Relay’s Barbara Sharnak on Innovating Hospitality Communications

Barbara SharnakBarbara Sharnak is the senior director of brand and product marketing at Relay, the communications disruptor known for displacing traditional walkie-talkies. Relay is establishing a benchmark for the next technological revolution that focuses on innovative, durable, and highly adaptive voice-first technology for deskless workers. The company’s vision is to empower frontline teams with technology that allows them to safely and quickly connect to the people and information they need to get their jobs done more efficiently. Sharnak shares with Adrienne Weil, vice president of strategic partnerships and business development for the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), what Relay is all about, the innovations that are changing the company’s approach, how the industry is evolving, and more.

Can you give a bit of background on your company?

Relay was born from a strong lineage of telecom innovators: Bandwidth and Republic Wireless. Throughout the years, we’ve pulled together some of the brightest minds from hardware and software with the goal of creating new wireless technologies that affordably connect everyone from families to frontline workers. We place a high value on being customer-centric and customer-driven. For example, the Relay product initially launched as a screen-free phone for kids. We soon got calls from hotel and large-venue operators who initially purchased for their families telling us that they use walkie-talkies at work and now wanted 100 Relays to replace them. These insights and early feedback were critical to the development of the Relay product today, which is revolutionizing communication for frontline workers by adding the power of data and cloud into a form factor built specifically to support the active nature of their jobs.

What innovations have changed the way Relay approaches its hospitality clients over the past few years?

The rise of panic button legislation and mandates were critical to our product evolution and hospitality partnerships. Worker protection is an incredible initiative and priority that we believe should be free, yet its implementation is costing hotels tens of thousands of dollars or more. What if you could leverage an existing investment already being carried by your employees to also protect them? That’s what we’ve done with Relay. Our software platform and cellular/WiFi connectivity allow us to combine two critical functionalities (communication and panic button) into an optimized tool and single line item that streamlines operations and offers the highest level of worker protection.

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How did you first hear about AHLA and what made you want to get involved with the organization?

AHLA is an incredible organization whose mission—to support the hospitality industry—is synonymous with ours. The unbelievable work AHLA has done throughout the COVID-19 crisis is inspiring and we are proud to champion these efforts. Additionally, AHLA’s emphasis on employee safety was a catalyst for our involvement. We want to deliver the highest level of worker protection to hotel operators for free by leveraging an existing investment.

How do you see the hotel industry evolving over the next five years?

Marc Andreessen has noted that software is eating the world, but that’s not true of frontline workers who largely rely on a walkie talkie as their main operational tool. We’ve infused software into the core functionality of two-way communications to empower operators with the type of data and cloud connectivity that has been largely reserved for desk workers. We’ve seen from our partners the importance of data-driven operations and how that positively impacts productivity and believe this model will be critical to the industry moving forward.

What do you like most about being in the hotel industry?

The strength of the hotel and hospitality industry is incredible. The resilience, creativity, and positivity we’ve seen throughout the challenges of the past year is inspiring, and we are privileged to call ourselves partners.

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Adrienne Weil is vice president of strategic partnerships and business development at the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). Weil is responsible for the design and implementation of a comprehensive growth strategy to stimulate incremental growth in AHLA’s premier partner program.