Hospitality sector: Serving purpose

Hurrairah bin Sohail examines the hospitality sector in Asia Pacific to discuss the avenues for growth and the shifting landscape of video display systems for hotel deployments.

Globally the hospitality sector is expected to generate USD9.5 billion in AV solutions revenue in 2018 with growth expected to be just under 10% through 2022 according to research conducted by IHS Markit for AVIXA. APAC represents about one-third of the global professional AV opportunity, or USD3.5 billion. Growth in the region is expected to be higher, surpassing 10% through the end of the forecast period till 2022.

On the ground, AV professionals corroborate the growth of the hospitality sector with their personal experience. Lawrence Siow, principle consultant at AV & Acoustic, says: “From my perspective in Thailand, the country has become ‘the’ destination for most people and Thailand’s effort to promote their country as ‘the’ destination is paying dividends. We live in a modern society and people feel the need to travel to places where they can stretch their dollar. In Thailand you can have the modern city experience and also the countryside and of course the sun, the sand and the sea. I believe this is why the hospitality market here is growing.”

The hospitality sector in other parts of Asia Pacific has been spurred on by global sporting events. In particular Korea experienced a growth in the hospitality sector during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018 while the Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020 are expected to boost the hospitality sector in Japan.

Display dilemma

The largest technology segment driving the growth in the hospitality vertical is video displays and it is expected to hit USD2.4 billion in revenues for the APAC region according to research conducted by IHS Markit for AVIXA. However, there is debate regarding what the best video display for the hospitality sector is. Projection, LCD panels and LED tiles are all in contention for application in the hospitality sector and the correct choice can oftentimes depend on the individual case scenario.

Ian D. Harris, president and principal consultant at iHD Consulting, comments: “LCD panels, in their different iterations, still have a place in guestroom, gym and meeting spaces. Projection remains very cost effective for indoor large screen display, particularly for screen sizes above or around 85-in diagonal. LED tiles are attractive for outdoor signage and for typically the main display in a ballroom. Cost, however, remains high compared to projection and for the majority of investors and owners of hotel properties, it’s the cost that is paramount.”

Siow adds: “In general the clients see large visual displays as part of their marketing strategy to give them an edge for their properties over others. LED tiles are the direction to go at present. The good ones are still prohibitively expensive, the mid-range LED tiles are getting there with their quality and hopefully prices will come down. Projectors and LCD panels, they are still the bread and butter for the AV industry, as the technology behind these two types of displays is mature and has many benefits since it is tried and tested.”

The disruption for video displays, as identified by both consultants, comes from the emergence of LED tiles. Advances in technology and reducing prices mean that LED tiles can now be considered for a range of indoor applications they were previously not suited to. Additionally, LED tiles allow hotels to design custom displays allowing them to differentiate their venues from the competition. Harris comments: “The application of LED tiles allows use of stage lighting without washing out the displayed image, and is impactful due to its far higher contrast ratio. Projection could only achieve around 10:1 contrast ratio in commercial environments. LED tiles have not really enabled new designs and applications, however they have improved them where budget is available.”

Siow says: “Clients who want a ‘wow’ factor for their venues and properties will choose to go with a custom designed LED display to give themselves an edge over their competitor. Now your display is no longer limited to the 16:9 format. With multi- window processors, you now can have your LED wall as your backdrop.”

On trend

Video display systems for hospitality are also influenced by the overarching trends in the professional AV industry. Whether these trends are adopted however is another matter.

Regarding the shift of video transmission over IP systems, Siow says: “Video over IP is the direction the industry is headed in and it only makes sense for hospitality to adopt it. It also saves cents, as these are low cost infrastructure deployments that you can build early. When the client is ready the investment of equipment for video transmission can come later.”

Harris says: “We, as a technology consultancy, are designing mostly AV over IP streaming systems now and view HDBaseT as a legacy technology, or nearly there. The AV market is still in its early days, for example there are only a few in-wall panels allowing direct connection of HDMI with IP out of the back like the old days of VGA with external converter boxes sitting on the carpet or under the table, plugging into the UTP connection panel. It makes perfect sense to use IP, such that it runs on commercial networks (Layer 2 at the Edge switch) and with no need to certify or qualify the Edge switches, since corporate LAN is not going to be using exotic models.”

One of the drivers of video over IP is 4K resolution content. However, higher resolutions are not impacting hospitality as Harris details: “The hospitality sector doesn’t demand 4K, but will need it. There is almost no demand but we are designing higher resolution video systems with regards to the infrastructure and streaming products if not the displays and the sources which need to catch up.” Changes in consumer technology are also having an impact on the hospitality sector. Siow identifies: “One of the possible developments in the hospitality sector that I see is smart guest rooms with voice command. As the current technology from Apple and Google improves, the smart guestroom will eventually come to be.”

Manufacturers have already taken the first steps to respond to this trend. At ISE 2018, LG showcased an LCD panel for hospitality that was integrated with a voice assistant. The functionality included control over lighting as well as panel operations. LG envisions a future where voice activated systems replace the control panels in hospitality and become the central touch point between technology and hotel patrons.

Harris offers his opinions: “BYOD, wireless connectivity of personal devices, is here now, though not implemented often enough currently. Service robots are coming up fast and we have designed infrastructure for service robots for some clients already. Voice interaction in the guest room and meeting room, using professional and not consumer technologies for software for privacy reasons is a space that has yet to be explored. “Also LiFi is there on the two-year horizon. This is use of light instead of radio waves for 10Gb/s to 100Gb/s data communication. Under development by Prof. Haas at the University of Edinburgh, Cisco and others have joined in the development, and phone manufacturers are believed to be publishing patents and trialling code already.”

Whatever the developments may be, the main focus of the hospitality sector will remain the client. AV systems and technology on the whole, in the context of a hotel deployment, will need to keep this in mind.

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