Good quality audio systems in hotels whether in open spaces or guest rooms is a sure shot way to augment the overall guest experience.
If there is one thing that you immediately notice is sound and especially when you are in a hotel. Soothing music for instance can immediately transport you into another world and if there is a jarring noise, it can put you off in a minute. What this means naturally is that audio systems in a hotel are of utmost importance in not just guest relations but also ensuring that the solutions are practical and cost efficient. While this is not a simple task, there is much effort that hoteliers need to take to constantly investing in R&D and in the latest products that deliver optimum audio in any environment – be it in guest rooms or public areas.
The key then lies in choosing the right equipment as far as audio systems are concerned and also ensuring that these are constantly updated and upgraded. “Recently, we have installed sound infrastructure was redesigned to provide enhanced user experience in the ballroom. It was revamped with New Ceiling Speakers (Tannoy), Amplifier (Labgruppen C-Series Multichannel Amplifier) & DSP (Digital Signal Processor – Biamp Tesira Forte). All these are controlled using Crestron Control processor (CP3). For live performances, we have invested in a Digital Mixing Console with MADI Interface. Full HD projector and Tab tensioned screen is also installed to provide better visual experience,” said Nemaraji Sabapathy, Chief Engineer, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway. Hoteliers are introducing these systems in the meeting spaces as well as the lobby. “The main areas we have introduced these are in the conferencing facilities where in the guests get to conduct their meetings using our high end equipment providing richer visuals for video and crystal clear sounds for their teleconferences thus ensuring more productive meetings. In addition, in guest rooms and restaurants, we have replaced old Televisions and Audio Systems with more advanced ones again ensuring a richer experience,” added Sachin Mahesh- Head Special Projects & IT- juSTa Hotels & Resorts. Maheesha Ratnayake, Director Operations- Cape Weligama/ Resplendent Ceylon opined, “at Cape Weligama we have installed multi-speaker Sonos audio systems in the rooms and villas. Given the level of comfort we endeavour to offer guests and the long length of stay, we believed that this would be an essential amenity guests would love and we were right. In public areas we have custom playlists made by a specialist company in London that matches the time of day and the guest mood we seek to enable.”
Third Party Connect
Managing an AV infrastructure requires dedicated and certified staff. The hotel management must also ensure that the staff is periodically trained and certified to manage the existing AV infrastructure and any future upgrades. As the trend is towards Audio/Video convergence, the staff must also be capable of handling basic IT infrastructure as well. Training and selection of the right AV infrastructure management staff requires huge investment as well. “In places, where we have stand-alone hotels and the requirement is limited, we still continue to outsource as per the need. However, where the inventories are more and we have more than one hotel, then we have gone ahead and procured these systems as a shared resource and the costs are easily recovered through frequent usage,” said Mahesh. Kundan Attarde, Director of Engineering, Meluha The Fern Hotel added, “for small places like conferences and corporate meetings in-house AV services are more cost effective, but for bigger social events like wedding, birthday parties, exhibitions banquet halls might not sustain with in-house AV services. Also maintaining inventory of AV products are more expensive than outsourcing the AV services. Also there are several advantages of outsourcing AV services. Outsourcing will reduce the fixed cost and they are more cost effective as no need to maintain inventories, equipment maintenance, manpower and space. This is a huge advantage as you will always have latest equipment and a support team working with the best technology.”
Guests love controlling their own entertainment in room via their smartphones, using their music sources or the hotels. The current trend in audio system spaces are High Resolution Audio, Wireless Audio, Networked Audio, to name a few. Mahesh explained, “with the increased usage of smart phones and the voice assist systems with AI, we are also exploring using these to integrate our existing audio systems to enable guests to operate televisions, music systems and other media through their smart phones.” In the past couple of years, Wireless Audio & Internet Radio has gained popularity; with the revival of Vinyl records. Digital Signal processing to correct room acoustics, Wireless automated systems, Cloud technology, sound wave management and zone management are also trending in this space. Alejandro Vidales, Director Of Information Technology – Palazzo Versace Dubai said, “different companies are testing intelligent speakers like Alexia to control the room features like air conditioning, televisions, curtains as well as ordering room service or learning more about the city where the guest is staying. This seems to be an exciting time for this technology; great opportunities can be added to our guest experience- from information about the timing of outlets, weather forecast, special promotions and voice control in the room.”
R&D in Audio
A key element that drives investments in R&D is based on guest feedback. Again while some hoteliers invest in these efforts, some others outsource. Mahesh explained, “our core business has been and always will be hospitality. Therefore, we ourselves do not invest in R&D but work with reliable partners who keep introducing us to these technological advances available in the market and after careful evaluation, procure them if required for our business.” On the other hand, Vinesh Gupta, General Manager, The Den Bengaluru said, “we are working with our sound consultants, and our Head of Projects Samy Ohana who is an authority on acoustics. It is interesting to know from him how even after 50 years of his experience, he is still found at universities in the world doing research and learning / adapting to new age technology. In this respect, the company has invested substantial amount of resources and money to always be ahead of the world.”
Considering that several audio solutions are outsourced, hoteliers need to ensure that suppliers who are selected. Reliability, cost effectiveness, quality and functionality of products supplied and after sales services are the key criteria to select the suppliers. “One of the main criteria for selecting the AVSP is their credibility in the field of Pro Audio and Video design and implementation. We also analyze their previous engagements with us and also get a feedback from their existing clientele. The strength of certified engineers/technicians is also one of the criteria for selection. Of course, their association with industry leaders in Audio/Video also plays an important role in selection,” said Sabapathy.
Aesthetics vs. Ergonomics
Since audio equipment is large, hoteliers also need to understand where these can be placed. This also relates to matching ergonomics with aesthetics and making the most of the space available. “As most of the equipment can be rack mounted, Standard Equipment racks (19”) are used with appropriate accessories (Shelves, PDUs, Fans etc.,) to ensure that the space allocated can be optimized. Adequate space is allocated at various locations in the hotel to accommodate AV equipment racks and entries to these spaces are access controlled,” said Sabapathy. Today modern equipment is so accessible and manageable, this has freed a lot of space that used to be previously allocated for this function. Using Cloud, network and switch type modules saves a lot of space as well. “We undertake restructuring of the space if deemed necessary by our projects team and replacement of redundant products to make way for the new installations,” added Mahesh. “We ensure that space allocated to audio visual equipment is weekly and monthly audited and preventive maintenance of all the equipment is done periodically too,” opined Attarde.
Hospitality is no more about a great room and a food. It is about managing all the five senses of a human – Sight Sound Smell Taste and Touch. Sound is no more playing piped music in public areas, but about acoustics and mood management. “Today, sound consultants are as important as Interior Designers, and at The Den, we always believed in doing nothing but the best and most state of art technology for the Sound. Working with best AV consultants in the world to the brands none other than Bose, iHome and Kramer, we ensured that every area of the hotel is acoustically controlled. The music is no more a pipped music, but it has moods, rhythm and vocals and new age music. Even in the guest rooms, we have iHome as a standard fixture as we realize that music is very personal, and the guests may like to play their own music from their – devices, and iHome is a perfect gadget to convert your personal space into a high-quality sound zone,” said Gupta.
Again with audio equipment, hoteliers need to set aside a budget for newer technologies that will help us deliver better guest experience. “When a new upgrade is planned, an AVSP or a consultant is involved. The business requirements are discussed and the current infrastructure is audited and analyzed by them. Basis their report and their design recommendations, we process the necessary incorporations and modifications,” said Sabapathy. Some of the current innovations like smart phones are coming with AI and voice assist programs such as ‘SIRI’ & ‘Alexa’, companies are exploring interfacing existing products with these. “However, it is not necessary to introduce these as and when they are available; it is important to carefully evaluate and then procure based on the requirement, feasibility, costs, scalability and ROI when exploring these,” explained Mahesh. Technology will always be a tool or act as an aid for providing a good experience to guests. But with the right people at the helm, ensuring that technology has a human face is what will hold hoteliers in good stead.
A ‘Smart’ Voice
Park Inn By Radisson New Delhi IP Extension has launched voice-activated smart rooms becoming first property in India to provide an app-free in-room voice assistant that is powered by WebRTC technology. This is a collection of communications protocols and application programming interfaces that enable real-time communication over peer-to-peer connections. Six studio rooms in the hotel have been fitted with Amazon Alexa’s Echo Dot devices that help guests to control lights, music and television settings with voice commands. They can also use the smart device to set wake-up calls, request room cleaning, in-room dining, laundry services and check-out. Saurav Dutta, General Manager, Park Inn IP Extn. According to Dutta, “integrating audio and video was the need of our hotel as we get lot of foreign customers, who want to watch and listen to music and videos of their language. The only solution was internet as getting audio and video channels for each of the languages by conventional TV system was not possible. Therefore we integrated Internet to the TV.” Kamakshi Clouds, the organization they have tied up with has Internet of Things and Embedded Internet Technology and have provided a solution that does not require any change in the infrastructure of the room. The ordinary TV is connected to a device that streams Internet content just as any computer or laptop and the system is just plug and play. “We have installed Amazon Echo Dot for various services. The guest can avail housekeeping, concierge and laundry services with just voice commands. He does not have to dial the reception for any of these services. Guest can control lightings (switch on off) with voice commands. Guest can use all internal features of Amazon Echo Dot. He can listen to news, music. He can set up wake up alarm and reminders of himself,” said Dutta. With the voice-activated in-room solutions the hotel expects a 50 percent improvement in housekeeping efficiencies; ensuring speedier completion of service requests. “In future we can have our own Bluetooth sound system which can be paired to Amazon Echo dot. We have spent nearly 25K for each of this room which is not too high in compare to the luxury services we are providing to them. The integration of Alexa in the room, which can sing songs of your choice can elevate guest experience all together. We will compile all the feedbacks, look into the short comings then roll over the most refined solution in all other rooms,” added Dutta.
This story appeared in the Mar-2018 issue of Hotelier India here: Mar-18 Sound Systems