Volara, the creator of a hotel concierge service powered by AWS’ Alexa for Business, today announced it has extended calling capabilities to hotel guests.
Though Alexa for Business could already initiate video conference calls, more traditional phone calls were not available before today, Volara cofounder and CEO Dave Berger told VentureBeat in an email.
A hotel guest can now say “Alexa, call the concierge” or make calls to mobile or landlines phone numbers in the United States, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat. A trial of phone calls with Alexa for Business is currently taking place at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess hotel in Arizona.
Joining names like Salesforce, Vonage, and Zoom, Volara is one of roughly 20 initial Alexa for Business software or service providers Amazon CTO Werner Vogels announced at AWS Re:Invent last fall, and it’s the only one dedicated to services for the hospitality sector. When paired with Alexa for Business, Volara acts as a virtual concierge and hotel assistant, able to answer questions and requests from hotel guests that in the past often involved picking up a hotel phone.
Alexa-enabled devices at large hotel chains started with Wynn Hotels in 2016, and the world’s largest hotel chains were considering them over the past year. Calls with Echo speakers powered by Alexa for Business could greatly reduce the need for phones in hotel rooms.
“Volara is going to replace the antiquated landline telephone that you find on every bedside table across the globe in hotels,” Berger said.
In addition to the need for privacy that sometimes makes a phone handset preferable to a speaker, phones are likely to remain in hotel rooms for some time since assistants like Alexa are not yet able to make emergency 911 phone calls.
Calls with Alexa-enabled devices were first introduced with the debut of Alexa for Business in November 2017.
Alexa for Business was made for conference rooms and desks in the workplace, but it’s also a good fit for hotels because it gives management the control needed to deploy smart speakers to many hotel guests.
“Alexa for Business allows management of the devices for the enterprise, so the ability to assign devices to rooms, the ability to turn the volume down if someone is playing their music too loud, the ability to clear and wipe the devices at checkout — all those kinds of enterprise management features are unique to the Alexa for Business platform,” Berger said.
It’s also important for user privacy.
“If we just set up a device with the Alexa app and put it in a hotel room, that Alexa app is going to get recordings of every guest, which is a huge invasion of privacy. So with Alexa for Business we don’t get those recordings,” he said.
Volara isn’t the first hotel concierge service available with Amazon’s Alexa, but it may be the first professional option. Roughly 18 months old, Volara is now available in 35 hotels across the United States with brands like Fairmont Hotels and Marriott.
In addition to the sorts of things you would expect an Echo speaker to do, like give weather updates, play games, or control smart devices in your room, Volara connects with backend systems typically used at hotels.
An integration with Amadeus HotSOS creates tickets for the incident management system each time a guest asks for something like towels or room service. Connection with SMS systems allows Volara to connect guests with a human concierge to receive custom messages. A ReactMobile integration gives housekeepers the ability to voice-activate a call for security if they feel threatened or in danger.
Volara can also be used to create custom greetings that welcome a guest by name when they enter their room, or, if you’re in town for a wedding or conference, the bride and groom or hotel general manager can record VIP greetings.
Since the launch of Volara last year, the service has been used in hotels for a total of 500,000 occupied room nights.
“On average we’re seeing 700 opportunities to influence how guests spend their time and money per 1,000 occupied room nights,” Berger said.
Each interaction, Berger said, can be an opportunity to share pertinent information or make a sale. Ask for towels, for example, and you may hear “If you’re using those towels for the pool, grab a margarita at the pool bar.”
Putting Alexa in rooms also gives hotels a chance to survey occupant satisfaction at check-in and check-out, an option that gives hotel staff a chance to address concerns or right wrongs before someone goes home and writes a negative review.
Berger said Alexa for Business is the best choice available for Volara’s hotel concierge today, but he describes his company as platform agnostic and said they’re experimenting with expansion to smart speakers from Alibaba and Google.