How AV and Services Have Transformed the Typical Hotel Stay
By Rob Voorhees, Business Development Manager – CTS, CTNS, CTP, Dante
Admittedly, I don’t remember much when it comes to traveling as a child. As a family of six, we absolutely enjoyed family vacations, but I get the feeling we would cut costs on the hotels/motels in exchange for a better experience OUTSIDE of the room. I do remember the cruise to the Bahamas we took when I was a little older, but even that was a tiny room with a tiny TV. We couldn’t wait to leave the room and explore everything else. Why am I taking you on this trip down memory lane? Because when I travel now, it is vastly different. Nowadays, I will judge a hotel partially by the technology it provides almost as much as I judge it based on customer service and cleanliness. It is a damper on the trip when I finally get to my room and the TV is anything less than 40” and the signal is out on most channels.
So why is it that as a child, technology was a non-factor whereas today it’s a necessity? Simple — the hospitality industry has pushed to a new way of thinking and that is to recreate the home experience in many ways. As I have admitted in past writings, I have a love/hate relationship with traveling. I love attending events and spending time with co-workers and partners, whereas I hate being away from my family and the comforts of home. What if I arrived at my hotel room and it felt as close to home as possible? What if there were a big TV in a spacious room, a sound bar providing improved audio, a wireless charging station for the latest wireless devices and substantial Wi-Fi where I could conduct a Teams call as needed and so much more? This isn’t the late 1980s anymore, and the hospitality market is rapidly adapting to the needs of its guests. What are some of those needs? Let us explore further!
To dive into the topic of hospitality technology, I like to approach it as if I was outside and walking into the hotel. What is greeting us the second we step out of our Uber until the moment we reach our rooms and everything we experience during our stay? Let’s break this down into the following sections:
The outside of a hotel can be a very wide spectrum between the small hotel near the airport and the large casino resort on the Vegas Strip. There are small alterations that can be made to any property to induce that welcoming “at home” feeling that most of us would gladly accept while on the road. Do you step foot into the parking lot and have the urge to sprint to the door because it’s dark and kind of “sketchy?” Or are you greeted by outdoor signage educating you on local events, exterior wash lighting that illuminates the hotel’s brand and pleasant background music from the camouflaged landscape speakers in the garden? Those three factors could set the tone for the rest of the stay because in my eyes, if someone is meticulous regarding the exterior details, they will usually be just as meticulous with the interior. The same lighting, video and audio should follow you all around the property to the pool area as well and with the many types of outdoor speakers that exist with varying IP ratings, there truly is something for every need.
Lobby/Bar and Restaurant
Once you make it into the lobby, you may immediately spot more signage in the form of a wayfinder or information board. Back around 2013, I remember staying at a Courtyard in Richmond, Virginia. While waiting in the lobby for the rest of the team, I noticed a display that was showing local flight schedules for the nearby airport, news updates and local sports scores. If memory serves me correctly, this was my first experience with hotel digital signage, and it clearly left enough of an impression on me that I still remember it a decade later. That display caused me to stay in the lobby longer and kept me informed at that moment. It provided the “home” experience similar to waking up and watching the news or checking the internet and that is what the guests want. Outside of the signage, you surely will find audio or video near the bar/restaurant area. Perhaps you see the typical pendant speaker or low-profile ceiling speaker for announcements and background music as well. All are very common regardless of the property you choose. Out of guest view could be the service closest where you find the AV rack with multiple amplifiers and DSPs along with networked AV hardware such as encoders, decoders and switches. Normally kept out of view, but oh-so-important to the functionality of that given property.
OK, you’ve made it to the promised land! Behold your home away from home — THE GUESTROOM! One aspect that we have yet to touch on is in my opinion the most important. THE WI-FI! Whether you are traveling with young children or attending a weeklong trade show, if the property has insufficient bandwidth, you will find yourself in a troubling position. I cannot tell you how many times I have needed hotel Wi-Fi to finish a project, edit a presentation, or even Skype with my kids in their younger days. There absolutely is nothing more painful than not being connected. Maybe I am not alone in that sentiment though. In a recent poll by TripAdvisor, 89% of travelers ranked free Wi-Fi as the top amenity they search for. In another survey by SmartBrief, 40% of guests travel with three or more devices and 25% more network traffic is expected from each of those devices. So, if you are a hotel reading this, how do you even know if your property has the speed it needs? You need to first identify what a guest needs. Streaming movies, accessing the cloud, downloading music, teleconferencing, etc. are all essential to those staying there. This is where “recreating the home experience” really takes hold. Much like my house, I need to know that I will turn on my device and be able to function as I intended it to. A general rule of thumb is that you need between 1-2 Mbps of bandwidth for each guest. That means that for 100 guest rooms, I am going to recommend between 100-200 Mbps download speeds and that is only for guests. That’s not taking into consideration a possible VoIP phone system, networked AV elevator alarms, security, etc.
As it pertains to the guest room, a close second important amenity is the free-to-guest TV content. Cable, satellite and streaming are all options but those too can affect the bandwidth, so the conversation needs to be all-encompassing and include both when discussing in-room technology. My personal favorite is DirecTV because of its DRE platform, which stands for DirecTV Residential Experience. Just as the name implies, the company recreates the home/residential platform for hotels. As a past user, it is comforting to get into your room and immediately know the channel lineup and where to find things. It is all part of the experience!
Last but not least in the guest room is the AV. TV sizes have gone up over the years, and I find myself judging a hotel over the size of the guest room TV. Any display 42-46” or larger is the sweet spot for me, but that could obviously depend on room size/layout and that particular hotel’s brand standard. Another item that is becoming very common is the sound bar. Once thought of as purely consumer, the sound bar is now finding its way in the hospitality world to improve on the audio experience for guests. Some manufacturers are even making specialty sound bars for hotels and cruise ships where the audio is improved but not loud enough to disturb other guest rooms with booming bass.
Conference Hall/Conventions/Meeting Rooms
I feel as though I could’ve written an entire piece just on conference/meeting/convention spaces. The technology in these spaces is quite impressive and much like the guest room, could really make or break a guest’s stay at that specific property. The audio portion alone could include ceiling/surface/pendant speakers, column arrays, performance line arrays, amplifiers, DSPs, mixing consoles, entertainment lighting, microphones, truss and more. In the conference rooms, you could look at collaboration sound bars and interactive displays, not to mention more networked AV and control systems. Most of the hotels that I have stayed at lately will all have touch panels on the outside of the door to show you which company is occupying that room during what times. It is another item that used to be viewed as a “luxury” but now is becoming a “necessity” in the hospitality space.
In closing, my hope was to encourage you to take a look around the next time you are traveling and perhaps you notice a new piece of AV that you never knew existed or that the hotel is utilizing technology in a new way to help recreate the home experience for their guests. Whether it is the hotel Wi-Fi, the guest room TV, or the audio/video you experience during the late-night customer dinners, the hospitality market is rapidly turning to AV and connectivity to increase bookings and keep guests coming back. That is the name of the game after all!