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How One Casino Resort Redefines the VIP Experience with Voice Controls


Differentiate and attract loyal customers. This is a fairly common goal for the hospitality industry, but for a casino resort in San Diego, it is an imperative. In addition to destination travelers, we serve a large base of regional clients, who in addition to all the San Diego properties, have short getaway options in Las Vegas, Monterey and many nearby places. Our latest addition, Willows Hotel & Spa, needed to be more than an expansion and truly look at redefining the VIP experience. The decision to add in-room voice controls directly fit the definition of next gen luxury.

Opportunity to start fresh

When we took this opportunity to create a distinction between us and everyone else, we knew we wanted to be holistic. Yes, the spa and the food should be fabulous, but we didn’t want to overlook anything that is a part of refining the guest experience. We examined every choice about accommodating our guests and adjusted to foster a sense of well-being and tranquility that’s unheard of in a gaming setting. We determined a new standard for detail and personalization was needed in this new luxury VIP experience we were creating.

For example, we changed the way we think about check-in and check-out times and now guests customize those to their needs. We made it easy for guests to select their preferred type of pillow and bedding. There are a thousand details involved in a guest’s perfect stay and giving them more control or ways to communicate those details makes it easier for us to give them the ultimate experience.

In-room details are an important part of the guest experience. Our guests enjoy spending time in the casino but when they are not on the gaming floor, they want a totally different atmosphere—one that is calm and serene. They are not looking for a high-energy, thrill experience but they still expect to be delighted.

We wanted to add modern technology to the rooms without interfering with the natural, relaxing, luxury space. Voice technology was an obvious choice. There’s a limited amount of in-room hardware so it does not clutter the space, yet unlimited options for its potential to create an elevated guest experience.

Why Alexa and how it works

No one wants to make an investment in technology only to have it outdated or irrelevant in a short time. Alexa is one of the few devices that has held its space in the voice market. It is familiar to the masses and flexible enough to meet our needs now and in the future. Working with Volara offered us the opportunity to bring this device to our environment.

When you are putting an interactive device in contact with your guests, you want to be sure it will live up to your standards. If a voice is answering a guest’s questions, this voice needs to be as accurate and friendly as one of my exceptional staff members. Volara’s software is what allows the device to function well in a hospitality space. If a guest asks for a towel, it shouldn’t say, “I can’t help with that” or direct them to order one from Amazon. Volara offers safeguards and smart integrations to put us in the place where we could look at our clients and our goals. We started from the position being able to consider what we wanted voice to do in the in-room space.

We knew Alexa would make it easier to get a local weather forecast or set an alarm, but adding in the television controls is that next level we want our guests to expect from us. They don’t have to remember where they left the remote control or navigate and read the channel guide to try to find the sports channel. They just ask Alexa. If they are in bed and want the volume down they just say it. “Alexa, ask Willows to turn down the volume.”

SONIFI Solutions provides the in-room interactive television service for Viejas. More than a content provider, they are integration specialists and understand in-room technology. I had no doubts trusting SONIFI and Volara to make Alexa work for our guests. When you have companies you can rely on, it takes the worry away and frees you to bring things to the next level. We’re proud to offer our guests the unique functionality of the SONIFI-Volara integration.

End results

We have only been open a short time, but guest reactions to the Willows Hotel and Spa have been nothing but positive. Our guests have not seemed intimidated by the presence of Alexa and are embracing the experience.

It is good to see that customers are recognizing our attention to detail and mention it to our staff, but even better they remark about it in their reviews. Making the leap to add Alexa and voice has not been a nightmare experience I think some managers fear.

We like to say that the future is not something we enter – it’s something we create. In-room voice controls fits that philosophy well. We determined our vision for its capability in our space and made that happen.


Ricky Borja is Vice President Hotel Operations at Viejas Resort and Casino in San Diego. Their newest 159-room addition, The Willows Hotel & Spa, features in-room digital assistants as well as a pillow preference program, vitamin C-infused showers, luxury salt sauna, signature dining concepts and more.

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