Voice Activation and Its Impact on Hotels

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April 17, 2019
Voice Technology
Ted Horner - Ted@hornertech.com.au

At HITEC 2018, I moderated a panel on voice technology and the consensus from the panel was that we are 12 to 18 months away from adoption. However, I am now of the opinion that voice technology, either Amazon Alexa, Google Assist or maybe even IBM Watson, is ready for the hotel industry. The early concerns about this voice technology centered around three items: Protecting guest privacy in the face of a live microphone, securely integrating existing technologies while protecting proprietary data assets, and improving the accuracy of speech recognition rates. Many of these issues have been addressed by the main suppliers and as a result led to an upsurge in interest in this AI-based technology. 

At the time of writing this article, there were more than 50 million voice devices in U.S. homes with the market dominated by Amazon (reputed to have 75 percent market share) and Google with Mini Hub.
 
By 2022, 55 percent of all U.S. homes will have at least one voice device with estimates of more than 170 million devices installed. 
 
There are now close to 100 hotels in the U.S. with some form of voice technology installed, and this number is rapidly growing.
 
There are more than 1,000 positive reviews on Trip Advisor from guests staying at hotels with voice technology. 
 
In a recent survey of hotel technology investments in 2019, 33 percent of those surveyed stated that they were going to invest in voice technology in the next 12 months.  
 
In order to determine if the technology actually works, I stayed at the Motif Hotel in Seattle (event hotel for the CIO Summit 2018) and during my stay interviewed hotel management. The Motif is the largest independent hotel in Seattle. The hotel installed Volara in August 2018, and this deployment was the largest to date in a single property with all 319 guestrooms equipped with a voice-powered Amazon Alexa.
 
The Motif wanted guests to receive information or services as quickly and efficiently as possible. Guests can ask for various amenities and Motif specific information such as the Wi-Fi password or hours of operations for hotel gyms, restaurants and bars, as well as request local recommendations for the best places to dine, shop, listen to music, grab a cocktail. One of Motif’s goals was to provide guests an easy way to explore all that the Emerald City has to offer, including its extensive arts and culture scene. 
 
Over the first four to five months after installation, guests have enjoyed using the voice services. The most used benefits have been guests asking for directions to local spots or even recommendations for where to go to dinner. Also high on the list of requests are amenities for the room such as a hair dryer or extra towels. Early adoption has been successful. 
 
The Motif found that approximately 33 percent of guest requests are coming from Alexa, which is integrated with Amadeus HotSOS, and 7 percent of guests are using Alexa to control the in-room TV, which is integrated with Sonifi. The Motif has seen an increase of feedback and positive guest reviews in the past couple of months. As people are becoming more comfortable using voice recognition devices in everyday life, guests are using it more in the hotel room. There are guests who decide to mute or unplug the device, but the hotel has not had anyone ask to have the device removed from a guestroom. Motif GM Steve Sasso said, “(Our solution partner) understands 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.”
 
Another hotel that is entering the voice technology space is Dream Hotel in NYC. Dream Hotel is among the first hotels in the world to go live with a new voice solution: a fully integrated hospitality-grade deployment of Google’s live translation technology covering dozens of languages. (Latest version of Google Assistant was launched at CES and now claims to cover 70 languages.) 
 
The new technology is expected to greatly improve the quality of interactions between hotel staff and guests from around the world, resulting in better communications and high-value guest service. By simply saying, for example: “Hey Google, be my Chinese interpreter,” guests will be able to experience a simultaneous real-time translation that supports their needs.
 
Complementing this translation functionality is software that enables Dream Downtown guests to ask the Google Assistant for hotel information, concierge recommendations or services – each resulting in seamless, personal and powerfully curated responses from the hotel.
 
By adding two fully integrated Google Hubs running Google Assistant Interpreter at guest check-in and the concierge desk, Dream Hotel Group aims to deliver a frictionless experience for its guests from around the world, no matter what language they speak.
 
A second vendor entering the space is Angie Hospitality who has a touchscreen and voice system. 
 
According to Angie CEO Ted Helvey, “With the broad adoption of voice in the consumer market, providing these services during a hotel stay is becoming an expectation. However, guests also need privacy options that allow them to interact in the way they are most comfortable.”
 
Hotels need a voice solution that is more than a gimmick and offers genuine guest service in a way that is natural. The Angie device provides the option to disable voice command and still have access to all capabilities via the touchscreen interface. 

CEO and Founder of Volara Dave Berger said,“Voice technologies are enabling hotels to scale personalized guest service at a time when service on demand is the expectation. On command is the new on demand.”

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