Amazon Alexa in Vacation Rentals

Set Up New Ways to Communicate Between You and Your Guest

By Dana Young

Use Alexa to Communicate with your Guests

Overview

As a vacation rental owner or manager, you may have begun exploring the use of Amazon Alexa at your property. I’ve had many VR pros reach out and ask, “How can I leverage an Amazon Echo at my vacation rental?”. This series of guides is intended to help with that question, and provide actionable information that will help you improve your guest’s experience.

In this guide, we are going to focus on how Alexa can improve communication between hosts and guests by adding the ability to deliver audio messages. You will find a description of the value proposition for guests, how the system works, exactly what you need in order to deliver that value, and setup instructions.

Value Proposition

We all know how important it is to communicate with guests before and after their stay. Leading up to arrival the focus is on things like setting expectations, providing great info and learning a bit about your guests to enable that personal touch we all want to provide. After departure, good follow up can ensure guest satisfaction, continuous improvement and repeat bookings.

What about during a guest’s stay? The Alexa platform provides an innovative way to further differentiate your guest experience with superior communication. Examples include:

The specific capability I’m speaking of is called Alexa Messaging. It can provide an innovative mechanism to communicate with guests, complementing existing channels.

How It Works

As a host, you can send messages to guests using an Echo in your home or office. You can also message on the go with your phone using the Alexa app. The message is then delivered to all the Echo devices at your vacation rental. When guests have an incoming message from you, lights on all the Echos pulse yellow, and the devices momentarily chime. They can then listen to your message by saying, “Alexa, play message”.

Your guests can contact you simply by saying, “Alexa, message the owner”. They are then prompted for what the message should be. After speaking the message, they are asked if it is ready to send. Once confirmed, the message is instantly sent to Echos at your home or office as well as to your phone (via the Alexa app which will provide an immediate alert).

What You Will Need

To provide these helpful capabilities to guests through Alexa, you’ll need any device within the Amazon Echo family of products set up at your vacation rental. On the owner or manager side of things, It isn’t necessary to have an Echo at your home or office, but it adds additional convenience.

If you don’t have an Echo at the home or office, you can still communicate with your guests through the Alexa app on your phone. As long as you allow notifications, you will be instantly notified of incoming Alexa Messages much like you may be used to when incoming text messages arrive. You can also send messages via the Alexa app.

Setup Instructions

The Base Amazon Echo Setup

You will want to set up the Echo(s) in your vacation rental property with a separate Amazon account that is specific to that property. 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.

Enabling Alexa Messaging

You will want to turn on Alexa Messaging on both the Amazon account associated with your VR as well as on your Amazon account where you want to send and receive messages from guests. We’ll call these the ‘VR account’ and the ‘Host account’. If you have followed the steps above, you will have already set up your ‘VR account’. A Host account can be your personal Amazon account that you may already have with Echos set up at your home - that is totally fine. Or you can choose to set up a separate account if you like. If you don’t yet have a Host account, you can follow the instructions below to get one set up. If you already have one, skip these steps:

Setting Up a Host Account

To create a unique ‘Host’ Amazon account for communicating with guests, the main thing you will need is an email address. If you already have a personal Gmail account, there is a very useful trick that you can use to get a new email address without actually defining one from scratch.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to this page to create a new Amazon account.
  2. In the email field add a plus sign and then a reference to your property before the @ sign. For example, let’s say your normal Gmail address is janedoe@gmail.com. You could then put an email address in of janedoe+AlexaHost@gmail.com. Amazon will consider this a unique account, but Google will route all messages that are sent to it over to your normal personal account.
  3. Complete the rest of the fields and click the ‘Create your Amazon account’ button.
If you don’t already have a Gmail account and therefore can’t take advantage of this trick, you can just create a new Gmail account:
  1. Open up a new Gmail account by going to this page.
  2. Once you have your new Gmail account setup, you will want to take the additional step of setting up email forwarding on that account. That way, all email that may come to that account can show up in the inbox that you check regularly. Follow these instructions to setup email forwarding on your property’s new Gmail account.
  3. Move forward with creating an Amazon account
    • Go to this page to create a new account.
    • In the email field use the Gmail account you just created.
    • Complete the rest of the fields and click the ‘Create your Amazon account’ button.

Enabling Alexa Messaging on your VR account

To enable messaging, first ensure that you are logged in to your VR account in the Alexa app. Touch the message icon at the bottom of the screen (just to the right of the home icon).

Supplying a Phone Number

You will be prompted to enter a phone number that will be associated with the account. It must be a number where you can receive a text message. Note: this phone number does not have to be associated with your vacation rental property. It just needs to be a phone number where you can receive a text message. This is not a number that you would provide your guests.

Note: Alexa Messaging and Calling are linked together, so there isn’t a way to disable calling if messaging is enabled. Alexa Calling allows you (or your guests) to make a phone call by saying, for example, “Alexa, call 425-555-1212”. With just an Echo device, there is no way to receive an incoming call (if you would like to do that, you can purchase an Echo Connect). Without the Echo Connect, you can only make phone calls with Alexa Calling, not receive them. That means the phone number that you provide in the initial setup won’t be used to receive calls. Also, you can prevent that number from appearing as though phone calls are originating from it. This is done using the Alexa app and turning off caller ID. That way if a guest calls someone, the phone number won’t shown on the phone of the person being called. To do that, go to the message icon at the bottom of the Alexa app. Then choose the icon of the person at the top of the screen. At the top of the screen you will then see ‘My Profile and Settings’, where you can turn off ‘Show Caller ID’.

If you do not have a phone number that can receive SMS text messages at, you can easily set one up for free using Google Voice. This only takes a couple of minutes and is a great solution for providing a number for your Echo Messaging setup. If you would like to do that, follow the Google Voice Setup Instructions here.

Once you have a phone number, provide it, and then enter the confirmation code that is sent to you via text to that number. Once confirmed and presented with the option to enable Drop In, select ‘Later’, as this is something that is not a good idea to enable at a vacation rental (see below).

Setting up Alexa Drop In

Access To Contacts

Note: You will be prompted that ‘Amazon Alexa would like to access your contacts’. Amazon currently does not provide another way of adding contacts to Alexa Calling and Messaging. When you say OK, contacts from the local address book of whatever mobile device you are using will be automatically added to your Alexa contacts. Given this, it is recommended to use a mobile device that doesn’t contain your personal contacts, install the Alexa app on that device and use it to set up Alexa Messaging on your VR account. This will prevent guests from accidentally calling or messaging one of your personal contacts - clearly something to be avoided!

Enabling Alexa Messaging on your Host account

If you haven’t already set up Alexa Messaging on your Host account, login to the Alexa app with your Host account, and repeat the steps above (the same steps as we used to set up the VR account) to set this up. Typically you would use your own personal or business cell phone number as the phone number for this Host account setup.

Adding Contacts

Now that Alexa Messaging is enabled, we will want to add the appropriate contacts in each account so that messages can be sent back and forth.

To get started, go to the device where you are using the Alexa app to set up your VR account and do the following:

  1. Bring up your Address Book / Contacts.
  2. Add a new contact, and give it a name of ‘The Owner’ or ‘The Manager’.
  3. Enter the phone number here that you used in conjunction with Alexa Messaging on your Host Account.
You then do the same steps on the device where you are using the Alexa app to set up your Host account:
  1. Bring up your Address Book / Contacts.
  2. Add a new contact, and give it a name of ‘Our Guests’.
  3. Enter the phone number here that you used in conjunction with Alexa Messaging on your VR Account.
By adding them to your address book on your mobile device, these contacts will automatically be added to the Contacts within your Alexa App and available for messaging.

Note: These names (‘The Owner’, ‘The Manager’, ‘Our Guests’) are suggested. You can use whatever names make sense for your business. If you choose something different, just replace the names in the interactions described here with the ones that you selected.

Alexa Communication Capabilities That Are Not Recommended

It is worth noting that you will likely want to explicitly turn off certain communication capabilities that Alexa has. Specifically, the ‘Drop In’ feature is really not applicable to vacation rentals, and would likely be a significant privacy concern if not disabled.

Drop In provides the ability to have a direct intercom connection between two Alexa devices. The intended use case is for families - you can ‘drop in’ on the kids room, and call them down to dinner for example. Fortunately, disabling Drop Ins is quick and easy and should not deter you from using the other communication features that can be a great asset to VR businesses.

Using Alexa Messaging

Having completed the setup steps above, you are now ready to try it out.

Guest Interactions
Sending Messages To Guests

You can send a message to your guests using an Echo device by saying, “Alexa, send a message to our guests”. To do this on your phone instead, just tap the blue icon at the bottom of the Alexa app and say “Send a message to our guests”. You can also go to the message icon just to the left of the blue icon where you can see the thread of communication with your guests. From here, you can either speak or type messages to them.

Listening To Messages From Guests

You can listen to a message to your guests on an Echo device by saying, “Alexa, play my messages”. To do this on your phone instead of an Echo device, go to the message icon at the bottom of the Alexa app. There you can see the transcribed message visually, or play the audio message.

Having Guests Send a Message To You

You can invite guests at your vacation rental to contact you by saying, “Alexa, send a message to the owner”.

How Guests can Listen To A Message From You

Your guests can listen to a message from you by saying, “Alexa, play our messages”.

A Blurb You Can Share With Your Guests

Here is a short description of Alexa Messaging that you can share with your guests:

In addition to email and phone, we have an additional way for you to contact us during your stay. We have Amazon Echo devices at the property, which provide a direct line to us. To make use of this just say, “Alexa, send a message to the owner”. You can then speak your message (much like leaving a voicemail) and it will be instantly delivered to us. If we need to contact you, we will do the same thing. You’ll know that a message from us has arrived when the lights on all the Echos pulse yellow, and the devices momentarily chime. You can listen to your message by saying, “Alexa, play our messages”.


Dana Young
Dana Young is a vacation rental owner in the technology industry. Along with founding the virtual concierge, he also developed TrackVacs, as a way to give back to the vacation rental community and help single property owners manage their business.