The all-in-one approach
The ability to provide guests with this access is “no longer a differentiating amenity,” says Steve Dettman, IT director for Raymond Management Company (www.raymondteam.com), in Middleton, Wis. Recognizing this a few years ago, they pushed hard to bring better access to the Chicago market. Dettman says he was “literally pounding on the door of my sales rep and the executives down in Chicago” for about two years prior to implementation.
The bundled solution offered by Comcast Business Hospitality (www.business.comcast.com) was totally different from what any of the other providers had which, he admits, made him a bit tepid to the idea at first. “We don’t necessarily want to be first to market with a technology that’s going to be that guest-facing and that critical,” he explains. However, given the hotel company’s existing relationship with Comcast and confidence in their solution, they forged ahead. Despite initial concerns, “when rollouts took place they went as smoothly, if not smoother, than any of the other HD upgrades we did at any of our hotels across the country.” Raymond now uses Comcast for Ethernet, dedicated Internet, HD video and voice.
Major players need major upgrades
MGM Resorts International (www.mgmresorts.com) recently upgraded guest and visitor access. John Bollen is the vice president of technology strategy for MGM Resorts International which owns ten Las Vegas resorts. In January, MGM Resorts International announced a new Wi-Fi system at its properties through a partnership with Cisco Systems (www.cisco.com) to create a high-density, property-wide network to support tens of thousands of guests with multiple devices. The system, currently the highest-performing wireless LAN in the industry, is in place at Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand and The Mirage and will roll out to other resorts later in the year.
Making guest rooms technology-ready is fairly straightforward, notes Bollen; it’s when it comes to large, open spaces that complexities can emerge. “What we decided to do is create a really, really great experience by building high density Wi-Fi. And, because we’re a public space, we planned on having a lot of people connecting with a lot of different devices.” he says. “People want to consume information while at breakfast or lunch, while in a public space—they need to have connectivity whenever they step out of their rooms.” MGM anticipates the new system will help its guests experience 30% longer battery life on their mobile devices. The company will be able to support up to 120,000 concurrent users in their Las Vegas convention space, vastly improving on the previous average of 4,000 concurrent users.
How the smaller facilities are doing it
Less expansive properties are not exempt from providing ample bandwidth and fortunately they are also able to take advantage of today’s technologies.
Happy Nook is general manager for three hotels in Palms Hospitality Management’s profile (www.palmshospitality.com): Best Western Bay Harbor, Clearwater Beach Hotel, and Executive Inn (Clearwater/St. Pete Airport). Bay Harbor uses fiber coming in to the facility and has wireless. Access points are run on a CAD6 and each floor has five or six access points. “Speed matters,” says Nook. “I think we have the maximum capacity for the customers to use it as well as wireless in the restaurant, common areas and rooms.” In Tampa three floors are both wireless and wired, providing both options for those coming in who may have security concerns.
Speed is also important from an operational standpoint, he notes, for running the various systems required to take care of back office activities and interfaces between systems. Across all three properties, connectivity is provided by Windstream (www.windstream.com) and Bright House Networks (www.brighthouse.com).
Ken Hung, assistant manager of The Tuscany NYC, a St. Giles Luxury Collection Hotel (www.tuscany.stgilesnewyork.com) says that while in the past it was very expensive to get Internet access throughout a facility because of the cost of hardwiring the cables, today’s wireless technology allows for very affordable systems. The Tuscany has a fiber optic line from Time Warner Cable (www.twcbc.com) coming into its two side-by-side hotels, with a 100MB service, based on consideration of not only current capacity, but future need. Access points by Ruckus Wireless (www.ruckuswireless.com) carry the signal throughout the property.
Tips for choosing a technology
When selecting a vendor, Hung recommends choosing one that has worked with hotels before so they can understand the singular challenges and use from a customer perspective.
“They can tell you what works at other properties, and what doesn’t work, so you can really learn from others’ failures,” Hung notes. “They’re familiar with some of the unique elements of the hotel experience: buildings with walls and headboards in the way, and considerations from the user, or guest, perspective.”
Dettman recommends paying close attention to the SLA—service level agreement—making sure to understand issues like mean time to recovery in the event of an outage and what kind of recovery can be expected. In addition, he suggests asking how many others will be on the service, if it’s a newer service, and what type of equipment will be needed. “Is it a simple Ethernet hand-off, do we need to install a router on our side, who manages that, who owns that piece of equipment—you need to know where the demarcation point is at which the provider says ‘it’s no longer our issue, it’s your issue,’” Dettman continues. “Having a clear understanding of that really makes a difference in how satisfied you are with whatever vendor you select.”
The world of technology moves quickly and all of the options can be overwhelming and confusing. Hung advises that hotel operators interested in upgrading Internet access assess what’s currently out there through online sources and trade publications. “It’s good to see what other people are doing and whether it works or not and what challenges they have,” he says. “I would always survey other hotels to see what they’re doing.”
Keep it basic, he advises. “It’s just an Internet connection, that’s all it is—you have to have access to a server that gives you a gateway to the Internet.” The only key consideration he says is how you would deliver the service, through either Wi-Fi or cable. Hung favors Wi-Fi to create this link because, as he says, “everybody has some sort of device which uses Wi-Fi.”