Market Spotlight: Hotels Offer a Room for Voice Assistants

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As travel slowly starts to return following COVID-19 lockdowns, guests have far higher expectations of safety and comfort, so hotels today need to place a strong emphasis on cleanliness without creating a sterile, unwelcoming environment. For many, speech-enabled in-room virtual assistants are the answer.

Voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Samsung’s Bixby are among the most prolific technologies in the home today. For travel and tourism companies, it makes perfect sense to embrace these new technologies as well. In fact, a recent survey by Hotel Technology News found that 49 percent of hotel guests say their hotel selection is influenced by high-tech features like in-room voice assistants.

Through the use of voice-controlled smart hubs in hotel rooms, guests can more easily adjust the room to their unique preferences, setting the heating, air conditioning, lighting, and other features, and control devices, such as televisions, door locks, and alarms, from anywhere in the room.

The in-room assistants are also proving to be valuable sources of information. In the past, hotel guests had to rely on the front desks or the concierge for information, like the number for a taxi, directions to a nearby attraction, or the hours when the spa is open. With in-room assistants, that information is readily available simply by asking a question, without guests ever leaving their rooms.

These in-room assistants also allow guests to schedule wakeup calls, order room service, request more towels or pillows, book golf tee times at nearby courses, or check out at the end of their stays.

“Voice technology is becoming a critical component of the future guest experience, and with home assistants a normal part of life for many consumers, now is the time for hoteliers to leverage that convenience to drive satisfaction and revenue for their properties,” said Robert Stevenson, CEO of Intelity, providers of a guest experience platform for the hospitality industry, in a statement.

Intelity recently partnered with Volara, a provider of custom voice-based hospitality solutions, to create just such an experience, allowing guests to use voice to ask about hotel services and request information about the local area, weather, and events; adjust room temperature and lighting; connect with staff; or request service with simple voice commands.

“With Volara serving as the primary voice component of the Intelity platform, we’re enabling travelers to get whatever they need, whenever they need it, during their stays,” said David Berger, Volara’s CEO, in a statement.

The technology behind these capabilities is not new. It has seen limited use in a number of high-end hotels for about five years. As early as 2016, Marriott’s Aloft chain offered Apple tablets equipped with the Siri virtual assistant in its rooms, and Wynn Resorts Las Vegas equipped 4,000 rooms with Amazon Echo smart speakers.

Two years later, Amazon launched Alexa for Hospitality, developed as an in-room smart technology hub. Marriott’s Charlotte Marriott City Centre in North Carolina was the first location to roll out the technology.

But the technology was far from mainstream in the hotel industry That is now starting to change. Seventy-nine percent of hoteliers reported voice-enabled technology investment plans this year, according to a survey by Hospitality Net, which also found that 30 percent of all service requests at voice-enabled hotels are being made through the in-room voice assistants.

That’s good news for companies like Nomadix, which have staked a huge claim on the hotel voice assistant market.

Nomadix recently acquired Angie Hospitality, a provider of voice-activated and contactless technology for hotels, and has since added Angie’s in-room voice assistants and its mobile app to the Nomadix product portfolio.

“Voice technology plays a key role in the contactless digital concierge strategy that hotels are implementing to address safety concerns and staff shortages, all while still offering a personalized guest experience,” said Ted Helvey, chairman and CEO of Nomadix, in a statement at the time.

The Bayfront Marin House in St. Augustine, Fla., was one of the first hotels to deploy the Nomadix-Angie Hospitality product as part of its Safe Stay program.

Bayfront Marin House’s Safe Stay program is designed to ensure proper cleaning protocols and social distancing. Angie in-room assistants help answer questions about the surrounding area, the property itself, and hotel amenities. Guests can request additional towels, water, room service, and anything to make their stays more comfortable, all through the virtual, voice-enabled assistants.

“You can’t relax unless you truly feel safe. We looked at all of our processes, from food service to room cleanliness to the in-room experience, to create a program that prioritizes safety when visiting our property,” said Sandy Wieber, owner of Bayfront Marin House, in a statement. “By offering Angie in-room assistants, we eliminate dozens of touchpoints each day without sacrificing our welcoming atmosphere or personalized service.”

Nomadix took the in-room voice concept a step further when it partnered this past summer with 360 Networks, makers of the hospitality communications platform ComXchange, to equip hotels with Angie in-room voice assistants and an upgraded phone alternative powered by the ComXchange PBX.

“Safety and contactless engagement are important factors to make guests feel safe as travel returns. This partnership will allow thousands of ComXchange’s existing hotel installations to add a contactless digital assistant with a simple per-room add-on to their monthly service fees,” said Speleos Dravillas, chief revenue officer of Nomadix, in a statement.

Not to be outdone, Google has also teamed with some hotels in the United States to provide Google Nest Hubs in rooms so guests can make service requests, confirm local restaurant and shop hours, request property information, get weather reports or information about local attractions, control the lights or blinds in their rooms, schedule wake-up calls, or ask for extra towels. Some hotels will even offer fast check-out through the Google Assistant.

Among the properties that were among the first to deploy the Google technology were Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Dr. Wilkinson’s Resort in Calistoga, Calif.; Gale and Shelborne South Beach in Miami; Hotel Zena and Viceroy D.C. in Washington; and Gansevoort Meatpacking and Synergy Chelsea in New York.

While use of voice assistants is clearly on the rise, for those in the travel industry looking to adopt voice control, maintaining the privacy of customers is a top challenge. After all, most voice-controlled devices are designed to constantly listen for the wake-up command, and some even store interactions for future use.

Most vendors of the technology, though, assure consumers that they have little to worry about. Alexa for Hospitality, for example, automatically deletes interactions once per day, and hotel owners can remotely clear devices too. Google Nest Hub has no camera and requires no sign-in, the microphone can be turned on and off, and no audio is ever stored.

For hotels and guests that are still concerned, a viable option might be to allow guests to opt out of voice control options entirely if they prefer.

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