Hospitality Back on the Leading Edge

By Bradley Schmidt | April 08, 2008

The hospitality industry has always been recognized as a place of technological innovation. Traditionally, that's one of the reasons guests frequented hotels and luxury resorts - to gain access to amenities that they did not have at home. Increasingly over the last decade, however, the infiltration of top-end technology into American homes has outstripped that of the hospitality industry, which struggled, for a variety of reasons, to provide a superior on-property technological experience.

But that has all begun to change. With plasma and LCD television prices falling, hotels are investing in chain-wide replacements of their tube television sets. Now that the Blue-ray format has won its battle with HD DVD, hotels can safely invest in the technology and begin leveraging it as part of the guest experience. But television technology is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some of the most notable developments of 2007 and 2008 signalling the return of the hotel to the IT edge.

Convergence
Montgomery, Alabama's Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa at the Convention Center recently implemented an IP Telephony-based solution from Avaya (www.avaya.com) that allows guests to carry hotel-supplied IP wireless phones off the property, which they can use to check stocks, weather and view street-level city maps. The phones also benefit the hotel via integration with the property management system (PMS), allowing guests to make spa, dining or show reservations.

The Renaissance's converged environment also supports wired and wireless voice service, high-speed wired and wireless data networking, as well as IPTV and video on demand. The system is similar to that of the Cove Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas. Installed under the guidance of parent company Kerzner International and CIO Bernard Gay, the system is the industry's largest. Kerzner expects it to ease the future implementation of guest technologies, including self-service kiosks and RFID communications.

Building Connections
The hospitality industry has been involved in the social networking game for a number of years, with notable examples being Starwood's 2006 debut of TheLobby.com, designed to foster a community of Starwood Preferred Guests; Starwood's preview of their aloft brand in the online virtual world Second Life; and McDonald's creation of the social media platform Awareness, enabling employees and partners to blog and participate in communities. However, 2008 will be the year that the industry begins to make a major push into social networking.

The hotel space will want to take note of Kango.com, a travel review aggregator that went live in December 2007. Kango users can perform travel searches based on price and amenity, but takes it one step further with its semantic search tool, which allows customers to perform narrow, focused searches using terms such as "family-friendly," "pet-friendly" and "romantic." Additionally, users can access customer reviews from websites across the Internet.

The Bleeding Edge
And then there are those organizations that have the opportunity to debut a technology that few if any consumers possess, and on top of that, use it to tailor the guest experience. Starwood and Harrah's Entertainment will use Microsoft Surface (www.microsoft.com/surface) to do just that.

Expected to launch with Starwood's Sheraton Hotels & Resorts and Harrah's Entertainment in the Spring of 2008, Microsoft Surface is a computer in the form of a table top that responds to physical touch without the use of a traditional keyboard or mouse. It allows for dynamic, collaborative interaction with all forms of digital content on the 30-inch display.

"We are creating new and engaging ways for our guests to connect with their passions while away from home. Microsoft Surface puts us at the forefront of technology and allows guests to interact with each other and our hotel in a revolutionary way," says Hoyt H. Harper II, senior vice president, brand management, The Sheraton Group.

Starwood and Harrah's indicate that Surface will enable guests to do any number of tasks from browsing and listening to music, to ordering food, booking spa treatments and serving as a virtual concierge.

Personalization comes in the form of Surface's object recognition ability which triggers different types of digital responses when objects are placed on the screen. For example a tagged wine glass could trigger a digital display suggesting food pairings guests and providing pictures of the vineyard from which the wine came.

After struggling to find its way in a world of technology proliferation, the hospitality industry has found its footing and has only just begun to leave massive footprints on the consumer experience.


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