From Skeptic to Believer: My First Time Experiencing an In-Room Voice Assistant Solution

Image of Amazon Echo in a guestroom. Source: Amazon

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the impact that voice assistants in guestrooms is having on guest engagement and the overall stay experience. Most hoteliers are excited about the potential; those who are not, most likely (and erroneously), launched trials using consumer-grade devices without an overlay of hospitality technology to secure hotel data, protect guest privacy, and curate the overall experience. From all indications, deployment of voice-on-command devices is on the rise at hotels with no signs of slowing.

I’ll admit to being initially skeptical of the value, but I wanted to give one of these solutions a try. So during a visit to United States in early 2019, I hopped on a plane to Seattle where a number of hotels have already brought this technology into their guest rooms. I booked a night at the Motif Seattle -- which I learned had a voice assistant solution in every guest room -- and asked to meet with General Manager Steve Sasso. 

Upon check in, the front desk agent informed me that the device would be in my room and shared a few ideas for things to try. When I first entered my room, I barked some commands and – despite my  Australian accent –  it worked! I fired off some requests and was truly impressed by the immediacy and accuracy of the responses. Quickly I let my skepticism wain and began having a lot  of fun talking to this device  in my room. Now I was very eager to speak with the GM to understand the view of the hotel management and the feedback from guests. We were scheduled to meet the next morning. Exhausted from my travels, I set an alarm -- by voice command -- and went to sleep for the night to some white noise from the voice assistant.

The next morning, I met up with Mr. Sasso and peppered him with questions. I learned that hotel specific conversation management software and a separate integrations hub is a critical component of any deployment of voice assistants, something the popular consumer voice assistants don’t have out of the box. This is why some in our industry have had a negative experience; they just haven’t had the purpose-built tools to make the voice assistant successful in the hotel environment. To date, most  successful deployments of voice assistants in guest rooms are  using a software known as Volara – which positions itself as the voice hub for the hotel industry. It offers a full-service solution for hotels, but the central and differentiated value that has made Volara successful is its software and secure integrations. I do not believe that anyone else that I’ve encountered has built an underlying technology that can power whichever voice assistant - e.g., Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IBM Watson,

Seattle is a city with innovation at its core. Many technology leaders of today call this city home, just as they consistently serve the world with fresh new concepts. Motif Hotel welcomes guests from far and wide with the ultimate in care and consideration, elevating what hospitality can be. As such, Mr. Sasso told me it was important that the hotel feature the latest in in-room technologies, including Amazon Alexa powered by Volara. Motif installed the voice assistants in August 2018 and all 319 rooms are equipped.  It’s a nice marriage between Amazon and Volara - i.e., Amazon provides the hardware and natural language understanding and Volara turns the Amazon product into a compliant business tool for the hotel. Amazon handles the silly things Alexa is known for - like telling jokes and making snarky comments - quite well (even with my accent), while Volara enables the hotel specific queries like “Alexa, send up a dental kit” which at the Motif they integrate into Amadeus’s Service Optimizations Solution or “Alexa, turn the TV to ESPN” which at the Motif they integrate into Sonifi’s IPTV solution.

“Volara has been a great partner in helping us bring voice technology to our guests in a quick yet strategic and pragmatic manner that enables us to integrate existing technology and benefit from Volara’s security protections and accuracy engine. They understand the value of balancing the new benefits from voice technology engagement with delivering the best possible guest experience moment by moment that is unique and tailored. We feel that this helps to differentiate Motif from other hotels.”
Steve Sasso, General Manager, Motif Hotel Seattle

When Motif first launched the voice assistants, guests were using them primarily to request fresh towels or get answers to questions without having to dial the front desk. Today, Mr. Sasso said guest engagement has grown, and users are asking Volara for information and amenities relevant to the hotel, such as the WiFi password and hours of operations for the hotel’s gym, restaurant and bar. They are requesting local recommendations for the best places to dine and shop, listen to music, or grab a cocktail, and they are controlling the TV and calling the front desk with simple voice commands. He said he deems the program a success because guests are taking advantage of all that the system has to offer, including receiving information and services they request as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Early adoption has been successful; 33% of guest requests are coming from Alexa and being routed directly into Amadeus’s Service Optimization Solution for delivery by staff. More than  70% of guests are using the solution - a number that dwarfs telephone use and threatens the TV for prominence in the guest room.

The Motif GM said he’s seen more positive guest reviews - both online and in post stay surveys - since adding the solution. As millions more people have brought Alexa into their home in just the 18 months or so since the Motif deployed the solution, he believes his guests are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology and value its utility during their stay at his hotel.

In addition to being easy for guests to use, Mr. Sasso said installing the solution was quick and hassle-free. Even hotel staff are engaging with Volara, from room attendants and bell captains to engineers and guest services managers. Requests from guests and staff alike are easily made and completed through Volara’s integration into Amadeus’s Service Optimization Solution. Although guests don’t see what’s happening on the back end, he said Volara is streamlining operations and service delivery ultimately leading to a more personalized and positive stay experience.

About Ted Horner

Ted Horner is president of E Horner & Associates, a Sydney-based consulting practice specializing in technology consulting to the hospitality industry. Horner is widely respected as Australia's leading consultant in this area. In 2004 he was the first person outside of the USA to be elected to HITEC technology hall of fame  He is a founding member of Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) where he serves as an Executive Advisor and has previously served on the International Board of Directors of Hotel Technology Financial Professionals (HFTP). Contact [email protected].

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