Business

Enabling The Integrated Life

A discussion with hospitality designers sheds light on a trend the AV industry must be part of.
The interactive Welcome Wall at the Sofitel Paris Baltimore.

On a hot July day in Manhattan, I sat in the beautiful Goldsmith mannequin showroom on Seventh Ave., as representatives from the hospitality industry talked about the role of audiovisual technology in hotels and on cruise ships. InfoComm’s Executive Director and CEO, Dave Labuskes, CTS, CAE, RCDD, joined these decision-makers around a bright, white table to impress upon them that our industry—what you do every day—is about much more than screens and speakers. AV design and integration are about experiences created through technology. As you might expect, this crowd was on the same page.

In addition to architects and designers who specialize in hospitality spaces, there were executives from Marriott, Wyndham and Princess Cruises. The meeting was facilitated by ST Media, an InfoComm partner in our efforts to engage the hospitality and retail industries with commercial AV. As part of InfoComm’s strategic plan, established by our Board of Directors at the beginning of the year, one of our goals is to increase awareness of AV in a variety of customer verticals, and that includes hospitality.

The discussion was wide-ranging. Could hotels stop putting TVs in guest rooms, given that so many guests carry TVs with them in the form of smartphones and tablets? Is there a role for smart mattresses in creating a physical experience that counters the effects of travel? How do hotels create a pre-programmed, customized AV experience by anticipating guests’ likes, without infringing on their privacy? One development executive indicated that his hotel company was exploring making everything wireless and voice-controlled. Why? Because it’s the life their customers—and they themselves—live. (The meeting took place on Amazon’s Prime Day, and one participant had just bought a new Echo.) The real question is, how will the AV industry help hospitality brands realize their technology goals?

If there was a theme to the conversation, it was one you’ve heard before: Consumers’ personal technology experiences are driving the trends in commercial spaces. But, as one executive put it, if hospitality companies ask people what they want, guests can’t easily articulate it, apart from giving a list of gadget features. Hospitality designers—and, in turn, the AV professionals who support them—must drive the experience.

Bridget Higgins, who leads the Aloft brand for Marriott, takes inspiration from other technology experiences in her life—for example, at fast-food restaurants and retail stores. Aloft Hotels serves as a kind of incubator for new technology experiences within Marriott. What it’s trying to accomplish is the integration of guests’ personal technology in a way that enables “frictionless travel,” Higgins said. Or, as Ted Brumleve, Senior Director for Strategic Development of Wyndham Worldwide, characterized the goal, “Plug and play your life into hotel accommodations.”

There’s plenty of room for the “wow” factor in hospitality. Alex Simionescu, Managing Partner and Creative Director of design studio Float4, provided a case in point. The studio created the stunning, interactive Welcome Wall for the Sofitel Paris Baltimore. It’s an eye-catching, 100-square-foot, touch-enabled wall; equally important, though, it’s an exercise in applying Big Data to personalize an integrated AV experience.

Increasingly, whether it’s a “wow” moment or the seamless playing of personal media on an in-room entertainment system, integrated AV experiences follow people everywhere—from the voice-controlled speaker in their kitchen, to the office huddle space, to the airport, to the hotel at which they’re staying and then back to their home theater. What all these hospitality designers were talking about is what InfoComm plans to showcase at InfoComm 2018 in Las Vegas NV—the integrated life.

As technology has become more advanced and ubiquitous, it no longer matters where—the home, the office, on the way to work, a hotel—it is used. Enabled by increasingly networked AV systems and the Internet of Things (IoT), it only matters that the experience is seamless, reliable, engaging, personal…and integrated. That last part is the AV industry’s bread and butter, and it’s the value that AV professionals bring to a generation of customers in hospitality, retail, transportation, entertainment and other vertical markets.

Integrated Life @ InfoComm 2018 will be composed of a dedicated section of the show floor, as well as special programming to explore new solutions that impact the AV industry and its customers—among them, artificial intelligence, sensor technology, voice control and others. To many, this pervasive AV technology experience is nothing new; however, for many who are trying to understand the business outcomes that the technology supports, it represents a fresh avenue of opportunity.

Derrin Brown of Princess Cruises was also at the July meeting in New York. If you’ve been on a Princess Cruises ship lately, you know the company has upped its AV game with giant entertainment displays and 360-degree sound systems. However, Brown is also focused on the integrated experience—spaces that change to suit passengers, tech-enabled customer service that anticipates guests’ wants and AV infrastructure to support personal media experiences at sea. “And we need to do it while removing roadblocks to adoption,” he added.

In the integrated life, no one needs to figure out how to watch his or her Netflix on the hotel TV. No one needs to learn how to use an otherwise-well-programmed touchpanel to launch a meeting in a hotel huddle space. These are the challenges with which AV customers are dealing in a variety of markets today. “Integrated” is simple, but, at the same time, challenging. AV integrators and designers can help lead the way.

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