Sound is a crucial component of how we experience and perceive the world around us. Whether it exists alone as music or accompanies other media, sound can carry information, augment different sensations, and even evoke strong emotional responses. We’ve long understood the way our bodies conduct sound waves – how cilia in our inner ear turn mechanical signals into neural ones – but we are constantly discovering new lessons about the various ways sound and noise have reverberating effects in our everyday lives.
In this blog series, Audio Transcends, we explore how sound affects our experiences in education, healthcare, and in travel, and hospitality. We’ve already discussed Sound and Education and Sound and Healthcare, in this installment, we discuss sound, travel, and hospitality.
Sound, travel, and hospitality
Sound in the hospitality and travel industries serves a handful of different roles, a few of which we’ll discuss here. First and foremost, sound, more specifically audio listening, can greatly enhance the client or passenger’s experience. For instance, on a noisy airplane, a pair of headphones can be the difference maker between a headache of a flight or a pleasant and relaxing time in the air. This is especially true for passengers with young children, as listening to audio can be a healthier alternative to screen time, which was recently associated with poor cognitive and social-emotional development outcomes. Kid-friendly audio content is on-the-rise and can be discovered on a variety of platforms, including Spotify, Pinna, Sony Music, and Open. Capable headphones that can deliver quality sound and some degree of noise isolation are valuable not only in the air but in all travel settings with unwanted noise, such as cars, buses, and trains.
Audio listening also enhances client and customer experiences at various tourist destinations, whether it be a popular museum or historical site. Most commonly, this audio delivery comes in the form of guided tours, which often utilize mixed audio and visual media to provide a detail-rich learning experience. In fact, recent advances in 360-degree video and virtual reality (VR) technology have made these tours possible even from the comfort of one’s living room. A 2018 study took subjects on guided audio tours of a state Capitol building. The subjects either took the tour via 2-D video, immersive 360-degree video with a VR headset, or physically visited the location and walked the grounds. Study outcomes included emotional engagement with the tour and spatial presence, and results found that subjects who went on the 2-D tour scored poorly compared to those who went on the VR and physical tours. Additionally, no difference was found between the VR group and the physical tour group, suggesting that guided VR audio tours can be a strong substitute for a real-world tourism experience.
Audio can even act as an aid to travelers with disabilities. Electronic travel aids (ETAs) are small, mobile devices that assist the visually impaired. Because those with visual impairment rely more heavily on audio cues, spatial audio technology can be incredibly helpful to provide a sense of orientation (spatial audio is a 3D audio effect that virtually places sound sources in a 3D space). While ETAs can be used in any setting, they are especially useful in unfamiliar public locations. Put simply, ETAs emit ultrasonic waves in front of the user, and when the waves are reflected back to the device, they are then converted to an auditory signal with various information – for example, the pitch of the sound corresponds with how far the object is while the timbre would correlate to the object’s surface texture. ETA technology is still developing but is an area where audio, especially spatial audio, can have a quality-of-life-altering impact.
Perhaps a less thought-of use case for audio in the hospitality industry is hospitality training. The hospitality workforce is one that is heavily service-oriented, and audio and multimedia can be powerful tools to train learners in sanitation, front-desk operations, and marketing strategy. Audio is an important component to realistically simulating various situations and environments for hospitality students, a concept that has been well-studied in a variety of ways, including a mobile application, a computational framework for predicting perceived performance at a hotel reception desk, and an implementation of audio feedback for a hospitality course’s virtual learning environment.
A future of enhancing experiences
Audio has traditionally served as a companion for travelers and tourists alike, both to distract from the trip itself or to enhance learning at an attraction. As we shift towards an increasingly technology-focused world, sound and audio may prove even more crucial to augmenting different experiences, both on-site and virtually from across the globe.
Join us next week, for the final part of our Audio Transcends blog series, where we take another look at sound and education and the crucial role sound and audio play in learning.
This article was written by Joey Gu and edited by Elizabeth Woodard