MONTGOMERY, AL-In 2004, Tim Haseltine was hired to oversee protocol issues and tours for Hyundai Motor Company's new Montgomery plant, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama. Haseltine spent the previous few years working at the White House as an Air Force officer, performing communication support for the President. He also enjoyed giving small, guided tours of the White House in his spare time. So when Hyundai contacted him, he was ready and able to take the position.
With Sennheiser's Tourguide system, guides at the Montgomery Hyundai auto plant are able to interact with guests without having to hold a microphone.
For the new automotive plant, Haseltine wanted to conduct tours with a similar style as he did in the White House. His plan was to take a group of 34 visitors through the plant on the tour tram while explaining the process and reacting to any situation that came up. To be able to hold this style of tour, Haseltine needed an audio system that would work in many different situations. Without an accurate count of how many people would want to attend these tours, Haseltine had to figure out what wouldn't work with the groups of tour guests. He didn't want wires all over the place and he didn't want to have to change out batteries. Then there was the issue of sanitation and earwax. In the course of his research, another auto manufacturing plant turned him onto the Tourguide system provided by Baycom.
Baycom has been working with the auto manufacturing industry since 1999 and had early success with the Tourguide system from Sennheiser. Steven Elias, president of Baycom explained, "The system doesn't require an install for the most part, and it's the only totally wireless tour system." Elias attributed the success of Baycom to the quality of the Tourguide system and Baycom's support. "It's definitely the quality of the audio. Sennheiser is unsurpassed in the industry. And the wireless aspect is huge. The fact that people don't have to wear wired headsets, and can avoid the hygiene issues involved with that, really sells it. And with what we bring to the table, our rental and demo equipment, and our service and support, it's a whole package. We stumbled across Sennheiser's system about 10 years ago. We're also a Motorola two-way radio dealer and we had a lot of those customers looking for a tour product. We could never find anything decent. Finally, we got a lead from Proctor & Gamble about the Tourguide system and now we're the master distributor of Sennheiser in the U.S."
Former President George Bush using the Tourguide system at the Hyundai plant.
Elias received a call from Haseltine expressing an interest in the Tourguide system, so he sent Haseltine a demo pack of 20 units to try out on some of the early tour guests of the Hyundai plant. The system is comprised of 20 receivers and a charger. The people on the tour wear the receivers in their ears, which hang under their chins like a stethoscope. The tour guide speaks into an enclosed microphone that transmits directly to the receivers up to about 200 feet away. Elias expanded, "You just plug one cord in the wall and it charges the whole system. So when people are doing tours and they need to take it to another location or on a plane, they can just charge it and go."
Haseltine tested the system when he received it and was amazed with the quality. "I was awestruck by the technology," he said. "I had never experienced anything like it in all my years of AV work. You can have three different frequencies running at once and they are very easy to modify. For example, if we have someone giving a Korean tour, we can also give another tour in English to business leaders and yet another tour to children, all at the same time. It works flawlessly and cleans up so easily with sanitizing wipes."
The first time the system was used was when Alabama's governor came to the plant in early 2005. Governor Bob Riley was very impressed with the quality. Two months later at the plant's grand opening, former President George Bush and other VIPs came for a guided tram tour and used the headsets. By then, Haseltine had purchased several systems for the plant. "It was a no-brainer that we needed to use that system, and it worked great. They have never let us down. It is one of the secrets of our success."
The plant started accepting outside groups and individuals for tours in October 2005, and it now averages 14 tours per week, with more 400 guests attending. Many come back for second or third visits. As of March 2007, more than 27,000 tour guests have visited, and they've all used the headsets. "Maybe one or two have broken from taking a real beating, but for the most part if they're dropped the bounce right back," Haseltine said. "It's really a great system."
Finally, Elias sees a bright future for Sennsheiser's Tourguide system and Baycom: "People will be using this in similar facilities in the future, but we've also seen a lot of crossover in other industries as well."