EPISODE 101 | Guest: Dave Leo, region sales manager – North Central for Visix
Digital signs for hotels and other hospitality venues are the most efficient way to communicate large amounts of timely information to visitors in an environment that’s constantly changing. Anything from wayfinding to advertising and even flight information can be updated quickly and easily on screens to give people the best guest experience possible.
And today it’s even easier to use this technology. Cloud-hosted options mean no more server rooms, and events and other feeds can be pulled from elsewhere to populate displays with eye-catching content that people want to see. Weather, alerts and other streams can all be automated to save your staff time and free them up for more personalized guest service.
- Hear examples of how digital signs are being used by hotels
- Discover how seamless it is to integrate with scheduling systems
- Explore interactive wayfinding, emergency alerts and other content ideas
- Understand the power of under-the-hood analytics
- Learn how cloud solutions and third-party content can streamline system management
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Derek DeWitt: There’s a lot of talk in the communications world and marketing world about CX, meaning customer experience. Sometimes in the hospitality world, that’s also called guest experience (which I guess would be GX). And of course, digital signage, we like to say, is a very important part of making a modern guest experience well, more modern, and easier and better all the way around.
We’re gonna talk about different ways that that’s true, not just in hotels, but other aspects of the hospitality market as well. To help me today, I am joined by Dave Leo, region manager for North Central. Hi, Dave.
Dave Leo: Hey, good morning, Derek.
Derek DeWitt: How are you?
Dave Leo: I’m doing well, man. How about yourself?
Derek DeWitt: Excited to talk about hospitality.
Dave Leo: Absolutely, yeah. It’s fun. Everybody likes going to a nice hotel, a fun conference center, a casino, right? It’s exciting.
Derek DeWitt: A theme park for adults.
Dave Leo: There you go. Yes.
Derek DeWitt: I’d like to thank everybody for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right. I’d like to remind you that you can subscribe to this podcast, and you can follow along with a full transcript on the Visix website. That is visix.com/resources/podcasts.
Digital signage seems like a pretty natural extension of what hotels and other hospitality venues were always doing, in my mind.
Dave Leo: It is. I mean, these facilities, you know, from the first step, when you walk in as a visitor or a guest, you need information. You’re there for a purpose. Either it’s for the night’s stay at a hotel or for a meeting, or a conference or to gamble. So, you need information, and you need it pretty quickly.
Typically, when you walk into one of these buildings and it’s, I need info. Hospitality venues have been doing this for years, posting information on the old, you know, printed poster boards or the little letter boards, and they’ve gravitated towards digital signage because the medium just has so many other benefits versus printed and manual, you know, event boards, like the past.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s for sure. I mean, I always think of that first thing when you walk into a place. Let’s say hotel, but again, like you said, it could be a conference center, it could be a spa, it could be all sorts of different kinds of things. You walk up to one of these digital signs, let’s say, and if it doesn’t have the information very obviously or easily accessible, I’m just gonna go find somebody who works there and ask them, you know?
So, that’s the first and foremost thing is you gotta, you’re kind of trying to take the burden off of your staff, so that the stranger or more specific requests that aren’t so general can be dealt with in a more efficient way by staff. They can give a more individualized service.
Dave Leo: Yeah, exactly. Unless it’s the Ritz, and they know your name as soon as you step out of your vehicle and can tell you every information from a one-to-one human perspective, the vast majority of other hospitality places, you know, that’s a challenge, is how do we get the relevant, immediate information to our visitors and guests in an effective way? It’s very important for all these venues to do that.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It’s interesting you bring up something like the Ritz; that’s kind of true. Technology like this and communications techniques like this sort of allow non-Ritz facilities to give a Ritz-like experience. I mean, you know, we’ve talked a lot in the past about democratizing communications. That’s a great way, I think, to, even a Best Western (and I’m not dogging on Best Western), but even they can give that level of service.
Dave Leo: Absolutely. And that’s one of the notes I jotted down prior to our meeting is the ability to customize the display for that individual guest experience. I mean, there’s nothing like seeing your name on a TV when you walk in and it says, Welcome Derek, enjoy your stay. How good do you feel that they knew your name, they spelled it right? It’s on the time that you arrived and yes, that type of power and with digital signage is now available for the smallest of Best Westerns and Holiday Inns and you know, this littlest convention center that I have in Wichita, Kansas. That Ritz personalized experience can go anywhere, and any organization can have the power of that personalization.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah. That true. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the different things that you can use digital signs for in a hospitality environment. Obviously, welcome messages. That’s an obvious one. What else?
Dave Leo: Yeah, the first that comes to mind for me is wayfinding, and I’m not even talking the large facilities. I live in little Cody, Wyoming. It’s a tiny little pin on the map. And even here in our Holiday Inn, they have a little conference center and there’s probably a dozen board rooms and meeting spaces and ballrooms. And the first thing that visitors do when they walk in is ask, where do I go?
So, they have a big event board, a 50-inch digital sign, that shows all of the events of the day, and where the rooms are located, and even directional arrows that show them how to get to that particular room. It’s critical, regardless the size of the facility is, navigating people to find where they want to go quickly, so they’re not frustrated, lost, confused. I mean, it could negate the experience of that guest really quick if they don’t have fast information on where to go.
Derek DeWitt: And I should think, like for a small place maybe just static maps would be enough. For some place that’s a little bigger, especially if there are multiple structures and buildings, I would imagine just putting up some interactive wayfinding with touchscreens and kiosks and the like would make even more sense.
Dave Leo: Absolutely, yeah. The larger the facility, the greater the need for interactivity and mapped wayfinding. On a one-floor facility, my Holiday Inn example, they probably don’t need a touchscreen to navigate people. People understand it’s one floor, and they can kind of find their way. But yeah, the larger the building, if we can touch and find a room and get navigated from this floor to that floor, either by a lined pathway on the digital map or get a text turn-by-turn directions on my phone that I can take with me; man, that is awesome. That’s gonna save me maybe hours of walking around if you’re, you know, talking like a Vegas hotel or conference center.
Derek DeWitt: Boy, that’s for sure. You ever try and walk through the MGM Grand to get to the monorail? You’re like, I’ve been walking for an hour!
Dave Leo: That’s it. That’s it.
Derek DeWitt: And of course, like you said, sometimes, like in a hotel, obviously sometimes people are there for an overnight stay or a few nights’ stay while they sightsee or conduct business or what have you. But they may also be in that hotel for something else, for a conference, meetings or other kind of an event. And that, of course, extends out of the hotel realm into places like conference centers, where that’s what they do. I would imagine sort of syncing everything up with event schedules would also make a certain amount of sense.
Dave Leo: That’s probably the number one priority for hospitality and using digital signs. I think it’s paramount. You gotta look at the core issue they have with getting event information distributed and updated regularly, ’cause there are events, and there’re meetings and there’re guests, and they change hourly, and they typically are not staffed with a team of people to manage that information change on, let’s just say, paper signs.
So, a common thing is, yeah, to put paper signs outside of meeting spaces, that some poor soul has to print out every morning, and then they have to reprint when they change, and they have new meetings, or the meeting changed, and the time has been altered. So, it is quite the challenge for a minimal staff to update paper signage.
Where if we can turn those into digital now, all those 5, 10, 50 meeting, ballroom spaces have all digital signs, and it requires zero human interaction. That we’ve integrated with, with their event management systems like Microsoft Exchange, EMS, CollegeNET, Google Calendar, the list is endless of all these third party calendar systems that digital signage like Visix can integrate with and automate those event updates on the room signs, the kiosk, the digital signs. That to me is the number one advantage of going with digital signage for hospitality.
Derek DeWitt: Sure, Yeah, that makes absolutely sense. ‘Cause you’re gonna enter that information in that spreadsheet anyway, so better that it just, boom, and it changes everywhere that it needs to change.
Dave Leo: Yes. Automation.
Derek DeWitt: But you also, a lot of spaces, even conference centers again, they don’t just have meeting spaces and places for events. You know, they’ve got onsite facilities. You might have restaurants, you might have retail establishments; larger hotels might have also cafes, restaurants (sometimes several restaurants), a hair cutter, a spa, you know, all these things.
Dave Leo: Yeah. And absolutely, and more often than not, if it’s all tied into one reservation system, you know, that’s kind of the head end is, where is all this data being input and how can we grab that data? So, typically the event calendar system or the reservation system, maybe I’ll go to one place and even if not that, you know, software platforms for digital signage can extract that data and then present it on the spa screen or even the fitness area. You know, I’ve got, you know, some hotels that do digital signage in their fitness areas with information about, you know, health and fitness, and guest information as well.
I was even thinking of a rec center that I’m using that rents out their tennis courts and basketball courts, and they have the live information up there, who has those spaces reserved and for what times and which ones are available. It’s pretty diverse, not just showing event information. We can show a variety of live updated reservation data, stats, you name it, and really automating, again, and eliminating the human need and the printing need.
Derek DeWitt: Right, for sure. And that extends to, I mean, that can get as granular as you like. Like, I’ve been in some hotels that, they even have, for example, bicycles available that are free to use. You just have to reserve them. So, you know, especially if you can walk up, you don’t want to stand in that same queue, ’cause you got people checking out, you got people checking in, who knows how long it’s gonna take. I want to get a bike, I want to go. Go up to the screen, tap, tap, tap, tap, here’s my room number, and I’m good to go.
Dave Leo: That’s it, man. Should be that easy.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It’s almost like, a term that we’ve used in the past is virtual concierge, which I, look, I don’t mean to take away concierge work from humans, but a lot of the sort of piddly stuff that concierges have to deal with can be sort of outsourced to the digital signage platform. And then that concierge can instead do things like, Yeah, I’m gonna try and find that Broadway ticket for my guest who wants to get in to see Hamilton, even though it’s been sold out for nine months. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be successful if I have the time to work on that.
Dave Leo: Yeah. And I think some hospitality organizations struggle with, do we wanna replace the human interaction? I don’t think it’s replacing, it’s just meeting the demand of their visitors. I mean, you can blame Apple for that by putting a smartphone in everybody’s hand. And we’re used to immediate information and touching screens and doing things ourselves. We’re more sophisticated, educated with technology. And sometimes the humans don’t have the answer and can’t be as quick as us touching a screen and getting digital information. So, having that balance, not replacing the concierge necessarily, but supplementing it with quicker means and to adapt with what your visitors want, which is fast info.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s very true. My wife and I were watching a film the other day that was set some decades ago and it was, it was a situation where there’s a guy at a hotel and he says, I need to make a long distance call. And the operator says, okay, it’ll take about a half an hour and then I’ll call you back with the call. And I’m like, yeah, that’s right, that’s how that used to be. And if you did that today, people would flip out. There’s no way we would stand for that.
Dave Leo: Right, exactly. Times have changed. Yes. Information needs to be immediate.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, yeah. Now, of course, you can not only publish to the digital signs themselves, you can actually extend it out. Like you said, you could, for wayfinding you can actually use a QR code or even get text turn-by-turn directions sent to your mobile device. But you can also send information out to intranets, webpages. I mean, you’re not just updating people who are physically onsite; people who aren’t there can also have up-to-date information.
Dave Leo: Correct, yeah. I mean, Visix has a wonderful tool that allows that distribution of content, of scheduled content, to a variety of endpoints: monitors, touchscreens, video walls, room signs, and even the desktop and phone. Anybody with a browser should be able to see this content today. So to have the right platform that gives you that scalability, that limitless possibilities of distributing your content to the broadest possible audience, it gives you a lot of potential for communication and really getting that message out to everywhere.
Derek DeWitt: And again, I think another aspect of the sort of giving that Ritz experience to the non-Ritz locations is…’cause I could see somebody thinking, oh God, I gotta have like a server room, it’s gotta be air conditioned and you know, blah. No, because you don’t even need to host this stuff locally. You can just stick it in the cloud, and it’ll be hosted remotely. So all you need is an internet connection, which as a hospitality venue, you have.
Dave Leo: Yeah, I sure hope so! You’re gonna have a lot of frustrated guests. But yes.
Derek DeWitt: Unless it’s one of these like getaway-from-the-world retreats, you know?
Dave Leo: Right. Yeah. Unless you’re glamping out in the woods somewhere, you probably don’t want wifi, but yes, most modern facilities with the internet and wifi. You hit the nail on the head. I mean, it’s so easy to deploy this technology now. This is not 15-year-old digital signage where they needed hardware and a server and a team to manage it. No. I mean, honestly, you may not even need a single person on their staff to deploy this now. It’s that simple.
We put it in the server on the cloud, the CMS is all hosted. Their users log in from a webpage from anywhere. They could be on the beach, they could be on their couch at the facility. And then, yeah, the devices, the media players, are just connected to their internet, either wifi or a hardware ethernet connection, and there you go, you’ve got content.
So, the deployment is much faster. Managing the software, updating it, is so much easier in the cloud these days. And with security that has increased significantly with cloud providers, that is not an issue. We’ve got deployments in federal government and hospitals and very secure, hardened clients that need top-level security, and they’re doing our cloud hosting because it is secure.
Derek DeWitt: Speaking of security, one thing that is useful for people there on the ground is, you know, every once in a while, yeah, something goes amiss. There’s a fire, there’s an earthquake, there’s a bizarre storm, you know (which seems to be happening more and more frequently). You know, who the heck knows what? So, you can take over the whole system instantaneously and put up alert messaging.
Dave Leo: Yeah. Honestly, that is almost a requirement nowadays in hospitality. And it kind of should be. It’s almost a public service that you’ve got these displays, these digital signs showing information, that they should be able to turn in an instant to show relevant information about how to save lives and how to inform people of, you know, maybe just the blizzard or the incoming storm, so they don’t get wet going outside. But critical things to help people of where to go and what to do in a crisis. And I’m gonna say the elephant in the room here, mass shooter. We don’t like to talk about it, but it, you know, larger the facility usually draws that type of an activity, and to get people immediate information about where to go, where to hide, where are police, you know.
Visix does offer the way for the client to manually launch alerts that could be targeted by geography, by where groups of displays are at, by alert type. Or it could be automated with third-party mass notification systems that comply with a CAP protocol. CAP is Common Alerting Protocol, and that’s kinda the universal standard for mass alert systems. So, that is a whole discussion in itself, in alerting people in public environments, and it is very important today.
Derek DeWitt: So, that’s all customer and guest experience. But, I’m also gonna mention that, a digital signage system also makes things a little bit easier for the backend, right? Because there are, if you choose to use them, there are analytics capabilities that let you look at all sorts of different things, and thus become more efficient and streamline what you’re putting out there.
Because, you know, if you’re putting a traffic feed, let’s say, and you’re in New York City, maybe you don’t need to put it, maybe you find out that a little bit of analytics later, you’re like, actually, less than 10% of our guests actually drive here. So, let’s not put that information up. Let’s use that real estate on the screen for something else, like, I don’t know, taxi wait times or something like that.
Dave Leo: Yeah, you’re right. The ability for, you know, the stakeholders of the projects, the IT management or, let’s say, you know, communications marketing groups, the people that have invested in this technology, they want some proof. They want some proof that hey, it’s, it’s working. That content is playing, that users are using it. And we can track that granularity. It could be down to the individual user, and how often Jim Smith and Susie Thomas logged in, and did they schedule the content they were supposed to, for accountability purposes.
And also in hospitality, we get into the advertising aspect of it. That they do want proof of play reporting to justify expensing this to a vendor and making this a profit center for selling ad space on the displays. So yeah, the ability to have detailed analytics and reporting and not only tracking users, but content playback, it’s very important these days.
Derek DeWitt: And, of course, I can just imagine though somebody saying, yeah, that sounds all pretty good, but I’m not a designer. I don’t have time to sit around and create all these messages. But a lot of companies, Visix being one of them, already has content subscriptions, they already have content kits, templates, all this sort of thing. That really does just, it really just kind of makes it super easy.
Dave Leo: Yeah, exactly. I’ll give you a quick story. Again, in my little hometown here, Cody, we’ve got a little Holiday Inn that uses our product, and they were using some inferior product that was custom designed, and it was clunky to manage, and they had to do several steps every morning just to get their event information on the screen. Well, when they turn to Visix, we set them up with a template that was automated to pull the event information from their data system and to show live weather information on the screen.
Well now it requires zero human intervention. Those staff can do other things versus tweaking the display every morning and getting content looking right. They don’t need to be involved in this process at all. So, we’ve saved their time. And the system is 100% automated. It just runs itself. They don’t have to upload slides and create stuff; it just runs. And, yeah, they’ve been a happy client for several years now, and that’s the way we want to get clients to do. Let’s make this as easy as possible for your staff and really automate as much content as we can to the screen.
Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, you can, and then there are these subscriptions you can opt in on. You can have, obviously you can pull in RSS feeds, you can pull in news tickers, but there’s also like News-in-Pictures, and there’s almost no end to the type of content that you can get up there that doesn’t require some, you know, schmuck sitting at a computer six hours a day, finding the information, copying and pasting the text, grabbing the picture (hoping that it’s, you know, not breaking copyright) and on and on. It’s just done for you.
Dave Leo: Absolutely. We have so many automated subscription options for content feeds. I think there’s probably 40 or 50 today. Everything from news, sports, traffic, safety, health information, social media, you name it. Flight information, that’s a big one at these hospitality…. People need to get to their plane, train and bus on time, and we can push that information automatically to the screen with just an automated feed that they subscribe to. So yeah, it’s wonderful that content creators, you know, they can take a backseat now. We’ve got content. They don’t need to create it; we’re doing it for them.
Derek DeWitt: However, if you are a content creator and you are feeling particularly creative, feel free. You don’t have to, and, and of course there are gonna be plenty of messages that are site specific or regional specific. And that’s because it’s all sort of internet, cloud-based and so on. Like a large chain for example, they can have brand standards. Everything looks the way it should, you know. If our colors are steel gray and blue, we don’t want somebody putting up something that’s pink and green. And yet we can also localize the content. The stuff in Minneapolis is relevant to that branch in Minneapolis. The stuff in Barbados is relevant to the stuff in Barbados. It doesn’t really matter where a place is. The content can always be tailored for that place.
Dave Leo: Yeah, absolutely. Especially with these, let’s say a large national hotel chain where they’ve got a brand standard, you wanna walk into, you know, Anchorage and you know, Tampa and see the same look and feel on the screen, with the right logo and its aspect ratio and the same colors. Absolutely. That same layout of that branded look of that digital sign can be applied everywhere. And then we just tweak it.
So, we just tweaked the design from location, from one to next, to localize it with the current weather zip code or postal code, so it’s showing the right weather data and the five-day widget view. And that we grant rights to that local Tampa location, where they can change this playlist of content and that block of the screen, that zone. But the other zone of the screen is playing corporate-branded content.
So yeah, there’s a lot of flexibility to keep both corporate from, you know, the mothership, happy and the branding and their initiatives, but also giving some local control. And then, you know, the software can allow that granular control or we can pull back certain features that only certain people have access to. So, granularity and the ability to localize content is, is key when we’re talking large deployments for sure.
Derek DeWitt: So, whether you are a gigantic, multinational chain or you’re a little mom and pop place, it doesn’t really matter because digital signage is here, it’s here to stay, and it’s here to help you give the best possible guest and customer experience to the people who are coming into your facility.
Companies like Visix are committed to not only helping you leverage the technology that exists today, but also, you know, kind of pushing the outside of the envelope and seeing what the future holds as well. I believe that we will see this stuff literally everywhere in the next 10 years. Like even, even a gas station, you know? Like, it’s gonna be every place, and the hospitality and hotel industries are helping lead the way in that regard.
Well, for our 101st episode (hmm-hmm!) of Digital Signage Done Right, I have been speaking with the region manager for North Central in the United States for Visix, Dave Leo, about digital signage for hotels and the hospitality market. Thanks, Dave. Super interesting stuff. It kind of makes me want to go travel now.
Dave Leo: Thanks, Derek. It’s been a pleasure.
Derek DeWitt: All right. Thank you everybody out there, once again, for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right, and, once again, don’t forget that you can follow along with the transcript on the Visix website.