Two-way radio adds value in hospitality
Written by: Kate O’Flaherty | Published:

The hospitality sector has simple radio requirements – but emerging, innovative applications are helping firms to compete. Kate O’Flaherty has the details

Websites such as TripAdvisor are putting pressure on the hospitality industry to offer an unrivalled customer experience. This is seeing the sector slowly starting to branch out from simple push-to-talk radio communications towards applications that increase operational efficiency, such as job ticketing.

This is in addition to the use of two-way radios to improve safety and security, especially when deployed on large sites. It is with this in mind that applications for two-way radio in the hospitality sector include integration with fire panels and the ability to use GPS tracking to keep lone workers safe.

One example of two-way radio improving efficiency and customer safety in hospitality is Bovey Castle, a high-end hotel set in a former manor house. The hotel’s estates team uses Land Rovers. In the past, guests taking part in the hotel’s off-road experience were out of range, so the radios would not work in the event of an incident. This led Bovey to ask its supplier, Premier Communication Electronics (PCE), to deploy around 12 Motorola DP1400 radios with an antenna system and repeaters. As part of this, according to Alan Macdonald-Brown, technical sales consultant at PCE, the venue now has radio coverage in the event of an incident. Bovey can scale up the deployment if necessary: PCE was able to supply a total of around 20 devices when the venue was hosting a high-profile wedding.

Another venue that wants to talk efficiently to enhance safety and security is heritage site Down House, which was formerly home to scientist Charles Darwin. The site’s team was able to greatly improve its operations and better manage visitor flow by using Hytera PD505 handsets supplied by Dover-based radio company Smye-Rumsby.

Adequate coverage was a key part of this deployment. The radios had to allow clear communications across the estate, which includes an attic, basements and 33 acres of land. According to Bryony Blackburn, site manager, the old analogue radios did not have the required range. They “were fuzzy and you could hear other radios. We could even hear [nearby] Eltham Palace on a clear day.”

Analogue to digital
By switching from analogue to digital radios, the site gained access to a number of additional features, including two voice paths per channel and background noise cancellation. This allows users to make two simultaneous transmissions with enhanced call clarity.

Blackburn says the radios help to keep people safe. “There are lots of visitors and there can be a first-aid incident, so it’s important that people can be heard. In addition, where we are based, in rural Kent, there is wildlife and sheep can escape.”

In general, the needs of the hospitality sector are simple, according to Zycomm, which serves the industry through hotel and pub chain clients. According to the firm’s managing director, Ruth Nixon: “If you look at the sector’s requirements, it’s a very basic radio need to communicate from A to B.”

She says this often sees radios deployed alongside pagers. Nixon cites the example of the Slug and Lettuce, part of the Stonegate Pub Group, which uses Hytera Power446 two-way radios to link the kitchen to the restaurant staff. Meanwhile, customers are issued with a pager when they enter the restaurant and ask for a table. Andy Bird, general manager at the York venue, says the system has allowed more people to be served each day.

Meanwhile, the restaurant chain Dishoom uses FYSTEC radios, TableScouts and DineTime software, supplied by Call Systems Technology (CST), to increase its efficiency by getting customers seated quickly. “They are looking at which tables have become available while reviewing the waiting list. At the same time, Dishoom’s staff are using the radios to speak to their colleagues, who are outside the restaurant with the clients queuing for tables, so they have real-time information coming in,” Eloise Sheppard, managing director at CST, says.

Another part of the hospitality industry with varying needs is the catering sector. For example, Wise Catering, which provides hospitality services to sporting and music events, uses Icom IC-F2000D digital two-way UHF hand-portables.

With seasonal peaks and events that can require up to 300 staff, the company operates in a very fast-paced and pressurised environment. Chris Treacher, managing director of Wise Catering and Events Bar Management, says two-way radios are reliable and help to improve customer service.

Customer expectations
This is important because in the hospitality sector, clients expect a high level of service, says Sean Fitzgerald, marketing manager at Motorola Solutions. “The onus is increasingly to provide better service with less, so the sector is looking for efficiency gains.”

Although hospitality covers an enormous set of requirements – from B&Bs to huge resorts containing hotels and sports centres – the underlying things they want are better efficiency, improved customer service and physical security, Fitzgerald says.

Robert Green, marketing manager at Hytera, adds that swift communication, collaboration and operational efficiency “is a must”, leading much of the sector to make the move to digital radios. He explains: “There are certainly still happy analogue customers, but many hospitality sites have made the migration to digital DMR and this trend will continue as businesses look to refresh their systems.”

For example, DMR technology offers improved clarity – especially across extensive coverage areas – improved battery life for longer shifts, and additional safety and emergency features.

Ian Lockyer, marketing manager at Icom UK, says companies will typically use licensed radios which “will give them enough range to cover their business”. He says: “UHF radios are the best option because the signals penetrate steel and concrete.”

He adds that because licensed radios also have the facility for multiple channels, they can be allocated for management, service staff or security. However: “For a larger venue, you may find yourself needing a repeater.” Meanwhile, Lockyer says some companies in the hospitality sector use temporary staff, the majority of whom won’t have used a radio before. “So getting something simple to operate, which is rugged, to avoid any potential abuse, is desirable.”

Sam Cohen, managing director at Wall to Wall Communications, works with hospitality sector firms such as Concerto Group, which hosts events. He says event companies often prefer analogue radios. “With digital, there is a slight delay of a split second and this can produce muffled sound.”

However, he says: “Digital offers better coverage: the batteries last longer and the standard is in general higher quality. The analogue product is nowhere near as good, but events companies often prefer it – cost is an attraction and it suits their needs.”

But it is important to consider the challenges when using two-way radio in hospitality. Nixon says old buildings are “great for radio”. In contrast, she says, modern venues with glass or a structure containing metal in the walls can prevent radio coverage. “Normally we look at site surveys, and if there’s any way of getting around it, you can have two lots of infrastructure. Or, when you supply radios onto the site, the customer can write into health and safety that, for example, stairwell 4 doesn’t have radio coverage.”

It is also important that managers consider the needs of all their staff when evaluating different handsets, says Green. “Radios in hospitality are often put through their paces, with facilities and maintenance teams requiring handsets that can withstand knocks and dust or water. Meanwhile, security staff need devices with a long battery life that are covert and lightweight. Front-desk staff may require a discreet device with wireless desktop charging, an innovative handset that presents a professional image.”

New features
As they realise that the benefits of two-way radios are not just limited to talk, hospitality venues are branching out, looking at new features that integrate their devices with various internal applications.

Nixon says some key hotels in London potentially want a communications system to link together. For example, she says: “A security person on patrol should be able to use radio to release the door. This can take money off your overheads.”

Mike Syrett, account manager at Smye-Rumsby, says most of his hospitality clients are using radios simply to talk, but they are starting to add safety applications. “The radios are usually just used for communications – but some of the systems we put in now are linked to the fire alarm.” For example, he says, if a fire were to start in a hotel, marshals could be alerted of the location where the alarm was set off. This would save time because there would no longer be any need to physically go to the alarm panel.

Using radios linked to a fire alarm panel allows users to send an alert to devices with displays. Nixon explains: “If the radio shows that ‘fire alarm panel 4 in zone 6’ has been activated, you can go and investigate without having to physically look at the panel itself. If it’s a false alarm, you don’t need to call out the fire brigade.”

And false alarms are very expensive to hotels. The refund rate for a hotel that is emptied at night for a false alarm is 80 per cent, so integrated panels represent “huge return on investment”, says Sheppard.

In addition, Fitzgerald says, larger resorts are starting to use job ticketing. “They can call down and say a light has gone and the text goes to the maintenance team, who can press a button to say they have picked up the job and are on their way.”

As a result, he says: “The customer is happy and, operationally, it’s more efficient to allocate a job and send it to the team, rather than to debate it – or for two people to turn up.”

Meanwhile, he says, there are different ways of doing location tracking to suit the needs of a venue. “GPS doesn’t work particularly well indoors, so recently we are seeing RFID and Bluetooth solutions, with Bluetooth-enabled iBeacons.

“When a radio comes within range, the system can tell where it is and, by implication, where the person holding the device is. This can be used to track the fire marshal or security guard and for audit purposes for fire checks.”

Meanwhile, says Fitzgerald, even at the low end, lots of the radios now have the facility to text. “Many in the sector will want a discrete solution, so they do not interrupt clients during their dinner. Or, in a noisy environment, it’s great to switch between text and voice as needed.”

In addition, the sector is asking for the ability to use radios even outside the hotel, which is leading to integrated connectivity. Fitzgerald says Motorola’s unified communications offering allows companies to link their radio system to the solution. “If a general manager wants to be able to always contact people, he can install an app on his mobile phone and, as long as he is on Wi-Fi or the cellular network, he can speak to the system – so you can extend where radio coverage goes.

“Also, if you have a large facility with contractors coming in for a day or two, you wouldn’t want to give them radios, but you can install an app on their phone and give them a temporary licence to access the radio network. You can revoke the licences when the event is finished.”

Meanwhile, Nixon says body cameras are an emerging trend, with hotels and other venues using the devices to increase safety and accountability of door staff: for example, Zycomm provides these to Yates pubs. She explains: “There would be one or two people on a door wearing a camera and the information from this would go back into a database. Alternatively, data is stored on a memory card and then this is downloaded in the evening.”

The needs of the hospitality sector are so varied that no single radio solution can suit them all. However, innovative applications are emerging all the time and it is these that could be a much-needed aid to companies seeking to get ahead of the pack in this increasingly competitive sector.

Augmented reality in hospitality
Augmented reality (AR) is another technology that is starting to make an impact in the hospitality sector. AR is mostly being applied to instruction and guide applications, says Jo Allison, behavioural analyst at Canvas8. “For a high percentage of hotel visitors, there will be an inherent lack of familiarity with the site and surrounding areas they are visiting. So, the most obvious use-case is providing guest information. For most hotels, this could be in the form of overlaying such information while guiding guests around the hotel site and beyond.”

In addition, AR can offer a ‘companion experience’ in hospitality. “Mobile apps that overlay historical events on existing sites could well become key value-adds for the big hotel chains,” says Allison.

Augmented reality can also show clients what a conference room would look like at an event. Meanwhile, wearables have the potential to be used to identify guests, providing useful background information to help the hospitality sector to better serve visitors.

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