Today`s hotel guests want the same technological amenities that they have at home or in the office.
That means laptop-toting travellers want to plug in and be instantaneously connected to the Internet. But does that also mean that guests would prefer to leave their laptops behind and be greeted by friendly computer screens right in their hotel rooms?
Some forward-thinking hoteliers say the answer to this question is a definitive “yes.” Although high-speed Internet access may be enough to satisfy business travellers now, it won`t be long before they want the next best thing, in this case in-room computers.
“Just because hotels offer Internet access doesn`t mean they are providing the best technology service to their guests,” says Michael Printz, vice president of Aero-Vision Technologies in Long Island, NY.
Yet, 69% of the approximately 56 million business travellers in 1999 carried laptops and 83% used these computers in hotel rooms, according to CAIS Internet and the National Business Travel Association. Nonetheless, these travellers may not have carried their computers if they didn`t have to, said Printz. Aero-Vision, which provides hotels with networked computers complete with wireless high-speed Internet access, installed its Xtreme-Speed MicroNode system in 154 rooms at the Plaza Hotel in New York City last year.
The Plaza hotel rooms are furnished with custom, flat-panel 15-inch computer screens and keyboards. Using the liquid crystal screens, guests can retrieve information about the hotel, New York restaurants, nearby shopping and cultural events. Through links to special highlighted sites, travellers can order theatre tickets, make restaurant reservations and retrieve detailed maps of neighbourhoods they would like to visit, according to Aero-Vision.
Guests can also use the system to surf the Internet or access their personal e-mail. The Plaza charges a $24.95 daily fee for Internet access. But the service is free to those guests who don`t use the Internet, Printz says.
So far, guests love the easy-to-use computers, which act as a ‘cyberconcierge’. They also like the fact that these computers are so fast that they can access e-mail or download important documents almost instantaneously, says GM Paul Tormey. In fact, the networked computers, also called thin clients, have been so well received that the hotel is planning to roll the service out to all of its 805 rooms starting next year. “We`ll start 50 rooms at a time,” Tormey says.
Thin clients are not only beneficial to guests, however. Hotels stand to gain as well, according to IBM, which recently unveiled its Zero Footprint thin client, a networked computer system with flat-panel monitors. In-room computers offer an innovative way for hotels to generate revenue and augment brand loyalty, argues Howie Hunger, director of thin clients for IBM`s personal systems group.
For example, the computer screens at the Plaza feature the hotel`s logo plus rotating photos that show off various amenities at the hotel. Customized portals like this give hotels ample opportunities to generate sales. Not only can key businesses advertise on the in-house portal, but also the hotel has the potential to share a percentage of the e-commerce sales generated by guests who purchase products through advertisers, Printz says.
With the hotel`s affluent clientele, Printz points out that a company like Tiffany would be a great strategic fit on the Plaza portal. The Plaza isn`t the only hotel installing in-room computers. Slowly but surely, others are jumping on the bandwagon and experimenting with similar systems. U.S. Franchise Systems has teamed up with I`m On Hospitality, based in Boca Raton, FL, to test thin clients in three hotels. And e-Centre.net`s StayOnLine service has also been installed in three hotels: the Homewood Suites by Hilton in the Buckhead area of Atlanta; the Jameson Inn in Oakridge, TN; and the Signature Inn in Carmel, IN. None of these moderately priced hotels features the lavish amenities found at the Plaza. Nonetheless, business travellers still want the same technology available regardless of where they stay, say firms that provide high-speed access. StayOnLine, based in Atlanta, was first launched last June in the Buckhead Homewood Suites by Hilton owned by Noble Investment Group. The networked computers with 14-inch screens are now available in 60 of the hotel`s 92 rooms, says GM Jim Wood.
Like the Aero-Vision system, StayOnLine offers hotel information. It also features popular business software and games. In addition, an “always visible” hotel portal page provides guests with current sports information, news, stock quotes and more. Travellers can also use the computers to access personal e-mail or surf the Internet. Buckhead was the perfect place to launch the product, says Steven Nicholas, vice president of operations for Noble, which runs a dozen full-service and all-suite properties under several flags on the East Coast.
“More and more business executives are travelling to Atlanta. These executives are staying at hotels that provide comfortable, convenient accommodations. Today that means access to technology and the Internet,” Nicholas says.
Eventually Noble plans to install the service at many of its other hotels. StayOnLine is also working with Jameson Inns and Signature Inns to introduce the service at many of these properties, says Antonio DiMilia, CEO and president of e-Centre.net. “We`ve just now completed the test phase (in these three hotels) and we`re getting ready to roll it out nationwide,” he said.
StayOnLine also hopes to help its hotel partners garner higher revenue through advertising and sharing a percentage of the sales from e-commerce partners. But perhaps the most important reason to install the computers is that the hotels can now tout an additional amenity that will help them achieve higher occupancy and more repeat business, DiMilia observes.
Aero-Vision`s Printz agrees. “We are helping the Plaza brand their hotel and make customers want to return because it offers this cool technology. It`s a win-win.” “It`s certainly driving repeat business and loyalty to the hotel. I believe that over time this is going to be expected in the hotel industry,” Tormey says.