Alexa for cars that offers directions and that can remotely lock your vehicle, and now Alexa for Hospitality. It's also developing Alexa for Business for office settings and meeting rooms.

Bringing Alexa to more places should help Amazon maintain its lead in smart speakers and fend off competitors like Google and Apple. But taking Alexa out of the home and into all these new places should come with challenges, too, since some people avoid using smart speakers and won't want them around in an office, hotel or elsewhere.

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Alexa for Hospitality becomes available by invite only to hotels starting today.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While some people will find Alexa for Hospitality to be a benefit, others will see the feature as  "so nebulous to me, so dangerous to me" they won't want to stay in rooms with Echo devices, said Werner Goertz, a Gartner analyst. It will be up to Marriott and other hoteliers to cater to both types of customers, he added.

So far, guest surveys from pilot hotels have been positive, with Rausch mentioning high numbers of respondents who enthusiastically rated Alexa in their rooms and would ask for the voice assistant for future visits.

Rausch said Alexa for Hospitality will allow hoteliers to customize their Echo speakers to each property, allowing them to provide guests with local restaurant and attractions recommendations and specific information about the hotel, like pool and gym hours. Amazon also developed a new back-end system to help hotels manage a whole fleet of Echo devices.

Amazon will soon allow people to connect their Amazon accounts to their hotel Echo speakers, letting them access their Audible audiobooks and music services including Amazon Music, Spotify, and Pandora. The devices will disconnect from a guest's account at checkout.

Rausch declined to disclose whether Amazon has any ongoing financial agreement with Marriott for using Alexa for Hospitality.

To let people know about Alexa and what to use it for, Marriott created some tips and tricks for guests to read.

Sarah Tew/CNET

To better protect people's privacy, he said Amazon won't share any of the voice data from guests with hotels and will delete that information daily. The hotel Echo speakers also can't be factory-reset and only work on a hotel's Wi-Fi, The hotel will be notified if they're unplugged, helping cut down on potential hacks to the devices.

Hsieh added that Echo speakers in rooms will be muted anytime new guests arrive. So if you don't want to use the devices, you can leave them muted or unplug them, she said. Rooms without Echo devices will be offered, she said. Different Marriott locations will also adopt different connected devices, so some may have voice-controlled blinds, lights and thermostats, while others will have fewer of those features, she added.

The Wynn resort in Las Vegas added Echo speakers into its rooms about two years ago, but the resort wasn't using the new Alexa for Hospitality platform. Rausch said that hotel will eventually transfer over to the new system.

Following Alexa for Hospitality's launch, Gartner's Goertz said he expects Alexa to pop up in plenty more places in the future.

"I'm looking forward to more of those, of Alexa moving into new verticals," he said. "I can see this going beyond hospitality and moving into places like health care."

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