Amazon Alexa in Vacation Rentals
Make the Entertainment System Trouble-free with Voice Commands
By Dana Young
As a vacation rental owner or manager, you may have begun exploring the use of Amazon Alexa at your property. I’ve had many VR pros reach out and ask, “How can I leverage an Amazon Echo at my vacation rental?”. This series of guides is intended to help with that question, and provide actionable information that will help you improve your guest’s experience.
In this guide, we are going to focus on eliminating the complexity associated with using entertainment systems using an Amazon Echo with Alexa. You will find a description of the value proposition for guests and owner/managers, exactly what you need in order to deliver that value, and setup instructions, including specific resources to take advantage of.
One of the things we have heard as a recurring theme from property managers is the time they spend on helping guests through frustrations with all the remote controls and required sequencing in order to use the entertainment system. This problem is often exacerbated when previous guests leave the system in an unusable state after modifying the video source or other settings.
Fortunately, there is a way to help with this situation. The Logitech Harmony Hub is a product that can be set up as the center of your vacation rental’s entertainment system. Placed near your television, cable/satellite box, game console and other equipment, it uses Infrared (IR), Bluetooth and Wi‑Fi to control your various devices. The traditional use case for this technology has been to turn your smartphone or tablet into a universal remote, giving you control over your home entertainment and smart home devices. That is great for traditional household use when the app is linked to your equipment, but of course guests wouldn’t have that same access.
However there is now integration between Alexa and the Harmony Hub. Voice control changes everything. Now using the entertainment system can be as simple as a guest saying, “Alexa, turn on the TV” or, “watch a movie”. With voice, all the magic is available to anyone in the VR. With voice control guests are less likely to mess up your system by using the remote to change settings. Even if they do, there is an option available to you that provides the capability to reset your entertainment system to all the right settings. You can even do this remotely, and still better, do it automatically based on the scheduled arrival dates of your guests. This capability is available as an extension of this smart home kit.
What You Will Need
To enable voice control of your entertainment system, you’ll need any device within the Amazon Echo family of products, as well as a Logitech Harmony Hub. There is also some software (an Alexa ‘skill’, provided by Logitech) required to connect the two devices. If you are unfamiliar with the platform, Alexa skills are like apps. You can enable and disable skills, using the Alexa app or a web browser, in the same way that you install and uninstall apps on your smartphone or tablet. Skills are voice-driven Alexa capabilities.
As mentioned, there is also a powerful capability that will allow you to remotely reset your entertainment system to proper settings based on your guest calendar. To take advantage of that automation, you will need one of these kits. The kits provide the ability to automate other aspects of your vacation rental as well, such as putting the house into ‘hibernation’ mode when guests depart, and ‘waking it up’ when new guests are about to arrive.
You will want to set up the Echo(s) in your vacation rental property with a separate Amazon account that is specific to that property. If you have more than one Echo at your property, use that same account for all the devices at that location. Details for how to do that (including a great trick to simplify the process) as well as the reasons why it should be done are described here.
Once you have a separate account for the Echo(s) at your vacation rental property, you can follow the basic Echo setup instructions here. There are options for either downloading the Alexa app for IOS / Android, or using the app from your PC’s browser via https://alexa.amazon.com.
Setup instructions for the Harmony Hub are available here.
To complete your setup and allow Alexa to control your entertainment system through the Harmony Hub, follow these steps to complete the integration.
Another device that is was just launched in June 2018 and worth considering is the Amazon Fire TV Cube. It combines Alexa with the Fire TV and also universal remote functionality - all in one unit. The Cube isn’t yet ready to replace everything that the Harmony Hub can do in terms of controlling various electronics, but depending on your entertainment system, it may not need to. The Cube can control TVs, sound bars, A/V receivers, and cable and satellite boxes. While not very explicit, Amazon does provide a resource for the Cube’s compatibility capabilities. If your system doesn’t extend past these components, the Cube may be an option for you.
All four sides of the Cube house IR blasters that allow the device to communicate with and control other devices. So, for example, saying "Alexa, tune to CNN on cable" will make the box use its IR blasters to switch the channel on the cable box, and switch the TV's input to the cable box. Depending on your TV, the Cube may also control the television itself over HDMI, so it can automatically power on the screen whenever one of your guests asks for media. If they ask for the weather, the Cube will answer using its own built-in speaker. But if they say “Alexa, play Peaky Blinders,” the TV will turn on, and Netflix will pull up the show.
Unfortunately the Cube only provides voice control, and will not allow you the ability to remotely reset your entertainment system to proper settings based on your guest calendar like you can by extending a smart home kit with the Harmony Hub.