As a vacation rental owner or manager, you may have begun exploring the use of Amazon Alexa at your property. After all, Alexa, Siri, and Cortana have become important fixtures in our homes in the last few years. We have become accustomed to these time-saving devices that also simplify our lives. Today we will discuss one extremely important aspect of how voice tech and smart home devices, specifically Amazon Echo can improve your guest’s experience: through music. Your guests will love this extra touch they’ll get to experience after check-in.
In this article, you will find a description of the value proposition for guests and owner/managers, exactly what you need to deliver that value, and lastly, setup instructions, including specific resources to use.
Why voice tech improves the guest experience
Voice technology began as an easy way to offer music. People love to be around music in their everyday life. Gone are the days when CDs were the norm. Today, people stream digitally and expect a massive range of genres to choose from. It isn’t just young people; collectively, our expectations have grown to the point that any song will be immediately available.
Alexa integrates with Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and others. Once you set it up, guests can say, “Alexa, play smooth jazz,” or anything else. Simple, voice-controlled tunes and a massive music library – that’s the value proposition for your guests. No more fiddling around in the stereo closet trying to make it work!
The best part about a virtual assistant is that guests can control everything with voice commands. So your guests can ask for the type of music they prefer, but they can also dim lights, turn on the air conditioning, and even warm up the hot tub. As long as the various devices sync with a smart offering, your guest will be able to use their voice. The ease of use makes this such a seamless and simple way to improve the guest experience. The days of feeling nervous about your guests tinkering with your electronics are long gone.
What you will need
As with most things, there are a lot of options. To keep it simple, our recommendation is to get a device with decent sound quality and choose between two options for a music service. For our purposes, we’re going to recommend Alexa products because they work with so many different types of platforms and are very easy to use.
If you have begun experimenting with Alexa in your VR properties, you may have begun with an Echo Dot. That is a great place to start, because if you decide to move forward with providing music through Alexa, you can always re-deploy a Dot from a common space to a smaller room, such as a bedroom. Then replace it with an Echo that has great sound quality in the living room and other common areas.
The 4th generation Echo Dot is a beautiful addition to any room. Its compact design is attractive and very modern looking. With such an impressive sound from such a small speaker, you’ll find that most guests aren’t radically finicky audiophiles and will appreciate the ability to get music with voice commands and think it sounds terrific.
You have several options when it comes to music streaming services. Two of my favorites are Spotify and Pandora. While both companies have both premium and free services, I believe the choice should be between the Pandora free service and the Spotify premium service. The reasons are that Pandora Premium is playing catch-up compared to Spotify Premium, yet they are the same price, $10/month. Also, the free version of Pandora works with Alexa, while the free version of Spotify does not. In addition, there are other free music services available, such as iHeartRadio and TuneIn.
However, with these other services, you must specify them when requesting music. So, for example, your guests will need to say “Alexa, play ABC on iHeartRadio” instead of just “Alexa, play The Backstreet Boys,” which is available with Spotify and Pandora. So with that, we’ll compare Spotify Premium and Pandora’s free version so you can see what $10/month buys. These small differences are key to a good guest experience.
When comparing the music libraries of Spotify and Pandora, they are roughly the same. Both have millions of songs – basically anything your guests could want. There aren’t any notable artists who appear on one service and not the other.
Spotify is an on-demand music platform with more than 140 million active daily users and more than 70 million paying monthly subscribers. Here is a list of countries where Spotify is available. You can tell Alexa to play any song, and it will immediately start. Guests can find readymade playlists to match their mood that music fans and experts have put together. They can play music ad-free. They can also skip songs as much as they like (speaking from personal experience, this is helpful with large groups, especially with teenagers around!)
Here are some examples of ways your guests can play music on Spotify via “Alexa…”:
- “Play <song name>”
- “Play <artist name>” (Shuffles songs by that artist)
- “Play <composer>” (Shuffles music from that composer)
- “Play <playlist name>” (You can also say “Shuffle” instead of “Play”)
- “Play <genre> on Spotify” (90s music, rock, hip-hop, etc)
- “Turn it up”
- “What song is this?”
Free version of Pandora
Pandora came from the Music Genome Project, which began in 1999. Today, the system is reported to use around 400 different “genes” in its genome to accurately identify music tracks and organize them.
The free version has some limitations to be aware of. First off, subscribers are limited to radio-like functionality with a free Pandora account — pick a song (or an artist, or an album, or any combination), and it builds you a station. The second thing to consider is that it is only available in the United States. You’ll also notice songs come with short advertisements. Listeners using the free option only have access to a lower-quality audio stream (limited to 64 Kb per second). Your average guest probably won’t notice much of a difference, though. Finally, the last limitation is that the free option includes skipping limits. There is a maximum number of times you can use the skip feature to go to the next song. For the free account, you can only skip 6 times per hour in any one station, with a total skip limit of 12 for the day. That is relatively easy to get around though, just tell Alexa to play something else instead of skipping the current song.
The critical limitation here is whether the free version of Pandora is available to you based on your property location, with the unfortunate constraint of only being available in the US. If you are in the States, none of these other limitations are showstoppers for use in a vacation rental. Pandora with Alexa offers a great value prop for your guests. With no cost to you as the owner or manager, it allows guests to listen to a massive range of music using only their voice for control.
Unique Amazon Accounts
We recommend setting up a unique Amazon account associated with the Echo(s) in your rental property. There are several reasons this is a good idea. First, if you use your personal account with the Echo at your vacation rental, Alexa can be set up to tie into a number of things that you would not want to share with your guests. For example, voice purchasing. You don’t want your guests purchasing items on your account. You also do not want your personal calendar made public to your guest, as well as your shopping lists, carts, and other private information.
The second reason I recommend a separate account involves digital rights with music. The Amazon account you use when setting up the Echo(s) at your VR will be linked to the music service you subscribe to (either Pandora or Spotify). If you have more than one VR, you might think, “OK, I won’t use my personal account at my vacation rental, but I will just set up one Amazon account for all my VRs, and that way I will only need to buy one subscription to Spotify.” But, unfortunately, Spotify is only licensed to sell “personal” subscriptions, which means you can only stream on one device at a time with a given account. That means if you used the same account at multiple VRs, a guest in one VR might be happily singing along until a guest in a different VR tells Alexa to play music. At that point, the music will stop playing at the first VR, and start playing at the second VR. This is clearly not the best situation for building a great guest experience!
The third reason it is best to set up a unique Amazon account for each of your VR properties is that it will allow you to establish unique custom content for that property that can be delivered through the virtual concierge. Of course, your properties can all be managed together in the virtual concierge portal. Still, with unique accounts, you can specify customized welcome messages for your guests, provide helpful information specific to each property, etc.
One final consideration is the internet connection that is available at your vacation rental. From a streaming music perspective, one hour is about 72 MB of bandwidth usage (15 hours would equal 2 GB). If you have a low bandwidth cap from your Internet Service Provider, you may want to consider how much streaming your guests will do vs. your cap. One way to help control this is to use the lower quality stream via the free Pandora service, which as described above is a 64 Kbps stream setting. Make sure you’re getting at least 1–2 Mb per second download speeds on your web service. If you have any questions about your internet connection, Use an Internet speed test to determine this.
You will want to set up the Echo(s) in your vacation rental property with a separate Amazon account specific to that property. Then, if you have more than one Echo at your property, use that same account for all the devices at that location. Details for how to do that (including a great trick to simplify the process), as well as the reasons why it should be done, are described here.
Once you have a separate account for the Echo(s) at your vacation rental property, you can follow the basic Echo setup instructions here. There are options for either downloading the Alexa app for IOS / Android, or using the app from your PC’s browser via https://alexa.amazon.com.
Setting up single-room music
Getting music to stream through your Echo is pretty straightforward. The first thing you will want to do is set up your Alexa device using the Amazon Alexa App, either on your phone or the web version of the tool. As described above, be sure to use a unique, separate Amazon account for each vacation rental property. Then open up an account with either Pandora or Spotify.
Next, in the Alexa App:
- Go to Settings, then Music & Media and link your account (either Pandora or Spotify)
- In that same screen, tap ‘Choose default music services’ and select either Pandora or Spotify.
Setting up multi-room music
Multi-Room Music allows your guests to play and control music across multiple Echo devices at the same time. To create a Multi-Room Music group, first, complete the steps above under Setting Up Single-Room Music. Then in the Alexa App:
- From the menu, select Smart Home.
- Select Groups and then Create Groups.
- Select Multi-Room Music Group.
- Use pre-set group names from the drop-down, or create your own with Custom Name.
- Select which devices to include and then select Create Group.
Note: Your Echo devices must all be on the same wifi network in order to be joined to a Group.
Playing multi-room music
To play music across multiple rooms (and Echo devices), a slightly different phrase is used with Alexa. Once multi-room music is enabled, instruct your guests to say, “Play <music selection> on <group name>.” A great way to make your guests aware of these processes is by creating a digital guidebook with Hostfully and include all the details.
Setting the explicit filter
Some people will appreciate not having mature music playing at their vacation rental. If that is you, leverage the explicit filter to block all devices on the account from playing music with explicit lyrics. You can turn on the filter by saying, “Block explicit songs.”
Using the Echo as a Bluetooth speaker
Something else to keep in mind is that your guests can easily send their tunes from Google Play Music, Apple Music, or anywhere else by using your Echo as a Bluetooth speaker.
It’s easy for them to do this: they can just say “Alexa, pair,” and your Echo will start looking for Bluetooth devices to connect to. Guests can then pop open the Bluetooth options on their phone and look for Echo-[XYZ name] to pair it. After this, they can play any audio from their device and hear it on your Echo.
Alexa now supports basic audio commands when acting as a Bluetooth speaker, so guests can say “Alexa, pause” or “Skip this song” to control playback without lifting a finger. When they are all done, they can just say “Alexa, disconnect,” and the Echo will break the connection with that device. Again, remember to include this information in your digital guidebook!
Whether you provide your guests with one Echo device or many, music with voice control will be a welcome addition to your vacation rental. Your guests will always appreciate it when you can offer a device that helps them have a smoother vacation!
This article is a rewrite of a guest post written by Dana Young for Hostfully. She is the founder of Virtual Concierge Service (VCS) and loves helping VR managers deliver amazing guest experiences with voice tech.