By Jeff Loether
This week in Miami, the International Society of Hospitality Consultants is celebrating its 30th Anniversary. Three decades ago, this association was founded by 19 members; today it’s a society of 229 members in 29 countries. The theme of the 30th Anniversary event is is “Celebrating the Past, Charting the Future.” As someone who has worked in the event technology field for nearly 40 years (from concept through design, to construction, commissioning, and operations), I have spent my career consulting with hoteliers and conference center operators to better manage their AV technologies. This year’s Annual Conference theme is extremely relevant to users of AV technologies. Here’s why:
In the past, it was easy to self-manage AV solutions. When setting up a meeting room, a banquet houseman would typically wheel in a projector on a cart, set up a screen, add a mic to the podium, and lay a few lavalier mics at the head table for speakers. That was pretty much it. Today, however, event technologies are far more complex, and things like lighting and acoustics are of paramount importance to planners and attendees. According to the recent surveys, meeting planners are looking at integrating more interactive technology to create more personalized experiences for delegates. When accessing venue viability, the top three criteria for meeting planners included the availability of high quality broadband, quality lighting and meeting room acoustics.
How do smaller hotels chart a course for the future when they are still self-managing their audiovisual equipment as they did in the past? Perhaps three ISHC Annual Conference session titles can to used to start a meaningful conversation:
“You Can’t Know Where You’re Going Unless You Know Where You’ve Been: 1988 to 2018 and Beyond”
Today’s AV technology landscape has changed; we’ve shifted from an analog to a digital environment. Sound systems that used to occupy seven-foot-tall racks are now collapsed into a single “Digital Signal Processor” (DSP) occupying just seven inches of rack space. Going digital means far fewer connections, less labor, less space, and far more performance capabilities. Better yet, digital sound processing and control equipment is far less expensive to buy and maintain.
We’ve also seen a shift from analog to digital when it comes to control systems. Technology has moved from switches and push buttons to touchscreens and apps. When it comes to great control systems, the secret lies in the craftmanship of the control-system programmer. Here we’re exchanging the cost of labor to fabricate and assemble analog control and processing systems for the cost of labor to program the DSPs and control systems to function as needed.
When it comes to cabling and infrastructure, the shift from analog to digital video has had a more significant impact on CapEx budgeting for hotels and conference centers that were designed and built 15+ years ago when complex and expensive infrastructure cabling and processing was required. As video shifted from analog to digital, that infrastructure was not backwards compatible, and miles of costly analog video cabling and related processing and switchers were rendered useless.
The good news is that the infrastructure cabling and processing for today’s digital audio and video components is far simpler than the old analog cabling. Properly designed analog/digital tie lines and input/output panels installed today will easily provide reliable service for decades into the future.
“Hot Topic: Labor Issues Today and Tomorrow”
There is no template, system or organized support for venues that want to self-operate their AV systems. For hotel brands and facility management companies, the challenge is how to hire, support, and evaluate AV technicians whose unique skills do not fit into any of the other departments (for example: F&B, IT, rooms, FM, etc.) since AV Services are unique in many ways. And while public and private sector facilities have a need for meeting and event technology education, there are no organized resources to provide it. Today, it is the responsibility of the hotel management and the owner to provide, maintain and update these systems using in-house staff who have little to no AV/Acoustics technology experience.
Who at the hotel level should be responsible for the preventative maintenance, managed operations, balancing and adjustments, troubleshooting, updating software, break-fix repair, service subscriptions, and reinvestment of AV technologies to stay current? These activities require awareness, skills, systems, procedures, and budgets. So, the question remains: at each hotel, who OWNS the AV systems? Is it Engineering? Catering/Convention Services? Information Technology/Resources? Who is responsible? Who OWNS these systems?
More importantly, who will provide the training to in-house staff on how to properly sell, maintain and forecast AV technologies. There are no tech school courses being taught on how to setup, run, or manage AV systems or departments. The only way to learn is to work in an AV rental company or facility’s AV department. There needs to be a solution that enables hoteliers to self-manage these processes without rigorous or costly training. Perhaps the answer will be found in a new managed-services solution that gives non-skilled AV staff step-by-step instructions in how to manage the process.
“Your Passport to the Future: Key Challenges Facing our Industry Around the World”
The challenge of managing AV in-house is not something new. It’s a global problem impacting hotels of all segments. A significant trend that is impacting CapEx budgeting is “Techorating” or decorating with technology. Until about 10 years ago, interior designers and architects insisted that the meeting and event technology should disappear when not in use and be minimally visible when used. Now there is a ubiquitous integration of AV technologies in hotels, reflecting the home world and work spaces. Video wall arrays are showing up in lobbies. Digital wayfinding and signage are scattered throughout the hotel. Subscription services provide digital art content. AV has shifted from a problem to hide, to a feature that enhances the guest experience.
Meeting attendees are expecting more built in, easy access, available technology like they have at home and at work. The hotel design industry is responding accordingly. This means that newly built and newly remodeled hotels will be seeing more AV technologies built-in to the architecture. But, how will this be responsibly managed and maintained?
Building in more easy-to-use AV technology is trending, phasing out the need for external AV service providers to operate portable AV systems. This means it will become more appropriate for the basic AV services to be provided by hotel staff. The outsourced AV services providers will still offer the more advanced AV services that rely on their portable equipment. This is a hybrid approach to providing AV services to the guest efficiently and cost-effectively.
As 2018 winds down and hoteliers begin to prepare 2019 budgets, considerable thought needs to be given to making a hotel’s AV systems serve the event spaces they are designed for. As ISHC attendees sit in on these three sessions, perhaps they will raise some questions about charting the future of AV technology self-management.
In January, ISHC will release a new CapEX Book. In that book is our article titled: “Top 7 Trends in AV Managed Services Impacting CapEx and OpEx Budgeting.” It’s a good read, if I must say so myself. As the famed Yogi Berra once said: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” This ISHC CapEX article explores how the convergence of several waves of change in the field of audiovisual event and entertainment technologies is fundamentally changing the way we think about planning, budgeting, managing, and offering these technologies to guests. It also looks at how the flow of revenue is shifting from CapEx concerns to OpEX opportunities.
To my friends attending ISHC this week in Miami, “Make it Memorable!” and “Cheers” to another 30 years!