A Piece of Advice: Voice is Here to Stay, so Embrace it
It’s a new decade — a time when hoteliers are looking at artificial intelligence and voice technologies not as disruptors, but as innovations that will connect them to guests in more meaningful and lasting ways. It’s an era of convenience, when frictionless voice command is replacing friction-filled app downloads, germ-infested tablets, and antiquated telephones to connect guests to information and services and control the room environment. It’s an ever-evolving digital world where speed, efficiency, and immediacy are constantly being optimized. It’s the age of AI and voice, and travelers — especially Millennials — are selecting hotels that enable them to “stay my way.”
The NEW 2020 hotel experience is smart-speaker centric and it involves connecting these devices to the TV, thermostat, live-streaming radio services and other hotel systems to make the guest experience more natural and like home — actually better than home.
eMarketer predicts that 118 million people will rely on voice assistants this year, with the number growing to 123 million by 2021. Therefore, bringing smart speakers into the guestroom experience to improve communication and efficiencies is just smart business.
Wanting the Viceroy Hotels & Resorts experience to feel like a natural extension of our guests’ daily lives, we made the commitment to go “all in” with voice technology last year. To do this, we had to find a technology partner that was innovative, flexible, customizable and could easily integrate with existing property technologies. It also needed to meet the complex technical specifications of our hotels while simultaneously adhering to our obligation to ensure guest privacy.
While the quest seemed to be a steep challenge, after doing our due diligence we were drawn to Volara — as its enterprise grade conversation management software and platform agnostic approach enabled the flexibility and security required by our hotels. Their software was proven out in peer hotels across the globe and the data driving their automated conversation models was informed by voice-based interactions with more than 10 million hotel guests. The aggregated data was central to the solution’s ability to accurately reply to our guests’ complex requests and that made a big difference. Alexa itself seemed like a good choice given its consumer adoption, but Volara really made it work for the hotel environment.
Success from the Start
Before embarking on our own journey with voice, I was familiar with a few hotels that had tried launching home grown voice programs with limited success. Utilization rates were low, and their ownership was rightly concerned they hadn’t done what was necessary to safeguard their guests’ personally identifiable information. Complaints outnumbered positive reviews and the programs were cancelled before they really got out of the gate. To the contrary, the conversation-management software and seamless integrations enabling the voice solution at Viceroy Hotels & Resorts creates a hotel business tool atop Alexa. It’s because of this innovative, flexible and customizable technology that we are seeing exceptional utilization rates, delivering an optimal guest experience, driving meaningful efficiencies, and scaling personal — even traditional — hospitality.
Volara’s software had integrations to more than 40 hotel technologies, including interactive television, room controls, PBX, music, and work order-management. Guests staying at our Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, for example, are controlling lighting, Do Not Disturb/Make up Room settings, and room temperature through Volara’s integration to INNCOM by Honeywell. They are using their voices to control the TV (from changing channels to adjusting the volume) through integration to Sonifi. They are listening to Viceroy curated playlists or asking Alexa to play their preferred music genre via integration to iHeartRadio. Nearly all our guests are using the smart speaker to request hotel service information and amenities (from outlet open/close times, directions, and local area attractions to pillows, toothbrushes, minibar refreshments and more). This is possible due to Volara’s connection to the ALICE Hotel Operations Platform. Having these integrations in place made deployment of this highly successful voice program quick and easy.
Ensuring the highest levels of guest privacy and hotel data security was the final piece to our implementation puzzle. Volara ensures that recordings of guests are never associated with their personally identifiable information. All recordings of guests are deleted within 24 hours — a distinct difference from the management of user recordings in the consumer environment. The company also ensures that any hotel technologies that enhance the voice-based experience are securely integrated (meaning, there is no leakage of hotel proprietary data to Amazon itself).
Although my technical diligence confirmed the solution was secure for guest use, we expected that some of our guests may still be skeptical — so together with the Volara team we implemented a guest education process and trained the hotel staff on how to respond to guests questions.
No Risk, Just Reward
Guests are certainly having fun with the Alexa devices. Feedback on review sites and from post-stay surveys has been positive. While satisfaction scores continue to rise, the measurable cost savings have as well. We are seeing a substantial improvement in delivery time for any guest requests through Alexa and guests are enjoying the added convenience of just saying “Alexa, call the front desk” or “Alexa, call the concierge,” to connect with our staff without having to pick up the phone. The easier we make it to connect with staff, the happier our guests will be and the more often they will return.
We’ve been able to increase hotel revenues, reduce labor costs and streamline operations because the integrated voice platform is giving guests instant access to the information and services that are important to them.
Throughout 2020 we will be deploying smart speakers at all Viceroy hotels as we further optimize how our guests are interacting and engaging by voice command. We are in discussions with Volara to develop a service for meeting planners and social groups to use voice commands to control lighting, start video presentations, order food and beverage, and place additional requests from meeting rooms. We are also brainstorming back-of-house applications to streamline engineering tasks, enable room status changes, and facilitate staff-to-staff communications. Finally, we are researching the viability of interfacing an AI chatbot with Volara to make these voice interactions and experiences more personal for guests and more efficient for operators.
As travel becomes even more data driven, it is foreseeable that a guest could name the qualities they are seeking in an excursion and, based on an algorithm, the smart speaker will recommend more precise detailed recommendations, all with a conversation rather than searching on laptop or mobile. Though guests care about keeping their personal data secure, research shows that many are willing to share proactively if it means a more personalized experience.
The bottom line is this: voice is here to stay. Hoteliers should start to embrace the technology and implement it within their brands immediately if they want to remain competitive. By simply looking at the annual stats, you can see that consumers are using voice daily for everything from search, to information, to room controls within their homes. They love the frictionless experience of voice technologies. Now that the proper enterprise controls and management features are in place, why not bring this technology within the hotel and interface to key hotel systems to enhance the guest experience?
Voice is an extension of a guest-centric experience. It’s the preferred interface for guest and staff interactions. Thankfully, Viceroy Hotels & Resorts partnered with the “Best Voice Activated Tech Product of 2020,” making us better positioned than ever before to boost guest engagement and improve operating efficiencies. It’s 2020 . . . don’t ignore voice; embrace it.
About the Author
Darren Clark is VP of Technology for Viceroy Hotels & Resorts. Darren is a technology specialist who has over 20 years of experience in Hospitality IT and emerging technologies. Throughout his career he has worked in a VP role for established hospitality companies such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Hotels, Andre Balazs Hotels and Standard Hotels International. His career has gained invaluable experience for the luxury, boutique and lifestyle sectors in both the hotel and residential fields.