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Digital Signage - Changing the Way We Communicate with Our Guests

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October 01, 2007
Hotel | Technology
Jeremy Rock - jrock@rockitgroup.com

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

When you mention digital signage to most hoteliers they immediately conjure up images of the LED green display boards that represented what was new technology some years back for identifying meeting rooms and providing guests with a snap shot of a conference agenda. While these LED signs are still in use and are very functional, today’s signage offers a wealth of options and possibilities as far as design, content offerings and overall functionality is concerned.

With the adoption of flat screens into the marketplace the whole concept of digital displays has really changed the way we sell and operate not only our meeting rooms and function space but also retail, back of house and other guest related areas of hotels. From promotional items to interactive navigational features digital displays are fast becoming an important feature of most modern hotels. Most importantly, the new technology allows properties to customize and personalize the information and content that is being displayed on these screens to provide a more effective method of communication with guests and clientele.

Bob Tomko is the president of AVT Communiqué a provider of digital displays.  According to Tomko there are three primary reasons for utilizing display boards in today’s hotel environment: information, navigation and promotion. 

Informational Features
In the hospitality industry digital signage has traditionally been utilized for informational purposes providing guests and clientele with information on events that were taking place at the property. The displays systems were interfaced with the hotel’s preferred sales and catering system and the screens and directories were populated with the information that was obtained via an interface between the systems. The current display systems feature flat panel technology and newer IP-based technology that allows the screens to interface to multiple systems and obtain content and feeds from a number of sources.

The content that is displayed for informational purposes can be configured in any number of ways and it is really up to the property to determine what information they should display over the screens. Most of the systems in the marketplace offer some form of multiview capabilities that allow properties the flexibility to display a multitude of information on the screens.

But, some hotels choose to limit the type of content that is being displayed over the screens and in fact turn the displays into digital art when they are not in use. At the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, N.C., the display panels are used to show digital art at times when the meeting space is not in use. High-definition images of the property’s flora theme were projected on the displays and the feedback from guests thus far has been extremely positive. At other properties they determined that they wanted to have a live TV feed and weather projected as part of the overall content being displayed when the panel is not in use. With the flexibility and seemingly endless options for displaying content over these panels, it is highly recommended that hotels consult with professional consultants from the display companies to ascertain what their options are in this regard.

Along with content, the new systems have the ability to plug in portable displays on an as needed basis. Hotel and AV operators are no longer limited to the fixed display locations that are located in the meeting room areas. As such, portable displays can be located on an at-will basis to address special functions, supplement existing boards and provide additional coverage to areas. At some luxury properties there is sometimes a reluctance to rely solely on the display boards to provide guests with information on activities at the hotel. In these cases the displays should be used as a supplement to the one-on-one interaction from the hotel personnel.   In either case the technology should provide hotel staff with more time to dedicate to other service duties, while guests and visitors are obtaining valuable information from these displays.

Navigational Features
A somewhat new feature to the marketplace is the interactive navigational functionality that many of the systems provide which can be especially advantageous for properties with large convention or function space. Guests and visitors can locate where they are in the facility and more importantly where they need to go for their next session or event. Additionally guests can view the various meetings and attendance options from a variety of views and this can enhance the overall traffic flow of people in the function space area while improving the overall guests’ and visitors’ experience. It also helps to reduce the labor costs involved with providing additional personnel on the floor to assist with this otherwise labor intensive requirement.

Many of the companies offering digital display product offerings also have special software applications that help to address and personalize the navigational features of their system. An attendee interacts with the system via a touchscreen panel whereby the system will identify the guest or visitor and locate his required schedule. With this identification the system can direct the person to his next appointment or event and also provide him with options as to possible alternatives. The navigation functionality can also take on a more futuristic approach with the introduction of magnetic card swipes or the adoption of RFID tags. By simply swiping the card or presenting a RFID badge the person is identified and visually directed to his or her next event. With many hotels introducing RFID electronic door locking systems for their guestrooms, and conference organizers entertaining RFID identification tags (on a lanyard or wristband), it would appear to be a natural extension of the technology to allow them to utilize this way finding technology.

David Levine with Four Winds Interactive believes that his company’s focus on features such as dynamic wayfinding, is a key advantage. By creating easy-to-use yet powerful management software, Four Winds enalbles the hotel's conference staff to quickly personalize conference space for the guests and attendees. Meeting planners often have access to great content ranging from full-motion graphics to HD video. By quickly customizing the digital displays with tailored content, the hotel can create a unique, personalized environment that has a positive impact on the guest experience.

Promotional Features
Tomko also said that the real power and ROI of a digital signage network is about marketing.  He said, "Any vendor can throw up some displays in custom cabinetry with fancy digital background along with a slide show with pretty pictures. But understanding a hotel from a guest’s or meeting attendee’s point of view is what will determine the true success of a digital signage network." 

Every location for every display should be defined with a purpose.  By defining locations into purpose zones within a property one can determine what information a guest or visitor may need at a particular location. Delivering particular information that will enhance their experience for their stay or subtle merchandising messages at key point-of-sale locations or even simply welcoming and recognizing a guest or thanking her for her business can all be done effectively with a smartly designed digital signage network.  By interfacing the digital display board with key operational systems such as a PMS which contain a guest’s profile could be advantageous as it relates to customizing the screen and content that is being delivered. While the big brother issue may be called into question on some targeted content, there is no question that delivering a targeted video or audio message via the system at anytime could be advantageous to the overall marketing efforts of the hotel. In many cases it may amount to a simple promotion of the hotel’s amenities or retail outlets.

Mark Storek, director of sales and marketing for Janus Displays, said that digital signage can often be viewed as the hotel’s own private broadcast network. As such, by effectively customizing the content to meet the needs and requirements of the hotel guests and visitors, the property will create a real opportunity to enhance the overall guest experience while at the same time optimizing the potential revenue generation for the specific targeted areas.  For example, guests may want to book or modify services internal to the hotel like spa, golf or tennis. Alternatively they may also want to get information on surrounding attractions.

When contemplating the promotional features of these systems, one has to wonder if we are getting close to the concept introduced in the film "Minority Report" where Tom Cruise is walking down a corridor and the digital advertising is identifying him as he walks past and personally targeting the advertising to him.

In all cases the content and information should be evaluated by the hotel’s sales and marketing team to ensure that the fine line of confidentially is not crossed.

The possibilities of a digital signage network are endless. If you are considering the purchase and deployment of digital signage for a hotel, you need to consider the potential of the system to enhance the property beyond just meeting room signage. As with most technology the question is always asked as to whether or not the investment is worth the return. Too often we are focused on the cool and new technology features being offered in a particular product category when in fact we should be looking at the overall ROI of a system.

Symon Communications' Director of Product Marketing Bob Brittan said, "There are no simple right or wrong rules about where to deploy rich media digital signage.  The simple reason is that every property has different facilities, financial situations and marketing goals."  Brittan said properties should think through and plan a phased entry into digital signage to make sure their long term goals can be provided for by the selected suppliers.

Careful consideration and planning of the overall potential of the display system will ensure that the operational, aesthetic and financial impact of the system meets (or exceeds) the expectation of the investment.

Jeremy Rock is the president of the RockIT Group, a hospitality technology consulting firm. He can be reached at jrock@rockitgroup.com.

As with most new technology there are things to consider when deploying digital signage. The following represents a small list of the items to be considered.

  1. Location of display boards
    There are the typical locations for meeting room signage and directories, but consider portable displays for events, retail outlets and near elevators.
  2. Signage infrastructure considerations
    When deploying signage consider:
    - Coordinate the location of signage with interior design
    - Determine height of outlets (electrical and LV cabling)
    - Determine low voltage cabling requirements (Cat6 and possible RG6 for TV)
    - Coordinate outlet box location with selected system installation requirements
    - Coordinate design and production of frames with interior design
    - Ensure flat panel displays are compatible with selected system
    - Consider recessed screen requirements including extraction fans
    - Consider noise pollution of all fans and moving parts of screen
    - Consider environmental conditions
    - Orientation – portrait or landscape
  3. Support
    - Who is going to support the system – can it be supported remotely?
    - Does it allow for Web-based administration and support?
    - How are the unique customizations addressed?
  4. Display Selection
    - Pick and choose the size and type of display for each area based on design and functionality requirements
    - Determine what content is going to be displayed on the flat panel
    - Will the display require interaction from the guest or visitor? If so consider touchscreen technology
    - Directory boards
  5. Content
    - Consider what type of content will be displayed
    - Announcements
    - Marketing graphics
    - Streaming video clips
    - Television feeds
    - Financial information
    - Weather
    - Meetings and schedules
    - Still image marketing
    - Fire, life safety notifications

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