As Amazon's Alexa Checks In to Hotels, Drab Must Check Out

As Amazon's Alexa Checks In to Hotels, Drab Must Check Out
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Last week, Amazon and Marriott announced the arrival of “Alexa for Hospitality,” the latest generation of Amazon’s technological marvel. The partnership is a smart move for both companies. Amazon will convert many travelers into new customers; Alexa will help Marriott provide more customized service; and both companies will add more consumer data to their stockpile (or cloud).  

While Alexa and other technologies can help personalize service by allowing guests to choose everything from music to mood lighting to delivery of Domino’s pizza, hospitality companies are beginning to realize that personalization is not enough. In fending off attacks from Airbnb, hotels have learned that travelers also prefer properties with personality. Personality remains something that only hospitality companies themselves can create for their guests.

Major hotel players have recently rolled out new hotel brands to differentiate and add personality—and therefore profit—to their portfolios. Hilton’s CEO Christopher Nassetta emphasizes the company’s thirteen “pure-bred brands,” and encourages customers to pick the Hilton hotel that matches their personality—perhaps youth-oriented Trus, or local lifestyle-geared Canopies. IHG prompts customers to choose properties based on different desires, e.g., “Family Time,” “Rest and Go,” or “Romantic Getaway.” Legoland California’s hotels invite guests to choose from five different themed room types, such as “Pirate” and “Kingdom.” Themed rooms are not simply for children—they can be found at hotels across the world, from “Jungle” rooms at the Pelican Hotel in Miami Beach to “Beatles” rooms at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel in (you guessed it) Liverpool.

Properties with personality stand in contrast to the myriad of bland towers with generic prints on the walls and itchy furniture in the lobby, which if left unchanged, seem destined to become convalescent homes for the elderly. Indeed, movie history is filled with hotels that have been co-stars of the show. Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite takes place entirely in suite 719 of the storied Fifth Avenue edifice. Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot culminates at San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado, with its red-roofed Victorian cupolas. After movies came television. In the 1970s, Aaron Spelling discovered that putting a parade of familiar actors on the Pacific Princess cruise ship would keep viewers tuned in, not just to intertwining rom-com plots, but to the personalities of the ship and its crew. Millions of Americans watched The Love Boat and learned about formal nights, dancing under the stars, and Baked Alaska.

And now, in the age of online video content, branded entertainment can make any hospitality property a star.  Royal Caribbean has found success with its web series Royal Crush, featuring good-looking teen actors who fall in love as they tour Barcelona, Venice, and a wish-list of scenic locales via a Royal Caribbean ship. And this summer, Netflix will release Like Father, an original movie starring Kristin Bell and Kelsey Grammer set aboard Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas. While Marriott partners with Amazon on personalization, it independently pursues personality through its own 75-person branded entertainment studio. Marriott’s studio produces short films, “webisodes,” and “Snapisodes” that feature different Marriott properties such as the Seoul-themed Two Bellmen. Some of these programs have attracted over 10 million views, and Marriott reports a strong conversion rate between viewership and room bookings. 

It seems then that the winning formula is “personalization plus personality.” Travelers will pay more for hotels that provide a unique character, history, and ambience. Meanwhile, branded entertainment helps promote a property’s “star quality.” All of this means that owners, operators, and designers in the hospitality industry must be just as clever as, well, Alexa.

Victoria J. Buchholz is a business strategist and attorney in Los Angeles.

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