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Voice interface technology is no longer science fiction.

Sure, we are still a few technological steps away from conversing with our kitchen appliances the way fictional astronaut Dave Bowman talks to Hal-9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nonetheless, today’s counterparts to Kubrick’s 1968 vision are enjoying increasingly widespread adoption.

There’s a good reason for this. The typewriter became the go-to interface for written correspondence about 150 years ago. When the first computers became commercially available, it simply made sense to adapt typewriter technology to these large, bulky devices.

The first computer mouse, patented in 1970, represented another step forward in communicating with machines. But in the 21st century, people carry computers in their pockets – we don’t have room for a computer mouse, and we struggle to type out messages with our thumbs.

Digital assistants like Alexa, Cortana, Google Home, and Siri are quickly removing the barriers that we have created for ourselves by relying on typing and clicking to communicate. In few industries is this more apparent than in hospitality and tourism, where in-room voice interface technology is quickly evolving from pleasant surprise to industry-wide expectation.

With the proliferation of voice-activated skills and the addition of new languages, tourists will increasingly prefer hospitality services that offer voice interface technology – and not just in hotels, but in restaurants, museums, and during travel itself.

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What Voice Interface for Hospitality Looks Like Now

The voice-activated app market is undergoing explosive growth as developers race to offer never-before-seen functionalities in voice format. Consider that in 2010, after two years on the market, the Android app store had less than 20,000 individual apps available – and was considered the fastest-growing store behind Apple.

From 2016 to 2017, Amazon’s Alexa platform produced as many interactive apps, or skills, in less than a year, and experts claimed this growth was slow, giving Google and Apple significant headroom for their own voice-activated app catalogues. People are more comfortable with technology than they were a decade ago, and voice interface technology is well-positioned to do more than simply make keyboards obsolete.

For most people, typing remains a compromise – nothing is more natural than spoken language. Since we don’t need to conform to technological limitations anymore, speech is bound to take its place as the preferred mode of communication between people and machines.

In the hospitality industry, brands like Marriott and the Wynn in Las Vegas are already incorporating voice interface technology for in-room guest services. By hiring digital design and voice experience agencies to create Amazon Alexa skills that apply to their guest rooms and facilities, they are able to give each guest their own personal concierge.

Considering that Marriott is the world’s largest lodging company, with more than 1 million rooms worldwide, its capacity to set consumer expectations in the tourism market cannot be understated.

With the proliferation of voice-activated skills and the addition of new languages, tourists will increasingly prefer hospitality services that offer voice interface technology – and not just in hotels, but in restaurants, museums, and during travel itself.

Compared to developers’ sci-fi aspirations, voice technology is still relatively rudimentary. For instance, a guest in a hotel room equipped with Amazon Alexa can set the temperature, dim the lights, or order room service, but the platform has yet to offer personalised service. It cannot yet sync with a guest’s wake-up alarm to open the drapes and play their favourite song, or let them access their own third-party services – like ordering an Uber, the way a home smart speaker (or human concierge) can.

There is a good reason for this. Marriott installed their first hotel room voice interfaces to resolve their most common service call – guests asking for more pillows. The company only added new functionalities afterwards. By focusing on a single use case at a time, the hotel chain avoids losing direction trying to achieve everything all at once. The best approach is to start small and get things right, one step at a time.

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Planning for the Future – Amazon, Google, Apple, or Microsoft?

For executives in the tourism and hospitality sector, the potential ROI of voice interface technology is too significant to pass up, and brands that fall behind run the risk of being left behind. Canalys expects that 58 million smart speakers will ship in 2018, and the most pressing question for C-suite hospitality and tourism executives is which smart speakers?

Amazon has already carved out a lead for itself starting from the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and this is largely why forward-thinking hotel brands tend to favour Amazon’s Alexa platform. But Google Home already has a head start in Australia, and is slated to become Alexa’s biggest competitor in 2018. Additionally, both Apple and Microsoft are keen on picking up a significant market share.

There are multiple factors to consider from this point of view. For instance, a hotel-based Apple Siri API could let guests perform actions that Amazon Alexa currently cannot – like syncing with a guest’s wake-up alarm or third-party services in the situation described above. Microsoft has promised that Cortana will come to more devices in 2018 but hasn’t divulged many details beyond that.

Most experts point to Google and Amazon’s respective strengths making them the most serious contenders in the voice technology competition. Since their combined market share outclasses both Apple and Microsoft, it would take a game-changing leap forward to change the status quo.

But tourism industry executives that aren’t sure which platform offers the best long-term return on their investment can look to the tech world for inspiration. Faced with the same problem, LG decided to add support for both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa to their latest line of smart TVs.

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Make Deepend/VERSA Your Hospitality Voice Interface Developer

In today’s market environment, the question is no longer if tourism and hospitality sector businesses need to incorporate voice interface technology, but which developer can offer the most comprehensive solutions.

VERSA is the result of a key partnership between creative communication innovators at Deepend and voice experience (VX) specialists at RAIN, known among other things as the creators of the Marriott’s voice interface solution described above. As the first enterprise-level voice experience agency in Australia, VERSA has the expertise and resources you need to offer conversational solutions with human-oriented design to guests in the tourism and hospitality industry.

The time to enter the voice interface technology space is now. Our team of speech coders, user-experience experts, and conversational strategists is ready to implement next-generation voice capabilities in your hospitality service. Talk to one of our specialists today and find out how.

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Chris Crammond

Managing Partner

P: 02 8917 7900

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