Whether the piped music in the lobby of a hotel relaxes you or the sounds in a discotheque that get your feet moving, it is a feeling that will almost always be associated with ultimate luxury. It is this intangible feel-good factor and much more that hotels are aiming to achieve as they invest in the latest technologies to deliver to their customers an unforgettable audio experience.
The digital technology revolution, especially in music, has turned the situation on its head. Hotels now look to cater to the individual tastes of their customers and to their increased expectations of wanting the best audio devices, whether at home or on the move and have necessarily had to keep pace with the advances in technology.
In fact, as hotels strive to create a home away from home, they are placing a strong emphasis on creating the perfect ambience to soothe their guests.
And so, the audio systems that are being chosen and used are not just the best-in-class, but best suited for a particular location in a hotel.
Vipin Pungalia, director, professional and installed sound segment, Sennheiser, says that to address the diverse needs of customers, “hotels require customised products. Hence, they want multi-zone, multi- source music since separate background music is required for different zones. In addition to this, they are looking for remote wall panels for control and convenience. Furthermore, hoteliers want products that easily blend with the decor of their hotels. Last but not least, they want customised solutions that can be upgraded at any time.”
Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say the ambience of a hotel is directly proportional to its success with sound systems being an essential element.
“Hotel owners today specifically prefer to deal with original equipment manufacturers who can supply the entire audio chain and control & automation, i.e. all electronics in an audio chain starting from the source (microphones) to signal processors, amplification to output (speakers, display, PA systems). This not only saves a lot of stress interacting with different vendors but also ensures the quality delivery through a system supplied by one single vendor,” says Ankush Agarwal, director, marketing, Harman India.
It is also not just a matter of choosing different types of audio systems but also where to use a particular sound system which has undergone a change in mindset. Vimal Verma, F&B manager, Hyatt Pune Kalyani Nagar says “based on recent trends, the sound systems are also getting innovative as a lot of hotels are revolving their F&B around various concepts. This means that the need for a sound system also changes.”
Sound systems experts and manufacturers concur. Pungalia says “hotels are not just concentrating on good food, good service and good prices, but also on providing unforgettably unique experiences. As Indians are huge music aficionados, hoteliers are engaged in providing an ultimate experience by providing the best music experience and audio clarity to their customers.”
This means that sound systems are critical to most hotels, especially in the banquet or event area as well as in areas such as the lobby, restaurants, bar, gym and spa where they help to set the appropriate mood depending on each of these various settings and time of day and ongoing activity.
Anirban Das Gupta, manager, i-Kandy, Pullman Gurgaon Central Park, says, “More of ambient sound systems in hotels are a rage these days in all the outlets. Club-heavy sounds are suitable for nightclubs and lounges.”
However, Das Gupta is also quick to add that while a good audio system ensures that everyone who visits the place has a good time, “also, there are no after-effects on one’s ears.”
Jayant Kadam, director of engineering, Westin Pune Koregaon Park, elaborates further. “The Westin brand is oriented around wellness,” he says. “We believe that the experience should involve all the five senses. A good audio system definitely helps us reach out to our guests through the sense of sound. A good system helps create the mood and can set the tone of the guests’ experience, whether it is for business or for leisure.”
And while it’s easy to focus on the customer, what may escape one’s notice is the feel-good factor is not merely for the guests but extends to the staff as well.
At Novotel Hyderabad, almost all back of the house areas including the kitchen, food production areas, staff cafeteria and the staff office areas are connected with a central sound system. This centralised system plays music from different genres at different locations in the hotel at pre-programmed timings and is updated every month.
Choosing the content, too, is no longer from a stack, but there are professionals today catering specifically to the hospitality industry. A recent trend has been the move away from CDs and USB drives to outsourcing the audio requirement. “The trend is also streaming music from the internet through licensed content producers. You can connect with websites that give you audio solutions and choose the music based on your choice for a fee. There are also some agencies that do this, where they assist with audio requirements by choosing the right kind of music based on the venue and the timings,” says Maverik Mukherjee, GM, Novotel Hyderabad Airport. “This also extends to allowing hotel guests to choose music content in their rooms and be able to have customised playlists,” he adds.
More players in the industry are walking a similar path. Marriott has a tie-up with international music support agency Music Styling. Manik Vishnoi, F&B manager, Bengaluru Marriott Whitefield, says “we get music support from our agency in public areas and other hotel spaces exposed for guest use. We look at technology-friendly features which are at par with the latest market offerings and we ensure that our systems include specific features that would enable a guest to connect their devices to play audio during events and private parties.”
And while digital equipment, sharp sound quality and great acoustics are the basic requirements that hotels always look for, they also consider a range of other factors. The best value for money is where the vendors can provide constant upgrades. Shriniwas Yadav, chief engineer, Holiday Inn New Delhi Mayur Vihar Noida, says “Sound quality, cost, value for money, aesthetic looks and a reliable after sales service is why we would choose a particular system and vendor.”
For some others it is a matter of compatibility with current systems that the hotel already has. “Licensed content and hardware compatibility and integration with existing cabling or speakers is also an added element,” explains Mukerji.
While the science of sound, acoustic quality and clarity are barriers that were already conquered long ago by sound systems vendors, there are yet other trends that are shaping the sound solutions business. Agarwal of Harman says innovation in audio products is the cornerstone to capturing market share. “With a dedicated team for catering to the hospitality sector globally, we work closely with major hospitality chains with the aim of understanding the changing demands catalysed by new trends on technologies like Bluetooth, Blu Ray, AVB, Cloud IT, etc.,” says Agarwal.
Pungalia of Sennheiser, says some of the company’s products that have seen good sales momentum are its “LSP 500 Pro wireless PA speaker for instant audio set up anywhere; Apart CM5EH speaker, as it is humidity proof; CMAR speaker as it is designed for high temperature areas like the spa and the sauna; the MASK series of speakers designed for both indoors and outdoors; and the rock series speakers (that looks like a real rock) designed for the garden areas!”
It is clear, then, in a competitive market, no hotel can afford to be left behind by not investing in the best systems. Having a good audio system certainly adds to the ambience of the hotel and to guest experience and satisfaction. “Sound is an integral sense of our overall experience. We do not realise this as sound is always a backstage actor who sets up the tone and enhances the act. It’s a value-add to the hotel business,” says Verma. “The collective aim is to provide a great experience, which is inarguably at the very core of a service industry such as hospitality.”