AWS Travel and Hospitality Partner Conversations: Volara
David Berger, CEO of Volara joins Florian Tinnus, Partner Leader for AWS Travel and Hospitality, for a broad-ranging discussion around how AWS Partners are helping customers build resilience and prepare for what’s next in travel and hospitality.
During this unprecedented time for the industry, we have been inspired by the innovations that have been born out of disruption and will impact and improve the way we fly, eat, stay, and experience our world for years to come. Now more than ever, AWS wants to help customers succeed by connecting them to AWS Partners with deep AWS technical expertise and proven customer success to help travel and hospitality organizations build a resilient business and accelerate innovation. That’s why we’re honored to have Volara as a launch member of the brand-new AWS Travel and Hospitality Partner Competency.
Florian Tinnus: Describe your company, the types of travel and hospitality work you do, and key travel and hospitality clients.
David Berger: Volara provides software and services that turn the leading voice assistant solutions, like Amazon Alexa, into a business tool for hotels such as Marriott International, Viceroy Hotel Group, Delaware North, Pebblebrook Hospitality, and others.
Without being required to touch a thing, the guest can request an item (“Alexa, bring up a bottle of champagne”), schedule a service (“Alexa, bring my car around front”), seek recommendations (“Alexa, where I can get a good steak?”), access a hotel amenity (“Alexa, how do I connect to the Wi-Fi?”) or control their guest room environment (“Alexa, turn down the temperature”).
Our seamless integrations hub voice-enables 40+ hotel technologies (like Task Management Solutions, Energy Management and Room Controls, Interactive Television Solutions, SMS Guest Engagement, Staff Alert Technologies, and more). So, if a guest is resting in bed, they can say “Alexa, turn off the lights” or “Alexa, turn on ESPN.”
Our highly secure privacy-centric technology overlays atop the leading natural language processing platforms to streamline all guest communication and give visitors a contactless connection to hotel staff and services. This compliance-critical security layer ensures that guests’ privacy is protected, and proprietary hotel data is secure.
FT: Many companies across travel and hospitality have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced during this recent period and how have you helped clients manage through them?
DB: The needs of our customers have changed. Travelers are now demanding a contactless hotel experience that limits their exposure to hotel staff and other guests. No matter how clean a hotel is, travelers want assurances that they will be safe, especially since COVID-19 is an invisible threat. One powerful way for operators to truly provide a contactless experience is with voice technology. Volara is doing its part to mitigate the impact of this disruptive pandemic and help hoteliers meet the challenge of putting heads back in their beds safely by providing the tailored on-command and hands-free experience that travelers are expecting in their hotel rooms.
Volara is making it commonplace for guests to ask Alexa to call the front desk or room service, play music, watch shows, bring toiletries, book services, turn on/off TVs, set alarms, and more without ever lifting a finger – and certainly without touching the germ-infested remote control, putting the guestroom telephone up to their lips, or being forced into a face-to-face encounter with staff.
FT: It’s been an incredibly difficult time for travel and hospitality companies, but we’ve seen many companies investing for the long run. With all the uncertainty, why has your company chosen to invest in travel and hospitality at this time?
DB: It’s exciting to build technology that solves large problems for large industries. Volara is the only provider of voice-based solutions to the hospitality industry with the Alexa for Business Service Delivery Designation from Amazon, was a launch partner for Alexa for Hospitality, and it was among the first AWS Partners to achieve AWS Travel and Hospitality Competency status. While the pandemic has totally disrupted the travel and hotel industries, we are in this industry for the long haul and are excited to be part of what will enable its comeback. Hoteliers are now delivering cleaner, safer, and more engaging stay experiences, and a growing proportion of those personalized engagements are voice enabled and powered by Volara.
We are continuously innovating to help our clients address, even drive, toward their business goals. Our technology enables personal responses per guest based on a data-driven understanding of that guests’ interests and needs. Volara has brought new layers of guest privacy protections and data security to voice interfaces like Amazon Alexa. This is of paramount importance to all hoteliers and the industry, which is why Volara is often thought of as a data security company first and a voice-technology solution second.
FT: In the face of the current disruption to the travel and hospitality industry, we’ve observed incredible innovations coming from across the industry. How has your company innovated through these challenging times on behalf of your customers and what are you most proud of?
DB: Volara has been leveraging this time of disruption to expand its integration partnerships and further extend its client hotels’ contactless guest engagement and touchless room control offerings. Most of the hoteliers I’ve spoken with have embarked on a decluttering campaign to remove any needless equipment or collateral from rooms. Alexa, when powered by Volara, is already replacing the bedside clock, printed guest directory, and Bluetooth speaker. Soon, I expect it will also displace the telephone. Alexa is a sure-fire way to give today’s trepidatious travelers the confidence they need to relax and truly enjoy their stay experiences knowing every request can be met just by speaking in their guestrooms.
FT: The travel and hospitality industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward recovery, what role does technology play for your company moving forward? How do you see technology enhancing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency?
DB: To fully understand where technology is headed in hospitality, we need to look at Millennials. This is the largest generation to date, making up 31.5% of the population at 7.7 billion people. This generation has an estimated $200 billion of spending power, making them an ideal demographic for travel companies. Millennials are an on-demand generation. They want what they want when they want it, and they expect technology will help them meet their needs, wants, and desires instantly. This group is changing the face of the hospitality industry, as they expect hoteliers to cater just to their own, diverse, and very specific needs.
According to an October 2020 report, Millennials will lead the voice commerce revolution. They are the first generation of consumers to have grown up with connected devices and are habituated to using them. With an average income of $95,000 a year and owning 5.6 connected devices on average, hoteliers would be remiss not to invest in technology that engages this group. That said, it’s not just Millennials that engage with Volara in guestrooms; all guests are using the solutions to keep safe from the pandemic, reduce frustration along the travel journey and improve their overall stay quality.
FT: How does building on AWS allow you to prepare for whatever the “new normal” in travel and hospitality will look like? How does the new AWS Travel and Hospitality Partner Competency help companies do the same?
DB: AWS provides the foundation for our technology. It enables us to be nimble, move quickly to meet our clients’ needs, and pay only for what we use. As we’ve been growing rapidly over recent years, we’ve been able to stay focused on providing great technology and service to our clients, without having to worry about infrastructure thanks to AWS.
FT: What makes you excited for the future of travel and hospitality? As a traveler or guest, where are you looking forward to visiting next?
DB: What excites me most about the future of travel and hospitality is the unlimited possibilities that technology brings. Today, anything I want, I can have by just asking Alexa for it. I can’t tell you how many times my five-year-old has said “Daddy, just ask Alexa!” while traveling. Whether it was where to go for dinner or how far to the nearest playground, she already knew that Alexa held all the answers. When traveling on business, my lodging choices are far different than when I travel with my wife and kids. Hopefully, in the not-to-distant future, as travel resumes, I’m eager to take my kids to Disney World, Legoland, Great Wolf Lodge, and other family-oriented destinations. The only thing certain for the Berger family is that the hotel must have Alexa to help us plan our day and perfect our stay.
David Berger is the Founder and CEO of Volara – the voice hub for the hotel industry. He was the first to conceive of, develop, and deliver a viable hotel voice assistant. His insight into the challenges and opportunities presented by voice assistants in hotels is unmatched. Berger is a serial entrepreneur, early Bitcoiner, global executive, and recovering lawyer. He is a graduate of Emory University and the NYU School of Law. Berger lives in Connecticut with his wife and two daughters.
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