Responses provided a very rich overview of the hotel voice-assistants adoption. Guests expressed their expectations and the functionality required. They also shared their opinion on using this technology. Technology solution providers explained the technical capabilities and the core benefits. The map of themes and subthemes of all conducted interviews is presented in Fig. 1.
4.1 Current Level of Adoption of In-room Voice Assistants by Hotels
Literature states that the adoption of in-room AI-empowered voice-based digital assistants for enhancing hotel services and experiences remains This study explores the reasons behind the current low level of adoption, such as: limited number of use cases to learn from in the industry and low awareness of the technology and its capabilities in society. This study also shows that experienced consumers believe that voice-based assistants can only fulfil basic tasks.
“So, if I turn up to a hotel room… my first thought wouldn’t be to walk in and just start barking orders at an electronic device.”
“I don’t trust the computers enough to solve complicated problems. Because sometimes at the desk, you can have extraordinary situations where you would need extraordinary thinking rather than just the algorithmic thinking…”
Providing guests with information on the functionality of voice assistants and issuing clear instructions on how to use them helps eliminate the barriers for those consumers who have never used smart speakers. Extra guidance from hotels provides more tech-savvy guests with deeper understanding of the usability and utility of voice devices.
“Wynn [Wynn Resorts] has done a nice job with putting little placards in the room to sort of tell them [guests] what they [voice assistants] are able to do.”
4.2 Functionality of Voice-Based Digital Assistants in Hospitality
The functionality of Voice Assistants in hospitality was examined and summarised in Table 1. The results of the interviews acknowledged the main tasks frequently mentioned in secondary data sources, e.g. front desk requests, smart room control, Internet browsing, the weather forecast, hands-free calls, and guest directory. Yet, interviewees suggested additional functions and offered potential areas for development. For example, efficient feedback and complaint handling; Check out processes; facilities booking Maintenance, transfer, and weak-up requests, as well as controlling the physical infrastructure of the room including, temperature, lights; curtains and media devices. The possibility of smart speakers to serve as a deliverer of emergency notifications. This feature can be very useful if set properly.
“If someone breaks into your room it’s much faster to say with the voice command that you need help than to actually try to reach your phone.”
Nevertheless, this function must be adjusted and tested before employing, as one participant contradicted the usability of digital voice devices for emergency situations, reasoning that technological limitations can prevent this feature from working properly.
“You can say ‘Alexa, there is an emergency’, and the person that is breaking in can say ‘Alexa stop’ and Alexa will stop… I think in Alexa you have a setting to restrict it to your voice, but I wouldn’t see it happening in a hotel.”
According to participants’ insights, the linkage of personal accounts and profile portability, can bring an additional layer of personalisation. This would be an auxiliary stimulus for some consumers to use voice assistants more willingly in the context of their stay in hotels. However, there are security and privacy concerns, as this is often been associated with data breaches in broadcast media.
4.3 Hotels’ Perspectives on Digital Voice Assistants
The advantages and disadvantages which accompany voice-enabled interactions in hotels were analysed from hotels’ perspectives and presented in Table 2.
Advantages for Hotels.
In-room voice-activated devices often reduce labour cost and provide coverage around the clock. They can reduce service friction and allow staff to spend more time on enhancing guests’ experiences. Given that in-room voice-based digital assistants are part of Internet of Things (IoT) systems they are integrated with hotel amenities and back office [8, 10, 30]. That empowers staff to stay constantly informed on guests’ requests and experiences, respond rapidly, pass messages on to relevant department efficiently when service requests or complains are identified, using contextual and real-time information [6, 9]. Most technology providers mentioned automation of processes as the main advantage of voice assistants for hotels. The benefits that can be associated with the automation of workflows were determined by participants. These points fully match with those outlined in the literature.
“We saw a huge uptick in the satisfaction of the front desk team, their ability to provide a better service because they weren’t answering phones…”
Operational efficiency, that is usually mentioned in literature with regards to automated workflows, has also a strong influence on guests’ satisfaction .
“With an automated system everyone in the hotel can ask for an extra pillow at the same time and that can then go into a workflow. So, they all know that their request is being heard and that’s a great customer experience.”
Respondents also revealed that voice assistants can offer more eco-friendly operations, cost-effective maintenance due to self-updating OS, and the unification of interfaces.
“Ability to add incremental features and capability without any ‘forklift upgrades’ as the smart speaker capabilities improve.”
“The technology behind the voice activation facilitates a parallel automation system that can reduce the consumption of energy.”
“Unifying a variety of systems which originally had different modes on interfaces, into a singular mode, voice.”
Disadvantages for Hotels.
Though the cost of voice speakers is low, to function efficiently, they must be interoperable and interconnected with other hotel systems . Therefore, before benefiting from cost-saving mechanisms, hoteliers must invest in their IoT network. The complexity, challenge and cost of integration was endorsed by all technology providers during their interviews.
“The challenge that you have with a hotel is that every single hotel is very unique… So, integrating with all the management, food and beverage, billing software, that’s usually different on a per hotel basis.”
While reviewing disadvantages of voice-activated devices, it was crucial to analyse some consumers’ resistance to technology. The predominant number of participants shared hoteliers’ concerns regarding guests’ resistance to using voice assistants in their rooms, connecting this barrier primarily with habits and demographics.
“People are creatures of habit. So, if you are used to setting alarm every day on your phone, maybe you wouldn’t see the point of setting it on the Google/Alexa.”
“Older people might be somewhat reticent to use this kind of device finding it a bit odd to talk to a computer.”
There is still a belief that no technology can potentially replace human service delivery. Such statements were made by the minority of participants, as all the interviewed consumers had used voice assistants, whilst technology providers clearly had a vested interest in voice technology expanding its market share in the hospitality domain.
“Some people, they prefer a human touch. You know, they are preparing for a service to be delivered. They believe that part of what they’re paying for is as a human service.”
4.4 Guests’ Attitudes to In-room Voice Assistants in Hotels
Guests’ ideas regarding the benefits and limitations of speech-based interactions in hotels were investigated in detail and illustrated in Table 3.
Advantages for Guests.
Voice assistants are available 24/7 and transfer requests to relevant hotel services immediately. This level of responsiveness empowers hotels to meet guest demands for instant gratification , as mentioned by participants.
“When you arrive in your room, you probably want to set your environment out for yourself, order a late check out, get another pillow, order your dinner. And that can be a long kind of half-hour process if you are trying to phone and get all these bits of information from the hotel. If you can just know that there is an automated agent to get these tasks done for you, then you are going to have a better stay.”
“Among advantages for guests: Intuitive Interactions, Commands, Responses as if speaking with a human”
In addition to bringing ease to digital interactions with hands-free features, time-saving opportunities, and the advantage of having a human-like communication, there is also a key aspect of meeting guests’ technological habits.
“If you have the same system of assistant in your home, it’s pretty convenient for you because you know what you can ask.”
The sense of novelty and the additional level of entertainment, which new technology often provides, has also been defined within this study as a benefit for guests.
“At this moment, it’s also kind of a novelty… You don’t necessarily need it, like you can turn on the light by yourself, right? But it is much fancier and unusual to do it with a machine…”
Consumers who took part in this research admitted that using voice assistants in hotel rooms can potentially enhance their experiences by providing inclusive access, personalised options, and contactless interactions. The findings suggest that hoteliers should not fully rely on the COVID-19 pandemic-related trend for minimising face-to-face service delivery but to fully explore the opportunities of this technology for customer service.
Among the reasons for preferring contactless interactions named during the interviews were: hygienic interactions (regardless of the pandemic) and unbiased characteristics of voice assistants. As discovered during the interviews, people who prefer face-to-face service delivery are not likely to change their minds due to new COVID related health regulations. The same is true for those who prefer being served by computers.
“You don’t have to touch things, like light switches that are usually very dirty…”
“Lowering the barrier to making requests, not having to feel that burden of asking for something.”
Disadvantages for Guests.
Despite all the developments of NLP, existing voice-based assistants still struggle when dealing with accents and foreign languages . This has been broadly disclosed in papers as well as by the majority of interviewees who underlined the importance of this drawback, since many hotel guests arrive from abroad.
“So, if you speak with a French accent or if you’re referring to the French author, and you pronounce the French name in a French way, the machine doesn’t get it because it speaks English to you.”
While reviewing technical limitations of voice assistants and the occurrences that lead to malfunctions, participants identified “multiple device conflict” and “dependence on Wi-Fi” as reasons that significantly influence interactions with voice speakers. Scholars [36, 40] agree that privacy is still a major concern associated with voice assistants. It has unsurprisingly been the most frequently named disadvantage of voice assistants, reflected in this study by almost all participants, primarily from a personal data point of view. Nonetheless, some participants were particularly wary of industrial espionage that had not been discussed in literature.
“It’s one thing having it in your own home, and a lot of people don’t necessarily want that, but you have some semblance of an idea that you control it because it’s your account. So how does that switch over work when you are in a hotel? Is the data actually being harvested by the Hilton or whoever for use in there?”
“If I am running a meeting from my hotel room and technically, we sign NDA [non-disclosure agreement] with our clients. And… Amazon may listen to everything we discuss. And technically, it may be a part of business that competes with Amazon or maybe a start-up that may be acquired by Amazon.”
However, this research proved that more tech-savvy consumers tend to be less concerned about privacy when using voice assistants.
“I personally don’t have concerns about privacy, but lots of people have. I stand for open information flow… IT people know that Google, Apple have lots of information about us even without hotel assistants.”
4.5 Future Implications of Voice-Based Digital Assistants in Hospitality
The growing connectivity of devices and the Internet of Everything [6, 8] justifies the inevitable technological progress in hotels [10, 30]. The only question would be what role in this progress voice assistants will play. Figure 2 presents the conceptualisation of speech-based interactions between hotels and guests. Digital voice assistants’ producers aim to embed their technology into as many devices as possible, allowing brands to easily create voice-compatible products, e.g. TVs, headphones, smart plugs, bulbs, locks, security cameras, soundbars, watches and tooth brushes. This enables major technology manufacturers to have a wider pool of sources for their AI software to collect data, label it and learn from it. Consumers are getting used to being hyper-connected via voice as an interface. They are not only using standalone or smartphone in-built assistants, but also through almost every device they use throughout the day. This is likely to impact hotels in future, when in-room smart speakers become irrelevant as guests will be able to access voice assistants from any digital device in their rooms. Yet, the ability of in-room voice-activated devices to understand and speak different languages and engage in different accents  was identified as the defining feature for their future applicability. Some participants shared the statements that a wider adoption of the technology will have a differentiated or modulated approach . This effectively mean that it would be useful to have voice assistants as an option for guests, rather than a default setting, provided that the devices can be managed centrally.