Volara Adds CIRQ+ as Smart Hotel Partner
Voice technology software developer Volara is set to expand its reach in the hospitality industry in a new partnership with hospitality technology firm CIRQ+. Volara will add its conversational software to CIRQ+’s Smart platform, allowing hotel guests to control their room environment and get information about the hotel and surrounding area by communicating with a voice assistant.
Virtual Concierge in Your Room
CIRQ+ currently offers a smart device to control temperature, lights, and other environmental aspects of a hotel room depending on the additions to its modular design. Now, it’s offering to make a smart speaker chosen by the hotel one of those modules, enabled by Volara’s software. Hotels can connect Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or IBM Watson devices to the CIRQ+ system, and guests can speak commands to the CIRQ+ system just as they would to the smart speaker.
Along with controlling in-room features, guests can use the voice assistant to find out more about the hotel and the neighborhood it is in, order food or housekeeping services, or make appointments for hotel spas and other services.
Volara was founded in 2016 as Exa and is currently the exclusive holder of the Amazon Alexa for Business Service Delivery Designation for the hospitality industry. As launch partner of Alexa for Hospitality and Google Assistant Interpreter Mode, the company has quickly snagged a prime position for its software when hotels look want to enhance their in-room experience with voice assistants.
Volara has rapidly expanded its partner list recently. Just in the last month, hospitality and IoT software companies such as Bittel, Interel, and Schneider Electric have all reached agreements to integrate Volara’s software into their offerings. Hotels using Alexa and other smart devices with their own platforms are also using Volara. Marriott, for example, started a pilot program to put Alexa devices with Volara software in hotel rooms last year and has been adding new rooms to the program since then. Volara is also the software under Delaware North’s Westin Buffalo hotel, which this month became the first hotel where guests can connect their personal Amazon accounts to hotel Echo devices.
Smart Hotel Competition Grows
Volara isn’t alone in enhancing voice and AI tech in the hospitality industry. SoundHound announced recently that it is partnering with Samsung subsidiary Harman Professional Solutions to bring its Houndify voice AI to hotel rooms. And, InterContinental Hotels Group partnered with Baidu to bring AI-powered smart displays to suites in several hotels in China in 2018.
SoundHound’s entry into the hotel vertical is particularly interesting because it offers an independent platform that enables the properties to have full control over the user experience and data. And, Pitchbook data show the company with a $1 billion valuation at its most recent funding of $100 million in May 2018. Volara has raised venture funding, but the amount is unreported and is no doubt well below the $214 million SoundHound has taken in. Funding isn’t everything and SoundHound has other commitments well beyond the hospitality industry and will also need to catch up with Volara’s already advanced learning curve. However, it does illustrate that Volara no longer has this market to itself.
Smart Hotels, a Growing Trend
Attracting guests with smart hotel rooms is a logical extension of the increasing prevalence of voice assistants in homes and on mobile devices. Once you get used to controlling your lights and thermostat by voice in your house, it might seem a bit of a downgrade to need to go back to controlling it by hand when you’re at a luxury hotel. Hotels in turn benefit from lower costs as fewer resources are needed to interact with customers via AI than with employees.
Volara has a large lead with regards to approval by the big smart speaker makers, but the spread of voice assistants and related technology for hospitality purposes is only the beginning. As people get more comfortable using voice assistants, they’re likely to appear in more than luxury suites and increasingly even in mid-tier hotel rooms.