Managing Expectations

By Vicki Powers, Contributing Editor | July 01, 2005

Every segment of the hotel industry--from budget to luxury resort--realizes that today's guests expect more technology offerings in their hotel rooms. These technology "gee-whiz" items range from plasma and high-definition TVs, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone service, digital on-demand movies, flat-screen TVs concealed within mirror or glass, and wireless and high-speed Internet access.

Pyramid Research, a Massachusetts-based research firm, provides the numbers to support the growing broadband trend. It reports nearly 6,000 hotels worldwide offer Internet access in public areas and/or guestrooms, but that number is expected to quadruple to 25,000 by 2007. About 38 percent of hotels now offer complimentary Internet access in guestrooms.

The power of plasma
However, hotels are increasingly recognizing that high-speed Internet access is no longer enough. More and more, hotels--especially high-end ones--are focusing on guestroom technology to meet and exceed the needs and expectations of their guests.

Kimpton's 70 Park Avenue Hotel touts itself as the first hotel in New York with 42-inch plasma HD TVs in every room. This certainly created a "wow" factor for its customer base.

Guests at this Kimpton hotel property enjoy rooms with surround sound systems, free Wi-Fi access and CD/DVD players. 70 Park Avenue, which opened in July 2004, partnered with Eleven Wireless (elevenwireless.com) to bring Wi-Fi access throughout the boutique hotel, from the basement to the roof. The hotel's ultimate technology goal is to provide hassle free, user-friendly and state of the art service.

Hotel technology and guest expectations are changing as fast as the technology itself. In the next year or two, Drew Schlesinger, 70 Park Avenue's general manager and director of operations, estimates that hotels without high-speed Internet access, or new hotels (three star and above) without flat screen TVs and wireless connectivity won't exist. Technology plays a significant role in guest loyalty at 70 Park Avenue Hotel according to Schlesinger, and it is what ultimately retains repeat customers.

"Guest's jaws drop when they see the plasma HD TV," Schlesinger says. "There are still a lot of people who don't have high definition television at home, and the clarity is beyond your imagination."

A trip to the beach
When a guest's jaw drops at Sandals Resort in Jamaica, it usually means they are on the beach. Still, notes Stuart Delapenha, group IT director, sometimes guests do have to return to their rooms.

Recently, Sandals decided to upgrade its television-based technology to include not only Internet access and video-on-demand (VOD), but also access to property information. To find a system it could truly customize to its needs, Sandals turned to TotalVision (totalvision.com). When guests first arrive at their room, their name is displayed on the welcome screen. "This adds to the level of personalization that has become the hallmark of Sandals Resorts,"Delapenha explains.

Since relatively few guests bring laptops to Sandals, providing Internet access was also an important component of the TV-based system. "Everyone these days, business and leisure travelers, want to check their e-mail daily, so why not offer it in the comfort of their own room? At certain Sandals resorts, they can either plug in a laptop for HSIA or use the TV as a portal to the Internet," Delapenha adds. "They have really appreciated this service and TotalVision is expanding the service to include wireless access in public areas of the resorts. If a guest wants the service it is available and they can be connected if they so choose."

Historic technology
Another element of technology emerging onto the hotel scene is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a broadband-based phone service that can reduce telecom expenses. The Hermitage Hotel, one of Nashville's oldest landmarks at 97 years, is joining the 21st century by adding VoIP to 16 business suites, with the ability to expand to more rooms in the future.

The Hermitage Hotel's VoIP was provided by Xspedius Communications (xspedius.com) in June 2005 and bundles local and long distance voice lines with Internet services at lower prices than traditional phone service. Xspedius will continue developing customized solutions for the Hermitage Hotel's growth and future needs. The hotel recently completed a $17 million renovation after its sale to Historic Hotels of Nashville.

VoIP is clearly becoming one of the trends for both in-room and back-end technology. Infonetics Research estimates the VoIP market will reach $5 billion in revenue in 2007, triple that of 2003. For hotels, the true promise of VoIP is to help the industry restructure its approach to expensive and inefficient telecom systems (See, "Wired for Sound," page 28). As hotels rethink every aspect of the guestroom, expect to see more and more technology show up. Guests are noticing the difference and so are hoteliers.

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