Audio, Installations

Industry POV: What Hospitality Integrations Now Require

Hospitality Integrations, Ashly Audio

Nimble, short-term solutions must transform into long-term upgrades.

Let’s be direct about the biggest issue facing the hospitality market right now. The industry has taken a serious hit as a result of the global novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This situation has been difficult for businesses across the board. Venues have seen weddings and events cancelled, restaurants are dealing with a reduction in seating capacity, hotel vacancies remain high and most sports events are keeping gates shut to fans. In nearly every hospitality application, revenues are down.

However, in just as many applications, you can find opportunities for AV integration. Integrators still have a role to play—and it’s often a major role. The reality is that, at some point, hospitality will make a comeback. When it’s safe to do so, people will be clamoring to return to the venues that offered them entertainment outside the walls of their homes. When that occurs, the experience will be crucial.

Thus, here and now, the manufacturer and integrator communities are tasked with finding a way to fulfill two critical needs for the hospitality space:

  1. We must offer quality improvements that are both effective and affordable for the short term, and that can expand AV offerings to more locations. This, in turn, will allow more distance to be placed between patrons.
  2. We must ensure that these upgrades are valuable in the long term, and that they provide a high-quality experience that people will seek out when the world
    returns to normalcy.

Let’s dive into these more deeply as we examine AV integration’s full value in today’s hospitality environments.

More Audio, Better Distributed

The most effective way for most hospitality operators to tackle social-distancing requirements’ short-term and medium-term effects will be to spread out their businesses physically. Restaurants will continue to extend onto streets and sidewalks—many cities are relaxing regulations on this—or into other areas of their property that previously had gone unused. And, even with winter coming in the Northern Hemisphere, temporary party tents—complete with space heaters—are likely to become quite common across cities, states and countries that aren’t entirely snowed in.

Events spaces have moved a fair amount of wedding receptions and parties to the 2021 calendar year; now, they’re facing a short-term and medium-term need to upgrade spaces to ensure those gatherings are safe and enjoyable. Meanwhile, amusement parks are beginning to operate under capped capacity. Finally, some college campuses are already allowing fans into football stadiums, while keeping social-distancing guidelines in effect.

In all the scenarios mentioned above, there is a crucial need to expand current AV systems. And, in cases where no AV systems currently exist, adding integrated systems has become a priority.

The very best way we can ensure everyone at a party, an event or a gathering feels like they’re part of the action is to guarantee they can hear what’s going on. A similar rule applies to restaurants: If music plays in a restaurant’s dining space, it should be offered in every dining space, whether indoor or outdoor.

The solution here is almost assuredly to add more speakers to a location, but it must be done in a way that is cost effective. A massive investment is not required. Small format speakers can still provide a full-range solution by utilizing crossover designs that significantly improve vertical-axis response. Listeners to the left or right of a speaker will hear spoken word more clearly and will be more immersed in the music.

The cost of a pair of professional-grade speakers can be less than $200. These aren’t retail solutions, mind you; for that price point, you can find pro-grade solutions that can be used in professional installations right now. I’d argue that they’re the right fit for what the hospitality market needs in the short term.

Now, this is just a lone example of a simple upgrade. There are many speaker formats and sizes that can help alleviate the challenges that hospitality venues face. And, on the visual side of things, additional displays and live-production systems can expand visibility when added in strategic ways. The key is to find the right solution for each specific job.

What’s the best way to find the right solutions? Partnerships. Manufacturers must be able to offer price points and outcomes to integrators that will help them win challenging bids in the hospitality space; moreover, the solutions offered must work to address immediate needs. But, of course, the solutions must also yield long-term, high-quality systems!

Long-Term Planning

First, it’s important to note that technology additions don’t have to entail reinventing the current system. Many times, components can be added as simple upgrades. That said, if an overhaul on the amplification end is necessary, seek solutions that can effectively power a space’s short-term and long-term ambitions. There are 4-channel
amps in the market today that can power up to 32 column speakers—large enough to handle an airport concourse! That means everyone—from restaurants to arenas—has a solution to add more power, coming in a package that won’t break the bank.

Also, if components are being replaced, seek integrated products that bring together multiple capabilities. Mixer-amps, for example, can bring multiple zones of mixing, digital signal processing (DSP), amplification, routing, auto-mixing, ducking, monitoring, event scheduling and triggering, and mic preamplification, as well as software that enables remote support and maintenance. All this can be brought together in a single rack unit (RU) and at a palatable price point, enabling more venues to make the switch.

As is obvious, the remote-support offering is a huge value-add for both the venue and the integrator. When the support contracts that integrators offer can be fulfilled without having to roll a truck to a site, system uptime greatly improves and troubleshooting costs drop.

Finally, a long-term plan should be in place for all additional endpoints. Consider the following questions: Where will the speakers go when the outdoor tent comes down? How will the endpoints improve the overall experience when things eventually go back to “normal”? Will they replace aging speakers currently located indoors? Will they provide an audio experience in another location?

Making changes with a strategy in place will ensure that, when patrons do return to hospitality businesses, they will be impressed with the AV experiences.

How you choose to approach making these additions is key. As always, the AV integrator’s goal is to become invested in the long-term success of the business installing these technologies. Thus, tackle the discussion in a manner similar to how we looked at it above.

  1. Consider the question of what can be done right now, for the right budget, that will keep people coming back once they’ve tested the waters of your space. What additional touches can you add to a system that will impress those who become patrons? What experience can you create that will turn those patrons into brand advocates, willing to tell others how well your hospitality business is handling the current situation?
  2. Consider the long-term plan for the technologies. Is this a new system that will last for years to come? Are the new endpoints capable of being repurposed in creative ways down the road? How will the system look in the future?

AV integrators, contractors and consultants are now being asked to design two systems in one. However, a keen attention to detail—and commissioning the correct solutions—will help everyone win more business both in the short term and for years to come.

This article has noted a few specific products—namely, incredibly small speakers and integrated mixer-amps.Those are just examples of the types of solutions that exist in the space today. To find the correct products for any given application, however, one must seek them out.

Just as the end user trusts AV experts to be collaborative partners, so, too, must integrators and designers work with manufacturers to collaborate effectively. Ask manufacturers questions like these: What unique products make sense for the world we live in today? Can you help me design that system? How will you support those products and systems long term?

By doing that, we can find solutions that help everyone get through the coming months and—eventually—prepare hospitality venues for the future.

To read more from Sound & Communications, click here.

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