Testing voice assistants in hospitality

We wanted to see if people would use voice when away from their home or work environment. If you don't want to read all this, they did :)

How voice is changing the hospitality industry

Voice has been making a big impact in households. 72% of people who own voice-activated speakers say that it now forms part of their daily routines. 43% say that it is quicker than going to a website or using an app. It’s no wonder that voice assistants are making their way into businesses. This is something that we have been thinking about for a while now. As we are based in Bournemouth on the south coast, hospitality is key to the economy. Hotels play a big part in the town, we know testing here would give us great insight as such a holiday destination.

We had no trouble in deciding who to work with. Urban Beach, which is part of the Urban Guild Group is an award-winning boutique hotel in Boscombe, Bournemouth. Like all hotels Urban Beach want to provide a unique experience, which they already do with their warm welcomes, giant hugs and exceptional service but what could tech add to the equation?


Our experiment with Bournemouth based Urban Beach Hotel

After speaking with Mark Cribb, Managing Director and Matthew Lawrence, Group Marketing Manager & Head of Shouting about our thoughts, it was clear to see that they were keen to experiment and try something different. They wanted to experiment by putting voice assistants in a couple of their hotel rooms. Our first experiment would be run during May half term. Two rooms were chosen, and the decision was made to put a Google Mini Home in one and an Amazon Echo Dot in the other. By selection both Google and Amazon devices we were able to get insight into how people use these different devices and with these two companies controlling 94% of the smart speaker market throughout the USA and UK.

As the guests arrived they were told about the trial and had the option to not be part of it (no one declined). They were then given some suggestions on what they could ask the device to get them started.

We had 9 check-ins in total, 4 in the Amazon Echo Dot room and 5 in the Google Home Mini room. From the infographic below, you can see that there were 87 interactions with the Amazon Echo and 244 interactions with the Google Home Mini. Although the number of interactions were quite different they each had similar requests.

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Alexa for Hospitality

Just two weeks after completing our experiment at Urban Beach Amazon announced a Hospitality version of the company’s voice assistant in June, it was being distributed on an invitation basis only. The initial rollout was in the US, Amazon partnered with Marriot International.

The experiences are customised/tailored to each location to do things such as:

  • Order room service
  • Request housekeeping
  • Adjust room controls such as thermostat, blinds, lights etc
  • Location-specific questions such as open and closing times for pool, fitness centre, bar or where to find the hotels facilities

Amazon has put all the right things in place to reassure guests who may be nervous about having an Echo in their room:

  • The Alexa commands requested are deleted daily
  • Hotels do not have access to the recordings of the interactions or the responses that Alexa gives
  • Hotels can only use analytical data within Alexa for Hospitality to measure engagement
  • Hotels can also customise the deployment such as choosing default music stations from iHeartRadio. Custom skills can also be connected to Echo devices, an example from Marriott is offering the TED talks skill for guests.

From the hoteliers point of view, Amazon claims the system will also integrate with existing hotel technology such as Digivalet, Intelity, Nuvola and Volara. Allowing guests to order wine, book spa appointments without staff having to heavily manage another third-party system. When it was released back in June, Amazon announces that "soon" guests will be able to link their Amazon account temporarily for their stay, they can then have access to all their subscriptions. On check-out, the guests' account would automatically be disconnected.

With this release and the planned feature release, this will be a real game-changer for the Hospitality industry. Hotels key services could be bookable 24 hours a day without guests having to leave their room or pick up the phone to wait for reception staff to be available to make their booking or reservation.

With the result from Amazon's trials of Alexa for Hospitality, 90% of guests used the in-room Alexa and rated it either good or excellent service. 70% would choose Alexa-enabled rooms in the future if it was available.


What’s Next

With the results from our experiment with Urban Beach a second experiment should be carried out, this time we would look to offer customised information to guests on services offered by the hotel and review if the usage and requests change from the guests. This is not something that will replace the service offered by the Urban Guild group hotel, it will enhance the experience and go hand in hand with the personal approach Urban Beach delivers to each guest.

Hotels are adding voice devices to rooms

A £35 speaker has become such a cost-effective way to create a connected hotel room, providing local information, access to hotel-based services and provide local information all with the ease of your voice.

Reducing workload on staff

While the housekeeping team are doing turndown service or cleaning the room after a stay, as they do their job, they can verbally request repairs to come and fix the TV or request a refresh of the mini bar. All things to help them in their jobs as turnaround time can be so short.

SEO is still king

The exponential adoption of voice has meant that platforms such as Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Echo and Google Home must provide information. Facts are provided from sites such as Wikipedia but if you are searching for a hotel in Bournemouth these platforms for the moment must use the same source as we have on mobile and web which is search engines. Cortana and Alexa use Bing and Google Home well google, therefore ensuring your listing data is up to date and access both these search platforms is imperative to get listed in voice today.

Your local tour guide

When arriving in a new location or somewhere that isn't your native tongue, being able to conversate in your room and get local information by speaking to your room assistant will start to create an immersive experience and get guests more comfortable with their surroundings to feel freer to explore and purchase.

Passive holiday booking

The platforms we use with voice will use that data to map our searching and buying journey, if we ask about the weather in the alps and then do a search on Airbnb for villas in February. A context is being built up, and voice will add visibility to the micro-movements our decisions are processing towards purchasing.

More engaging advertising

As voice searching becomes more and more passive, our desire to want to discover new things will be driven by emotional advertisement. When a heartwarming advert is shown to you on TV or youtube, you think about it, but you don't want to navigate away from your video if on mobile. Though if you see a great ad on TV about Dubrovnik, all you will have to do is speak to your voice-enabled device "Tell me more about Dubrovnik".

Concierge that understands your needs

Nobody wants to call reception at 2 am when at a hotel, and soon you won't have to, voice-enabled hotel rooms will be able to assist in the middle of the night. The example of voice-enabled concierge is always given for smart speakers but what will change things is a personalised concierge. When you arrive at a hotel room you can transport your personality either through your own voice device or account linking, meaning that when you work in a location or room you have never been before you can ask for something to do that evening and get activities you will enjoy, somewhere to eat, your fave restaurant styles. This has to happen because with voice you are limited to verbal options that context of the person talking is needed to give you the maximum of 3 options of where to go.

Personal customer service

With all these commoditised tasks being utilised by technology, the role of staff will be to delight the guest experience. The concierge who can listen to a guest's stories and provide their expert knowledge to the hidden gems beyond 'How do you get tickets for Hamilton Musical?'. The reception staff who can now engage with the children of a family checking in provides a memorial experience for the guests.


What will you expect from your next hotel stay?