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Hospitality: Spoilt for choice

The technology selection and renewal processes are particularly tough in the world of hospitality. Rob Lane investigates the priorities being juggled and how budgets and customer expectations are being balanced

It’s probably fair to say that the hospitality sector has some catching up to do with regard to its use of AV technology, when compared with other sectors. The sector has been traditionally slower to adapt to new technology, partially because it’s much more difficult to retrofit AV into existing builds and designs – especially as there needs to be synergy in any integration for both front and back of house.

“Hospitality has been slow to adapt to some of the new concepts around us,” explains HTNG (Hospitality Technology Next Generation) CEO Mike Blake. “Although it is easy to implement in a new build, we find it difficult to retrofit. Because of this, we are holding on to old AV with outdated capability. We need to become more flexible in our capital investments around AV.”

Blake is heading up the second Hospitality Tech Summit at ISE 2020, which will include expert panel discussions, market research findings, and best-practice case studies, and he hopes that the 2020 summit can help to further educate hospitality professionals about AV integration. “A hotel has to take into consideration how many systems and technologies need to integrate with one another to make everything in both the back of house and front of house work,” he says.

“When selecting a new technology, hotels need to be sure that it will fit in the scope of their current infrastructure, and oftentimes this takes multiple testing phases before it is even possible to deploy.”

HTNG is a global non-profit association, fostering the development and advancement of systems and solutions that ‘enable hospitality professionals and vendors to lead the industry into the future’. As such it’s particularly helpful in guiding hospitality professionals about technology selection and renewal processes.

Biggest challenge

And technology selection in the hospitality sector is certainly seen by many as its biggest challenge, partially because there are simply so many choices in today’s AV market. 

“The difficulty is that there are so many options available, and technology is changing all the time so it’s not only a case of trying to find your way through hundreds of product choices it is also a case of figuring out what technology makes sense to invest in,” opines Emma Bigg, director at consultants Octavius RE.

“Lots of people are concerned with ‘future-proofing’, but essentially this comes down to ROI, if a client wants to do a refresh of their AV they want the technology to remain reliable and relevant for as long as possible to maximise the return on investment. So, it can be a minefield, especially if you are coming to the market with relatively little technical knowledge or experience.”

Hotels tend to mostly require AV for meeting rooms or guest bedrooms. In restaurants and bars, however, there is more flexibility in terms of creative options as customers are expecting something special in terms of entertainment. 

“The fast pace of change in the devices and AV we experience at home is one factor making the management of technology within hospitality a challenge”
Andy Truswell CTS-D, Pure AV

“When people go to restaurants and bars, they expect an experience during their visit,” says Thomas Vertommen, European product marketing manager for Visual Solutions, Panasonic. “These venues want to make an impact on their customers to create memories and encourage customer loyalty, based on their positive and impression experience. 

“For hotels there may be less AV options available. In a hotel room, for example, the only need for an AV solution would be the television, and typically for hotel meeting rooms there are two key AV options: a projector and a screen. On the other hand, a lot of sports bars want multiple large TVs, and restaurants and bars are motivated to create an original space and atmosphere. Clientele, spend and the desired mood and ambience of the venue are all key drivers in the decision of technology selection.”

Daunting task

For those working in hospitality, the need for flexibility, rising expectations of clients who want an experience at least on a par with what they have at home, and a lack of in-house expertise can often make the deployment of technology appear a daunting task. 

“The fast pace of change in the devices and AV we experience at home is one factor making the management of technology within hospitality a challenge,” explains Andy Truswell CTS-D, system integration manager, Pure AV. “Hotels and bars are faced with a clientele that hold ever-rising expectations and who want a ‘better than home’ experience. The need for flexibility in the technology further compounds the situation, particularly if the brief is not well defined, or as is too often the case, consideration of the AV comes late in the process.” 

It is true that it is rare to have staff dedicated to the management of AV and IT within hotels and bars. Consequently, while the use of and expectations of technology broadens, it must be delivered in a solution flexible enough to respond to the varied demands of the hospitality environment, yet simple enough to be managed by those without much technical knowledge.

“The problem is that generally most hospitality professionals do not have a proper strategy methodology for selection!” exclaims Christian Bozeat, director at Macom GmbH UK. “The majority think of hardware first rather than what they need to achieve and mapping solutions to meet them. There is a lot of choice in the market, which is why having a proper testing and assessment and testing process is so important.”

Allocate and invest

As existing technology comes up for renewal, stakeholders have decisions to make as to where to allocate budgets and also which technologies to invest in. Often compromises and sacrifices have to be made, so it’s crucial that professionals take good advice and consider their options carefully.

“Firstly it is important to have a proper EoL (end of Life) approach in order to understand when hardware and software is due for replacement,” says Bozeat. “Coupled with business technology strategy, the proper testing process, a detailed design of the final solution and the understanding and role out time frame, it’s then possible to determine your budget.”

“Renewal can be a popular option for businesses that are happy to invest a large amount of money at the beginning, knowing that the cost will pay off [in the] longer-term,” adds Vertommen. “The cost of AV equipment can vary, with options for businesses to purchase products to last the test of time. For example, investing in a laser projector requires little maintenance, no bulbs need to be changed, as the laser should last the entire projectors lifetime. Similarly, investing in a projector with high-resolution colour reproduction will produce a clearer image for a longer period. For the purchase decision-maker, it is a dance between money vs enhancing the customer experience.”

It certainly depends on the nature of the business, but for many restaurants and bars the area that gets most attention is the sound system, as this is key to ensuring that the atmosphere is right. “Rather than restaurants consistently maintaining their sound systems we tend to see that the sound system is left untouched, and sometimes the concept of the restaurant changes and certain areas stop being or some things fall into disrepair but are considered non-critical and get left,” says Bigg. “Then you get a new manager and they want everything bought back up to scratch. So, the approach is to assess what is good enough to be re-used and then focus on changing the speakers or control side. Or it’s a complete refit.”