Alexa Is Headed to Your Hotel Room

Amazon introduced a hotel-customized version of its virtual assistant. It sounds useful— mostly.

Photo illustration: an Amazon Echo on the end table in a hotel room. But like, creepy, you know?
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock, Amazon.

Amazon’s Alexa has infiltrated our homes, offices, bathrooms, and cars. It was only a matter of time before it expanded to other places we spend time, too—like our hotel rooms. While some enterprising chains and establishments had begun introducing Echos and Echo Dots into their guest quarters, Amazon on Tuesday announced Alexa for Hospitality, a hotel-specific version of its assistant software. The announcement included a partnership with Marriott Hotels, where Alexa for Hospitality will debut at select Marriott, Aloft, Westin, Autograph Collection, and St. Regis hotels and resorts this summer. It’ll come to other hotels and vacation rental facilities on an invite-only basis.

Alexa for Hospitality differs from the Alexa in your personal Echo device in a couple distinct ways. The experience will be customized to each hotel location, with site-specific information and services. You’ll be able to use Alexa to control room conditions such as temperature and lighting, order room service, or request housekeeping. You’ll also be able to use the virtual assistant to find out information about the establishment, such as where the pool is or the hours for the fitness center. Hotel visitors will also be able to temporarily link their personal Amazon accounts to their in-room device for other features you may be used to—access to your own music subscriptions and playlists, for example, or the ability to place or check on existing Amazon orders.

But the idea of a virtual assistant and always-on listening device in your hotel room also raises some privacy concerns, such as who has access to your queries, how it handles account management, and the potential for the device to be hacked—or purposefully used—to spy on guests. Amazon has provided answers to some of these concerns. While your personal Echo devices store your recorded interactions indefinitely (unless you delete them from the Alexa app on your phone), with Alexa for Hospitality, recordings of commands will be deleted daily. Data access is much the same as you’d expect from a personal Echo: Hotels will have no access to the voice recordings on devices, and they also have no option to review Alexa’s responses before guests hear them. Hotels will, however, be able to track analytics stats such as engagement. They can also customize what apps and services are preloaded onto the device, such as TED talks (which Marriott hotels are offering) or specific iHeartRadio music channels. They can also connect custom skills to their Echo devices to further personalize the experience to that unique location. And when a guest checks out, Amazon automatically disconnects the in-room device from their Amazon account.

This still leaves a few questions. Could Amazon still technically record and offer hotels access to the transcripts of guest interactions with devices? If a user ties their personal account to a hotel’s Echo device, will their account keep a record of those interactions? And what failsafes are in place to ensure that guests are successfully logged out of their Amazon account at checkout?

The main purpose of Alexa for Hospitality is to take the load off of receptionists, concierge staff, and phone operators while simultaneously making their knowledge and services more readily available to guests. Many visitors may already have Alexa (or Siri or Google Assistant) on their own smartphones, so many of its typical functions, such as setting reminders or offering news or weather stats, may be redundant. Hotels would be smart to stock Alexa with local restaurant and attraction recommendations in addition to information about hotel amenities. It will be the customized knowledge of the hotel and surrounding area that will make it a useful addition to the hotel room, rather than a dust-collecting replacement for the old alarm clock-radio. There are still security concerns and unanswered questions, and it makes sense some may find Alexa’s presence perturbing. If that’s the case, you’ve got two options: Stay at a different hotel, or unplug the thing and stick it in a closet.