With the average consumer having access to an increasingly formidable inventory of AV on a daily basis, hospitality venues of all kinds have been obliged to raise their game in order to maintain the interest of ‘regular’ visitors and business clients alike. David Davies reports
Given their size and status, it is perhaps unsurprising that stadiums, arenas and major corporate headquarters tend to dominate the headlines when it comes to the deployment of groundbreaking AV systems. But although they might generally have a lower profile, hospitality venues have also witnessed a decisive step-change in their use of technology over the last decade.
Be it a bar, restaurant or hotel, part of this shift is simply a matter of maintaining parity with the kind of set-ups one might find in other public buildings or even private residencies. But increasingly, it is also informed by the need to go ‘one step beyond’ in a market where both ‘regular’ visitors and business clients are confronted by a panoply of choice.
James Keen is marketing manager of digital signage, IPTV, VOD and mobile device streaming software solutions specialist Tripleplay Services, and observes: “Technology is a huge part of a very competitive hospitality industry. Whether it’s the hospitality team in a hotel, sports venue or tourist attraction the needs of their clients are the same; they need high-quality presentation technologies, simple-to-use signage and good audio systems, for example.”
Patrick Heyn, training & education department senior manager at QSC, offers similar sentiments: “Hospitality venues have become acutely focused on creating ‘an experience’ for their customers. Technology plays a huge role in making this experience, while remaining transparent. The key is to enrich the customer experience without having them notice the technology.”
Audio for ambience
High-quality audio is inevitably a crucial part of the overall blend given its role in “helping to create ambience in public areas,” says Bose Professional business development manager Sue Harrison. “During quiet times it makes guests feel at ease, but the sound can be ramped up at lunchtimes and in the evening to entertain. However, to attract both leisure and business visitors to return time and again to a hotel, bar or restaurant, the sound has to reflect the atmosphere that the venue wants to achieve, and of course has to sound warm and welcoming. A mix of high-quality audio with good music profiling can make a huge difference as to whether guests return.”
This push for quality has manifested itself in several primary ways. Firstly, a basic improvement in the standard of speakers specified for public areas, including bars, corridors and meeting places. Secondly, a desire for systems to both offer high-quality audio and blend discreetly into evermore discerning aesthetics. And thirdly, a call for accessible control from various points around a facility and, in more top-tier projects, more seamless integration into other building systems.
Increasingly, this last-named factor is resulting in hospitality audio systems being brought onto substantial, sometimes building-wide networks – the intended result being flexible and efficient signal distribution. For Bose, Harrison points to the recent expansion of its ControlSpace product line, “tying many features in with Audinate’s Dante media networking technology”, as well as a more general demand for audio over “new and existing Cat5 and Cat6 cabling, [thereby] building the system into the IT infrastructure, rather than relying on a standalone audio solution.”
Also on a Dante tip, Symetrix has registered strong take-up for its SymNet DSPs with support for Dante networking in this market. “Inexpensive PoE endpoints can be located strategically around a venue, allowing both ingest of signals and the option to overflow into any room in the facility on the fly,” says Symetrix Eastern US regional sales manager Jim Latimer. “Once the signals are on the network, they’re instantly available everywhere the network goes. Audio set-up for simple or complex events becomes a question of assigning desired routes within a matrix. Dramatic reconfiguration of multipurpose spaces can be accomplished very quickly.”
For QSC, Heyn notes the resonance with the hospitality market of its Q-Lan AoIP networking technology, which is a component of the Q-Sys processing platform. “Being able to put the audio system on the ‘house network’ is very appealing and cost-effective,” he says. “The Q-Sys amplifiers [such as the CXD-Q series] give you the ability to distribute the amplifiers from the main DSP rack, which makes for flexibility in installation. The ability to use the local audio inputs on the amplifier and have them be on the network really simplifies the cabling and puts the power where it needs to be.”
Meanwhile, for facilities with a keen eye on attracting corporate clients, there are several strands in play. Firstly, the ability to BYOD (bring your own device) and use it in conjunction with other devices via WiFi and other means is increasingly prevalent. Secondly, there is an onus on hotels with conference centres or standalone facilities to make collaborative workflows as straightforward as possible. Indeed, it is in this latter area where hospitality venues can arguably deliver one of their strongest USPs.
“Companies are increasingly adopting new ways of working and the old adage of ‘one person one desk’ is giving way to hot desking and working from home,” says Christophe Malsot, regional director, Crestron Southern Europe. “Yet despite this, when you look for a meeting room you can rarely find one free. This is a massive opportunity for hotels to provide better AV than companies have in their own premises. They need to offer a meeting room experience that is truly collaborative and at a price point that makes it cost-effective for companies to hold their meetings at the hotel rather than on their own premises.”
In Crestron’s case, Malsot points to a video-enabled collaboration solution called Crestron RL that includes 65in touchscreens and Microsoft Lync software. In addition to being able to annotate over Microsoft PowerPoint slides in real-time – “taking meeting notes becomes a thing of the past as all annotations are captured and can be emailed out at the end of the meeting” – participants have the opportunity to “choose the appropriate lighting scenario, control the shades in the room, and even adjust the room temperature to ensure the right ambience for the meeting.”
Making a hospitality venue more conducive to collaborative working can encompass a great number of different spaces. For example, consider AMX by Harman’s Enzo platform, which provides instant on, instant access to content, instant meeting start and instant sharing. “With Enzo, a lounge or lobby can become a collaborative meeting space with the push of a button or by connecting a guest’s personal device,” says Michael Kurcab, senior manager, sales, Harman Professional. “Tied in to a guest loyalty programme, this now becomes a revenue-generating opportunity for the property, while providing added value to the guest. Additionally, our Contrio server now allows real-time preventative maintenance and ‘self healing’ of the audio music and page system. This drastically reduces technical failures in high-revenue facilities like meeting and convention spaces.”