By Dave Berger

“Service with a smile” has always been a common hospitality practice in the United States. Welcoming some international guests with this non-verbal cue, however, can be problematic. In Japan, a smile often conveys anger, sadness, or embarrassment rather than joy or friendliness. In Russia, smiling at a stranger is considered insincere and impolite. In the U.S., people nod their heads in agreement or acknowledgement; in Greece, Turkey, and other nearby nations, a single nod of the head upward actually means “no.” And forget offering international visitors a thumbs up. For many cultures, this gesture is vulgar and rude rather than a sign of agreement or confirming that all is well.

Because hoteliers don’t want their front desk and Concierge staff to remain stern-faced with their hands at their sides when greeting international guests, and they can’t expect workers to learn how to say “hello” in all languages, hotel operators are leveraging voice technologies to help them be more welcoming and hospitable. Considering that in 2018, 39.9 million of the 79.6 million U.S. arrivals came from countries other than Canada (21.2 million) and Mexico (18.5 million), according to the U.S. Travel Assn, investing in voice translation technologies should be top of mind. With Gartner predicting that by 2020, 85% of relationships with businesses will not require human interaction, it’s clear that hoteliers need to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) today if they are going to effectively engage with their global customers in the future.

Consider this:

  • According to Google, 20% of all searches today are conducted with voice. Google’s voice assistant is now available on more than 1 billion devices.
  • 31% of smartphone users worldwide use voice tech at least once a week (Source: Statista, Location World).
  • 52% of smartphone owners in the U.S. report using voice assistants on their mobile devices. This is equivalent to 41.4% of the total U.S. population. (Source: Voicebot)
  • 50% of all online searches will be voice-based by 2020. (Source: Fast Company)
  • 55% of households are expected to own smart speaker devices by 2022. (Source: OC&C Strategy Consultants)
  • 65% of consumers in the 25-49 age group speak to their voice-enabled devices at least once every day, and 61% of 25 to 64-year-olds say they will use their voice devices more in the future. (Source: PwC)
  • Almost 20% of all voice search queries are triggered by just 25 keywords. (Source: seoClarity)
  • 53% of smart speaker owners say it feels natural talking to these devices. (Source: Google)
  • Global voice commerce is expected to be worth $40B by 2022. (Source: OC&C Strategy Consultants)



The Google Assistant’s interpreter mode + Volara is Speaking Your Guests’ Language
Equipping hotels with voice assistant technologies is just the first step. Google has recently launched a hospitality-grade voice translation technology spanning 29 languages that is now being made available to hotels worldwide through a distribution and implementation partnership with Volara. The Google Assistant’s interpreter mode is designed to improve the quality of interactions between hotel staff and guests from diverse language backgrounds, resulting in better communications and higher-value service.

Here’s how it works. Hotels place Google Nest Hub devices – provisioned by Volara with enterprise grade management tools and custom branded hotel content – at their front desks or Concierge stations. Then, when foreign-speaking travelers arrive, the staff member simply says, “Hey Google, help me speak English/Japanese/Chinese,” or “Hey\ Google, be my English/Japanese/Chinese interpreter.” Then, the Google Assistant’s  interpreter mode will – in real time – translate the conversation both verbally and visually, removing the language barrier between the guest and the hotel staff (see a demo here). For a small annual fee per location, hotels will receive a hassle free powerful multilingual solution:

  • The Google Assistant’s interpreter mode, inclusive of privacy protection technologies
  • Google Nest Hub Device
  • Google Nest Hub Provisioning, including adding custom hotel branded content
  • Google Nest Hub Installation
  • Spare Device Provisioning
  • Staff Training, including educational leave behinds
  • Email and phone-based support
  • Device monitoring
  • Device and Software Upgrades
  • Device Loss Mitigation and Replacement

Rather than losing revenue to poor communications, technologies such as the Google Assistant’s interpreter mode + Volara will help U.S. hotels attract, and build loyalty with, at least 80% of today’s travelers – i.e., those that don’t speak English. This not only makes foreign guests feel more welcome, but it will improve operations, personalize services, drive revenues, and meet the individual needs of all guests.