Virtual Concierge Service Wins VRMA Battleground Conference, Indicates Growth of Niche Market for Voice
Virtual Concierge Service (VCS) is an Amazon Alexa skill and Google Action that provides services for vacation rentals. At the Vacation Rental Management Association International Conference 2018, Virtual Concierge won as VRMA Innovator of the Year. Services offered include information about local shopping, food, and attraction recommendations. Here are some other examples of services:
- A personalized welcome for guests
- Check in & check out information
- instructions for connecting to the internet
- Group games available with Alexa
- How to use Alexa to help guests sleep better
- Who to contact in an emergency
- Telephone, climate control, and lighting info
- A group orientation when guests arrive
- How to use the dishwasher and laundry appliances
- Instructions for dealing with garbage & recycling
- How to use the sounds system and TV
- History of the residence and area
- Description of smart home capabilities available to guests
The event was put on by Focuswright. Five startups were selected to participate, based on their ability to shape the future for vacation rental managers. Keesy, Futurestay, GuestForce, Virtual Concierge Service, and Luggage Hero were the five finalists. Although all companies offered interesting innovations, Virtual Concierge Service was the only one focused on voice interaction experience. Each company was provided 6 minutes to pitch their solution, followed by questions from a panel of industry experts. The selection criteria included the company’s ability to influence the vacation rental industry, the strength of the team, and the level of innovation delivered.
Hotels vs. Individual Rental Management
VCS provides some features similar to what voice assistants are bringing to hotel chains. Both Apple and Amazon have partnered with Marriott several times in the past. Amazon’s most recent partnership with Marriott put Alexa in their Charlotte, North Carolina, and Irvine Spectrum, Los Angelos test locations. Users are able to ask Alexa to control room temperature, lighting, the TV, play music, set an alarm, give weather updates, travel updates, order room service, contact housekeeping, call reception, and check out.
Internationally, voice assistants have also appeared in hotels. In China, InterContinental Hotels added Baidu Smart Displays to suites this summer. In October 2017, Marriott announced plans to outfit 100,000 hotel rooms in China with Alibaba’s Tmall Genie smart speaker. Hotels want to provide the conveniences of home. It makes sense for vacation rentals to follow a similar path.
What allows VCS to stand out is its ability to appeal to anyone interested in rental management, rather than being limited to users of a specific brand, company, or type of rental. VCS allows managers to customize the responses of queries, making the service applicable at any location or audience. They have also partnered with Yelp to provide top events happening nearby by default. It is easy to imagine hosts renting out space through Airbnb adding this skill for their guests. VCS offers 3-month and year long subscription services, after a 30-day free trial. Rental property owners can add this skill to multiple 20 properties or just a single location.
A Rental as a Show Room
Smart speakers available in vacation rental units also present an opportunity to introduce voice assistants to new consumers. If a rental property is also equipped with smart home devices, it can be an opportunity to present the value of having a smart home, too. According to Hostfully, there are over 23,000 vacation rental companies in the U.S. They also report that there are around 9 million second homes in the United States, and that 25% of all second homes are both used as a rental property and professionally managed. Reportlinker has estimated that the worldwide vacation rental market will increase at a compound annual growth rate of about 7.1% between 2017 and 2021. Employing smart home technology and self-service options, like asking questions to a voice assistant, are both trends thought to be changing the guest experience in 2018. Including voice in vacation rentals is a niche application, but a great opportunity for voice to expand its reach.