Six factors to consider when balancing decisions between built-in and portable AV equipment
By Jeff Loether
To say that AV services are “out of balance” in some operations is an understatement. When properly managed, AV can produce the second highest profit margin in a hotel – behind rooms. However, as my good friend John Burns, president of Hospitality Technology Consulting, recently said, “No one understands [AV], and no one really wants to.”
If a hotel does not have enough AV rental revenue to share with an outside audiovisual company to manage these in-house services, trying to self-manage AV services can be a nightmare. Without an SOP program and technical support, balancing portable equipment and built-in equipment along with staff training is quite challenging.
Another out-of-balance condition arises when the hotel’s corporate design standards dictate that the facility must have basic AV technologies built in, but there is no maintenance program, repair budget, or upgrade program to keep the systems working and current. Installed technology is considered part of the building’s fixed equipment. That means, if something goes wrong with it, it’s the hotel’s responsibility to fix it. When this built-in equipment is not routinely maintained, it will deteriorate and fail, typically during or right before an event. From this point forward, the built-in systems are considered unreliable and portable systems are used at a much higer cost to the hotel and guest. And, it’s just not fair to try to get the out-sourced AV services provider to be responsible for the hotel’s buiilt-in systems. It’s not their equipment, and they make money renting their own portable equipment.
Meeting planners aren’t happy when told they must use portable equipment, since it’s a hit to their budgets, and portable systems are typically disruptive aesthetically. Some planners may choose a venue solely because its installed AV systems are sufficient for their event, and the costs are usually lower. IACC facilities, for example, are committed to having excellent built-in systems available as part of their CMP pricing packages. Built-in basic AV systems have many advantages – more efficiency, lower cost and consistent service quality across multiple properties – but not maintaining the systems will result in a loss of business and a wasted investment.
So how does a hotel balance built-in and portable AV equipment? Here are six critical factors to consider:
- Focus on creating a great guest experience. This starts at the corporate level through choice and control. Corporate management needs to create a consistent quality guest experience across all properties in their management portfolio. They must also give developers guidance and options through design standards to provide a consistent platform for their staff.Meanwhile, brand management must align their operations staff to own, maintain, and provide services using the built-in systems while managing out-sourced AV service vendors. This is done through standard operating procedures, master agreement terms and conditions, and proper accounting. At the property level, hoteliers need to present planners with technology options (basic & advanced; built in & portable) and they must control and measure the financial return. Controlling and measuring event-technology revenues and expenses will lead to more efficient operations, more memorable guest experiences, and more profitable bottom lines.
- Design for both built-in technologies and portable outsourced equipment. In our experience, in most small- to medium-sized hotels, more than 80% of business meetings have AV requirements which can be satisfied with basic built-in AV technologies for sound and display, leading to a cleaner room, more efficient operations, and higher quality guest experience. Design standards must incorporate not only basic built-in AV equipment but must also accommodate supplemental portable equipment and promote the services of out-sourced AV vendors who provide advanced services when required.
- Establish a program for preventative maintenance and repair. Operations must have a proactive approach with an allocated budget to maintain built-in equipment; properly maintained systems provide high reliability and high performance as designed and installed. Preventative maintenance programs address both hotel staff and local AV servicing companies to proactively optimize the performance of the built-in systems.
- Anticipate future-technology upgrades. Incremental upgrades of built-in technology are a must, so budget for it. Installed video and audio equipment have an expected reliable service life of five to 25 years when properly maintained. Planning and budgeting is required to ensure that the technology will be current. New financial tools are available to allow leasing, even for built-in equipment as part of the operating budget, not as an owner asset.
- Implement standard-operating procedures and training. Solid, well-executed SOPs and staff training provide for intentional, structured guest experiences that are aligned with consistency, financial return and guest satisfaction. Design standards, installation and ongoing maintenance and training links development directly to operations.
- Consider flexible financing options. All the above needs to be responsibly accounted for and funded. Managing outsourced vendor contracts and budgeting for upgrades and preventive maintenance each need to be accounted for. Balancing the self-managed built-in AV systems with advanced AV services provided by outsourced vendors is a win-win-win for all involved. These hybrid services models pay for themselves and deliver excellent guest experiences. The new AV-as-a-Service funding models leverage operating leases with support services and improve financial returns.
Implementing these six elements are key to a successful, balanced AV services program. It’s a complicated decision process that must be carefully thought through. The implications of each decision become far-reaching and will affect many meeting planners and their guests, well into the future.