Hospitality, Innovation, and Alexa: A Chat with Volara’s David Berger
In January 2016, entrepreneur David Berger was getting badgered with questions by a guest staying at one of his Airbnb apartments. Frustrated, he told a colleague that Amazon Alexa, the virtual assistant that had been launched over a year prior, should be the one answering his guests’ questions on voice command. The idea stayed with Berger, and after some initial research and development, he developed his first such product — named Volara – and installed it in his own apartment. His guests loved the experience of engaging with his solution. “They got what they wanted more efficiently, and they were bothering me a whole lot less,” says Berger. “It was then that I realized I had a business that could provide a demonstrable ROI.”
Today, Volara – led by Berger as its CEO and Founder – is building voice interfaces for leading hotel technologies, while providing hotels the software to manage conversations with their guests at scale. Volara is also the Official and Exclusive Partner of Marriott for pilots of voice technologies. We recently spoke to him about how his company innovates, what trends he’s seeing in the hospitality industry, and why he considers Volara a security company first.
Give us the elevator pitch for what your company does.
Volara, the voice hub for the hotel industry, is providing real time conversation management and secure integrations atop Amazon Alexa for the hotel industry. We’ve turned Alexa into a business tool for hoteliers. Our goal is to manage Alexa devices in every hotel across the globe, breathing new efficiencies in hotel service and delighting guests at every turn. Recently, we surpassed 10,000 devices under management, developed 40 powerful technology integrations, and established partnerships with the largest hotel brands in the world, including Marriott International, Viceroy Hotels & Resorts, Two Roads Hospitality (now part of Hyatt) and Melia Hotels.
What trends are you seeing in your industry?
Guest expectations are continuously increasing and hoteliers are being asked to do more with less. Voice technologies like Amazon’s Alexa enable hoteliers to serve guests more efficiently driving new revenues for the hotel and building loyalty with travelers. Recent usage data tells the story: 82 percent of weekend guests and 60 percent staying on weekdays are engaging with Volara’s voice assistant solution. If a guest engages once, he or she is likely to engage eight more times during that night. On our client’s properties , thirty percent of all guest requests for items and services are now being made available through Volara-powered Amazon Alexa devices.
How do you collaborate with your customers?
The better we understand our customers’ business objectives, the better we can tailor our technology solutions to achieve those objectives. For example, in collaboration with the Motif Hotel Seattle, Volara built a staff-facing set of interactions that enable hotel staff to do their jobs more efficiently. In collaboration with the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, we enabled live interactions between top tier guests and the professionals at the hotel who serve them. In collaboration with the Westin Buffalo, we brought guests personal music playlists to the guestroom further differentiating service that this hotel offers. Building atop the AWS platform has given Volara the stability and ease of management that is required in today’s fast-moving technology landscape.
What AWS services are you using and what benefit are those services providing to you?
Volara leverages a host of AWS Services, including hosting and fleet management APIs that enable precise control over Alexa devices within our management.
What’s one unique thing that most people don’t know about what your company does?
I often describe Volara as a security company first and a voice solutions provider second because our technology provides the enterprise-grade software that establishes the guest privacy protections and data security that the largest hotel enterprises in the world require. Volara ensures that recordings of guests are never associated with their personally identifiable information. It ensures that all recordings of guests are deleted within 24 hours – a distinct difference from the management of user recordings in the consumer environment. It also ensures that any hotel technologies that enhance the voice-based experience are securely integrated, that is, there is no leakage of hotel proprietary data.
What do you wish you knew when you were starting your company?
Creating a new category of technology (particularly in the hotel enterprise) requires an education cycle that is different from consumer technologies. It takes time and elbow grease, but the reward –being recognized as a business-critical partner for the largest hotel enterprises in the world – is worth the effort.