InterContinental Hotels Rolls Out Baidu Smart Displays in Suites in China
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) last week announced that it was partnering with Baidu to roll out “100 AI powered Club InterContinental suites” at its InterContinental Beijing Sanlitun and InterContinental Guangzhou Exhibition Centre properties. IHG said it is using a customized version of Baidu’s DuerOS AI solution that includes voice assistant functionality. The device in the media announcement image looks very similar to the new VS1 smart display that Baidu previewed at CES 2018 in Las Vegas. According to the media release:
“Customised for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, the AI solution is developed by Baidu’s DuerOS Platform. It integrates AI technology with hotel operations, and this is supported by hardware upgrade and cloud service. Unlike traditional guest rooms, the newly launched AI Smart Room will fully embrace voice control technology to deliver a more natural human-computer interactive experience. For instance, guests will be able to freely switch settings between work and leisure modes, and enjoy a more convenient and seamless room service experience. This solution will also further fine-tune the current backstage management system, including customising information and resetting devices, making hotel management a simpler task.”
Responding to Marriott and Alibaba
IHG has a fierce rivalry with Marriott and Baidu has a similar relationship with Alibaba. As a result, the alignment of IHG and Baidu is not surprising given the announcement in October 2017 that Marriott planned to outfit 100,000 hotel rooms in China with Alibaba’s Tmall Genie smart speaker. What is surprising is the different approach and scale. IHG says that the new Baidu devices will be installed in only 100 Club InterContinental suites. It may be a more ambitious project in terms of guest services and device sophistication, but it is rounding error in terms of total rooms with the technology.
Alibaba has focused on scale from the beginning and reportedly sold more than two million smart speakers in its first nine months after product launch. By contrast, Baidu reportedly produced fewer than 10,000 of its Raven H smart speakers before halting production. Baidu seems to be refocused on introducing a lower cost smart speaker for the mass market along with more competitively priced smart displays like the VS1. The current deal won’t drive scale today, but could lead to a larger scale implementation if the more than 300 IHG hotels in China are later added.
Hotels Want to Provide the Conveniences of Home
Smart speakers are positioned as providing unmatched convenience in living spaces. It is not surprising that hotels want to replicate the best features of a convenient and comfortable home in their rooms. Amazon recently announced Alexa for Hospitality which includes a modified capability set for Echo smart speakers that are installed in hotel rooms. Marriott has jumped onboard with the Amazon program and said it will introduce the “Alexa experience at select properties in Marriott Hotels, Westin Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Aloft Hotels, and Autograph Collection Hotels starting this summer.”
Given that Marriott and Amazon are aligned in the U.S., it will be interesting to see if IHG opts to work with Google in the U.S. and other western countries. However, introducing a voice assistant into a hotel room setting isn’t plug-and-play. Baidu has customized its experience for IHG and Amazon for Hospitality has a backend management solution for hotel properties. Google or a partner would almost certainly need to provide a similar solution for provisioning, support and feature implementation of Google Home smart speakers. Neither Amazon nor Google have voice assistant or smart speaker offerings for China, so Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent’s JD.com are the most likely competitors for Chinese hospitality business.