Industry Update
Opinion Article12 November 2018

AV Solutions Make the Hospitality Industry More Hospitable

Restaurants, hotels and cruise ships are all racing to employ the newest wave of audiovisual technologies to enhance every guest experience — from placing orders to navigating a city.

By Brad Grimes, Senior Director of Communications at AVIXA

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Audiovisual technologies are quickly becoming a mainstay of many hospitality environments. Whether guests are visiting a hotel, restaurant, or cruise ship, today's tech-savvy travelers expect video displays, touchscreens, and mobile connectivity to be abundant and useful. In a world full of screens, here are some ways hospitality brands are using AV technology to offer guests exceptional experiences.

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Go Big or Stay Home

At the Westport Social, a 13,000-square-foot bar and gaming lounge in St. Louis, Missouri, patrons are treated to a television viewing experience found in few locations, especially indoors. The main bar has 20-foot ceilings, so instead of the usual wall of televisions, the owners installed three 16-foot-long by 9-foot-tall LED video displays that are clearly visible throughout the room. The result is a more refined design aesthetic that eliminates the clutter created by having TVs everywhere, while still ensuring each patron can see the action.

With a narrow,1.8mm pixel pitch (the distance between the center of each LED), the displays provide a high-definition image over a massive area like the ones used for billboards and stadium screens. The picture can be viewed from any angle and distance, with superior brightness and color contrast compared to standard televisions.

Although the end user experience is great, the greatest feature of this audiovisual barroom experience may actually be how the system is controlled. Using a simple iPad interface, employees can instantly select any display and change the channel and turn all 15 displays on and off with a single button.

Dedicated restaurant and sports bars, such as Buffalo Wild Wings, require equally simple controls for their complex networks of 50-plus televisions, which handle more than a dozen audio and video feeds. The fast, simple control of the whole network is crucial to daily operations, as workers can respond immediately to customer requests to change channels or direct audio from a specific television feed through a tabletop speaker.

Stephen Sullivan, President of Antsul Group, which operates eight Buffalo Wild Wings locations in New Jersey, understands the importance for his businesses to cater to every customer.

"Compelling AV is the main attraction," Sullivan says. "We're not only competing with every other bar who's got Monday Night Football or a UFC match-up, we're also competing with watching the game at home. We have to offer bigger sound and better picture quality than our competition, as well as your house. We sell buffalo wings, but we also offer a unique audiovisual experience."

Make it Personal

The need to offer guests compelling AV experiences also extends to other hospitality venues. Hotels of all sizes and aesthetics are leveraging the latest AV technologies to deliver unique, memorable experiences that provide guests with useful travel information while reinforcing branding and communicating a high level of customer service.

At the Sofitel Paris Baltimore, a 19th-century townhouse hotel located near the Eiffel Tower, a recent renovation maintained the building's historic charm while adding a thrilling new welcome to guests: a 100-square-foot interactive "Welcome Wall" in the entrance hallway.

"Because they were renovating the hotel, the owners wanted to create something new and exciting that would make a statement every time a guest returns, and I think the digital Welcome Wall really achieves that goal," says Alexandre Simionescu, Managing Partner and Creative Director of Float4, designers of the Welcome Wall.

"It's not meant to be subtle. It's meant to really attract attention and initiate interaction in a way that is not invasive. After their interest in piqued, guests notice that it's interactive and are excited to actually touch the wall. The Welcome Wall is there to break the ice."

The Welcome Wall showcases playful, digital artwork that responds to human movements while also offering a "photo booth" experience and virtual concierge through which guests can explore Paris via an interactive map. Hotel staff can then help guests use the map to create personalized two-hour tours they can download to their smartphones and use as a guide through the city. The size of the wall wows guests, the interactivity keeps them involved, and the novelty of useful technology instills positive memories of the hotel brand.

High-Tech Takes to The High Seas

Interactive experiences don't have to be huge to be compelling, however, as evidenced by new options offered on leading cruise ships. The MSC Meraviglia, for instance, offers an abundance of tech-advanced features to its passengers. With a total of 114 touchscreens located throughout the deck, guests can book dinner reservations, spa appointments, and theater tickets with just a few clicks, then swipe their personalized RFID smart bracelet received at the start of their stay — which contains all personal information — thereby saving time and frustration.

Meanwhile, since 2012 Disney has outfitted two ships, the Dream and Fantasy, with "Magical Portholes," round LED displays above the bed that show a real-time ocean view from cameras mounted on the ship's exterior, based on each room's specific location. This creative addition gives the interior's windowless cabins a much-needed feeling of space and connection to the outside world, allowing guests to wake up with the sunrise, or turn it off if they desire.

Of course, this being a Disney cruise ship, there is also the occasional famous cartoon character who pops up on the screen, adding whimsy to an already kid-centered cruise. After the success of the Magical Portholes, both the Dream and Fantasy cruise ships added virtual "windows" in the Skyline Bar that use digital displays to turn the walls into skyline views of famous world capitals.

Disney's creative use of displays and live cameras began a trend that found its way to eight current Royal Caribbean ships that now feature "virtual balconies" in the interior rooms. An 80-inch HD display that reaches nearly from the floor to the ceiling is affixed to the wall and dressed up with curtains to simulate a real window. Just like the Disney ships, each room gets a different view from on-board cameras, depending on which wall features the display.

It's clear that hospitality venues of all types are increasingly looking to the latest audiovisual technologies to provide guests with meaningful interactive experiences. To remain competitive and relevant, hospitality operators should stay informed of continuing technological advances that can be used to differentiate their brand and provide a better guest experience.

Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is Senior Director of Communications for AVIXA™, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. AVIXA represents the $178 billion global commercial AV industry and produces InfoComm trade shows around the world.

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