First it was mobile check-in and keyless entry via your smartphone. Then came a legion of robots serving as butlers and bellhops. In 2018, business travelers will witness the rise of the “smart” or “connected” guest room.

In an effort to make the guest experience more comfortable and convenient and distinguish themselves from the competition, hotels across the world are unveiling new in-room technology that automatically can anticipate and respond to visitors’ commands.

Marriott International, for example, has teamed up with Samsung and Legrand to build an Internet of Things (IoT) guest room that it plans to roll out at properties later this year or in early 2019.

In Marriott’s “IoT Guestroom Lab” in Bethesda, Md., the trio of companies has been testing out IoT concepts that would enable guests to perform some pretty cool tasks — like start the shower at the desired temperature stored in their profile account or have a virtual assistant arrange a wake-up call — all powered through voice commands or an app.

Other possible functions Marriott’s IoT room will be able to do for guests include: requesting additional housekeeping services; displaying a yoga workout on a smart mirror; identifying which equipment in the fitness center is immediately available through the use of beacon technology; ordering a Starbucks coffee for pickup in the lobby; and enabling guests to choose which artwork is displayed in the room.

Hello, Alexa

Meanwhile, many hotels across the United States — from Kimpton’s Alexis Hotel in Seattle to the W Austin and the Wynn in Las Vegas — already have Amazon’s artificial intelligence-driven Echo devices (i.e., “Alexa”) installed in their guest rooms.

From offering local restaurant suggestions to having room service deliver extra towels, Alexa is able to field guests’ frequently asked questions and requests, simultaneously improving the guest experience and relieving duties from the hotel’s front desk and concierge staff.

With the Echo devices/Alexa having more than 15,000 skills (as of February 2018), business travelers can have the device wake them up to their favorite music, provide the local weather report, have the top news headlines read, run through their daily schedule from Google Calendar, guide them through an exercise routine and list their trip itinerary through Concur.

Volara, a third party that has helped hotels across the United States build out customized skills on the Echo device, is crafting special responses for Alexa so that guests can find out answers to hotel-specific questions, like what the Wi-Fi password is or when checkout time is.

Because Echo devices may be vulnerable to hacking (especially pre-2017 models), guests who are apprehensive about it can ask for theirs to be removed from the room entirely. If you opt to have it remain in the room, be aware that this always-on surveillance device does send your conversations to Amazon servers once you utter the “wake” word — Alexa. If you are having a sensitive business discussion in a hotel room with one of these voice-activated devices, we recommend taking extra precautions and unplugging it during that time.

Through their own phone

Fortunately, those who are loyal to the Hilton brand need not worry about “being spied on” since guests can use their own smartphone to operate their smart room.

Guests at “Connected Room” properties — which will be popping up all over the United States in 2018 — will be able to control their room’s thermostat, operate the television, adjust the lighting, open and close window coverings as well as load popular streaming media and other accounts to in-room TVs, all through the Hilton Honors app.

The cool thing is, since visitors can save their individual preferences in their Hilton Honors account profile, their guest room instantly will be customized to just how they like it after check-in.

“If you like your room cold and to have ESPN on the TV, the room can start cooling once you check in. And when you use the phone or room remote to turn on the TV, your favorite ESPN and other channels would be on the screen by default,” Joshua Sloser, senior vice president of digital, explained to Skift.

No need to touch the thermostat and remote control where all the germs are lurking? Now that’s something we totally can get behind!

But there is one potential downside we wish to point out to travel managers: more of your travelers may be tempted to book out of policy and directly through Hilton’s app once they have it downloaded to their mobile phone.

So how can you thwart this kind of noncompliant behavior? Well, by promoting the use of our own cutting-edge tool that intuitively understands what your travelers want. Neo is a robust booking tool now a part of the American Express Global Business Travel suite, has powerful machine learning technology that predicts travelers’ preferences while simultaneously providing only in-policy options. Now that’s a true win-win for travel programs!

To learn more about how Neo is improving the booking experience for travel managers and travelers alike, click here.