Voice is the way to go for a post-pandemic hotel biz

Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, December 17 2020: As   guests start trickling back to  hotels and restaurants,  after 9 months of enforced lockdown, followed by  a gradual unlock,  one thing remains uppermost in their minds: safety.
Which is why there is increasing evidence that Voice-driven hospitality is a technology whose time has come.

Google’s Nest speakers fueled by its Voice Assistant and Amazon’s Echo devices  featuring Alexa are the two leading candidates  in the  voice-based business sector. Of the two, Amazon probably has a small edge in the range and breadth of offerings tailored for hotels. Alexa for Hospitality is a good resource for enterprises who want to understand how voice can enhance the in-room experience for guests as well as streamlining staff communications and hotel operations.
Covid has made guests, wary of too much human contact – and they have shown themselves ready and willing to “talk” to an Alexa Echo device for their front desk or concierge queries. And then there’s the new level of convenience: Echo speakers allow guests to control everything with Voice: adjust the air-conditioning; turn the lights on and off; control the “Do Not Disturb” sign – all without getting out of bed.
Currently, the devices like Amazon Echo Dot, Echo, and Echo Plus support the new Alexa system for hospitality.
The new Echo devices
Echo devices have been available in India for some 4 years now and I have had the opportunity to review most of them, as they became available. 
The latest additions to the range include the new (4th generation) Echo which forsakes the cylindrical design for a spherical design which combines the features of earlier Echo and Echo Plus models.  About 5.7 inches in diameter and weighing   970 grams, it offers superior audio, with a 3-inch woofer, dual tweeters   4 microphones and Dolby circuitry. This is important because people tend to talk to Alexa from across the room.  The volume, mic off and function buttons are on the top while the power port and 3.5 mm audio port are on the bottom, just above the blue status light ring discretely placed so that doesn’t disturb one while sleeping
This edition of Echo includes  the Zigbee smart hub which means it can control lights, fan, ACs, air purifiers and the like from third party makers. Amazon keeps adding to Alexa’s skills and repertoire in India and  one can now stream music  from  Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, JioSaavn, Gaana, Apple Music and Hungama Music.  And, if you say “Alexa, speak in Hindi: you can switch the language. The new Echo costs Rs  8999 at Amazon, which is Rs 1000 less than the MRP.
The new ( also 4th generation ) Echo Dot also goes spherical, about the size of a cricket ball and weighing 314 grams. Functionally   almost identical to the Echo, including the Zigbee) , it essentially scales down the speaker  size to 1.6 inch, which makes it more a bedside device rather than one for a large room. It costs  Rs 4499 at Amazon and a thousand rupees more buys you the model with a clock display.
While made with   home consumers in mind, each of these Echo formats can fill a useful slot in the hospitality business:  I can see guests appreciating an Echo Dot next to their bed – while the larger Echo would be a useful talking guide in lobby or restaurant