· The number of households with voice assistant technology has grown phenomenally over the past five years; IHS Markit projects that 60% of all smart home devices will be either integrated or embedded with voice control/assistants in 2021.
· Following the trend of household preferences gradually migrating to hospitality, voice assistant technology will be a key disruptive trend in this sector. IHS Markit forecasts that hospitality will be the second-largest commercial vertical market for smart speakers by 2022.
· Hospitality TVs will also be central to the integration of voice assistant technology in this market, a fact recognised by both market leaders LG Electronics and Samsung. Many difficulties and considerations remain though before voice assistant solutions become a mainstay in hospitality.
Voice Assistant Application in Hospitality
Cloud-based voice services have numerous applications and benefits for hotels. The technology can provide a natural and intuitive way of accessing site-specific information to lessen demands on concierges and front desk clerks. Plus, housekeeping and room service can be coordinated in response to voice commands, increasing both guest satisfaction and daily operational efficiency. In addition, guests can remotely control lights, climate control systems or appliances.
Currently, voice assistant technology is applicable to the hotel sector, but the technology has strong integration potential for healthcare as well. Similar applications to hotels can apply, notably provision of relevant basic information, requests being digitally logged, and the voice control of TV channels, temperature or lighting, all via the in-room TV. These features are arguably of even greater use in healthcare as often patients’ movement can be restricted, and staffing shortages is a common problem globally.
Developments of the Big Two
Samsung and LG Electronics are the two leading brands in the global hospitality TV market. Together, they make up over 80% of the dedicated hospitality TV market, with total worldwide shipments crossing 2.0 million in 2018, according to IHS Markit. Each has recognised that, as demand for voice assistant products rises in the household market, this will naturally be followed by a rise in demand in hospitality vertical.
At the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC) 2019 LG Business Solutions announced a firmware update to provide support for Alexa for Hospitality on its smart hospitality TVs. This version of Amazon Alexa is an edition specifically developed for use in hospitality that allows the applications listed earlier to be fully realised.
LG is also working to support Google Assistant on its hospitality TVs, to give users options and ensure whatever voice assistant platform guests prefer there is the ability to sync their personal account. Additionally, LG is currently in the trial phase of commercial-grade voice assistant hotel TVs with sales expected in 2020.
Samsung is taking a similar approach. Samsung’s 2019 QLED consumer TVs offer voice control support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and has its own in-house developed virtual assistant, Bixby, built-in.
In addition, Samsung is also developing its own commercial-grade solution, delegating its subsidiary HARMAN Professional Solutions with bringing tailored voice assistant technology to the hospitality industry. The audio expertise of HARMAN will be utilised and a partnership has been formed with SoundHound Inc. to make use of its Houndify voice-enabled AI platform.
Challenges and Considerations
While both LG and Samsung have begun developing voice assistant solutions for the hospitality industry, they equally recognise the additional difficulties and considerations that arise when integrating this technology to a corporate environment.
The main issues revolve around data privacy/security, data and device management, integration to the hotel guest amenities, services or HVAC, customization of voice search parameters and cost of ownership. Hotels and hospitals are subject to far more stringent security regulations, such as GDPR in Europe or HIPAA in the US. Questions also arise over who would own and manage data gathered; greater integration and customization is required per hotel establishment relative to households. Additionally, price structure would need to be decided as hospitality voice assistants will likely be a paid service due to the higher management costs.
Still, IHS Markit is optimistic that these issues will be examined, overcome and voice assistant technology will likely be more commonplace in hospitality within the next two to three years, and a key disruptive trend in the industry within the next five. IHS Markit believes that voice assistant solutions will be soon positioned as a premium feature in high-end hotels promoting a unique guest experience.