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Tech Buzz

Remember when hotel guests got excited over free HBO and still-in-the-theater movies on pay-per-view? Pete Sears, a 24-year Hyatt veteran, recalls those simpler days. Now, in our 24/7 digital age, guests have loftier expectations, and hotels are investing in new technologies to make a splash.

“The digital world is such a big part of everyone’s lives right now,” says Sears, senior vice president of North America operations for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts. “People are demanding it of us and it’s moving so fast. I think everyone in the industry is trying to weigh, when do you jump in? When do you make that decision?

“And you’ve got to make a decision that’s going to last the test of time and be able to evolve with the changes. You don’t want to install something that’s going to be obsolete by the time you roll it out.”

When committing to new technologies, Sears says decisions are made with the guests and hotel owners in mind. “If a cool technology doesn’t provide real value to our guests, then we’re not going to waste our time or our money on it,” he says. “Our goal is to simplify and enhance the guest experience. We also owe it to our owners to make sure we’re investing in the right systems that will drive business but are also capable of evolving without significant capital reinvestment.”

ROOMLINX
After conducting thorough research, tests, and evaluations, Hyatt announced in March that it would be transforming standard in-room televisions into fully connected, interactive entertainment centers and virtual concierges at its full-service properties across the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.

Since the advent of DVR and TV streaming, guests are no longer used to being tied to a fixed network schedule. “So many people are traveling with their own entertainment,” Sears says. “We felt it was important that they be able to access that how they want and when they want.”

The new technology, provided by Roomlinx Inc., will allow guests to use the in-room HD TVs to browse the Internet, order room service, request housekeeping services, book local tours, stream movies from their Netflix accounts, print documents, and more. Meeting and group planners will be able to send customized messages directly to the rooms of guests attending their function.

The technology will help Hyatt employees meet the needs of guests more efficiently, Sears says, because service requests go directly to the appropriate associates. “The faster we can get to those associates,” he says, “the faster and better information we can have to take care of those guests.”

As of June 1, seven Hyatt properties had Roomlinx installed, including Hyatt Regency New Orleans, Andaz 5th Avenue in New York, and Denver Tech Center. Sears expects the system to be installed across Hyatt’s North America properties by mid-year 2013. The solution works with existing guestroom HD TVs, and properties that don’t yet have HD TVs are scheduled for upgrades this year and next.

“We owe it to our customers that at a minimum we give them what they’re used to at home or at the office,” Sears says. “They shouldn’t have to put their lives on hold or change the way they’re doing things just because they’re spending the night in a hotel.”

In April, Sears met with the Roomlinx team in Denver to discuss the next three product enhancement rollouts that are coming in the second, third, and fourth quarters of this year.

“I sleep better at night knowing that we’ve made a decision on a technology that can keep up with the changing needs and desires of the customer,” he says. “That really weighed on us. We didn’t want to invest as much money as we and our owners are investing in something that wasn’t going to be able to keep up with this rapidly changing technological world we live in.”

The technology is expensive, but Sears says Hyatt believes the systems will pay for themselves. “We hope and expect that, by offering something like this, we’re going to meet a wide array of needs of our customers that they might not be able to get some place else,” he says. “We think that’s going to drive preference and hopefully a bigger share of the market.”

Hotel: TRYP New York City Times Square South
Technology: LobbyFriend, Samsung Experience Room
For the launch of its first U.S. property, TRYP by Wyndham wanted to go beyond the must-have technologies—like free WiFi—and explore innovative concepts that would set the brand apart and wow its Gen X and Gen Y demographic.

TRYP New York City Times Square South, which opened in February, has created a lot of buzz by partnering with LobbyFriend, a temporary social network and mobile concierge tool. Current hotel guests can connect, socialize, and communicate with each other and the hotel staff during their stay. Once logged in, guests can access the private hotel network from anywhere via LobbyFriend’s Web or mobile platforms.

“Ultimately it really ties in well with our service culture, which is focused on so many components about guests making the most out of their experience in that city,” says Daniel del Olmo, brand senior vice president of TRYP by Wyndham.

Del Olmo says TRYP by Wyndham, which represents more than 90 hotels across Europe and the Americas, is already discussing the rollout of LobbyFriend portfolio wide. Once approved, the roll out would take six to nine months. The brand also is considering a roll out on a city basis, which means guests who are staying in cities with multiple TRYP properties, such as Madrid and Paris, would be able to communicate with all other TRYP guests staying in the same city.

In April, TRYP New York City unveiled its two Samsung Experience guestrooms. These high-tech multimedia guestrooms are equipped with 55-inch Samsung flat-screen TVs and 3D glasses, surround sound, a popcorn machine, Nintendo Wii gaming system, iPod docking station, Blu-ray player, and multimedia connectivity panel. The rooms accommodate up to eight people.

The brand also worked with Google to build on the socializing aspect of Plaza Central, the hotel’s open lobby that serves as the main social hub for guests. Guests at the New York property have complimentary access to Google TVs and eight Google Chrome laptops, creating a virtual business center.

Socialization is paramount to the success of the TRYP brand, and del Olmo says food and beverage and technology are important components of this. “We’ve always looked at designing our hotels and particularly the public areas to maximize the revenue per square foot,” he says. “So anything we can do to increase our foot traffic to the Gastro Bar and increase our food and beverage consumption in a way that is pleasant to locals that happen to come in and enjoy the experience they can get, or for the guests who are looking to just get a breather in a nice environment, that’s always welcome.”

The TRYP concept was developed and value engineered to deliver the highest ROI for owners and developers, del Olmo says, and the technology partnerships were factored into this equation. “I believe that every single dollar invested needs to provide a measurable return on investment for owners,” del Olmo says.

Hotel: Talbott Hotel
Technology: Square [i] When installing new 42-inch Sharp HD TVs, Talbott Hotel in Chicago wanted to invest in an elegant entertainment solution that had all the bells and whistles. “We wanted to make sure the beautiful screens we were putting in the rooms would offer high definition on every channel,” says General Manager Troy Strand.

The hotel subscribed to a new cable company that offered a hotel package with all HD channels, and added 100-megabit-per-second high-speed Internet. Talbott also partnered with Square [i] International, an Apple hospitality specialist that provides a home-like computing and entertainment experience.

The TVs in all 149 guestrooms are now connected to a 1.4-inch thin Mac mini and include a wireless Mac keyboard and trackpad. Guests can check their email, browse the Internet, run applications like iChat or Skype, and upload, share and edit images and video, among other Mac capabilities. An interactive TV guide uses station logos instead of channel numbers for easy surfing. Guests can view and record HD TV and watch movies via Netflix streaming or DVD.

An upcoming enhancement of the system will allow guests to stream music and movies from their iPad to the TV using Apple AirPlay wireless technology. The Talbott is the first hotel outside of the United Kingdom to offer Square [i].

“The investment was much greater than anything else we might have selected,” Strand says, “but we also knew the return would be greater guest satisfaction and a lot of buzz.” He anticipates a five-year lifespan for the solution.

When guests check out, the system deletes all content, including documents, images, browser history, and recorded TV programs. “The PMS sends a signal to the Mac mini that you have departed and it erases all traces of you, and all browser history, as if it’s never been used before.”

The Talbott doesn’t intend to intimidate guests or throw technology in their face, Strand says, but rather wants to invest in products that are sensible for both employees and guests. “We were really seeking, and I think we found, the best technology for the guest-facing side as well as the employee side,” Strand concludes.

Hotel: Conrad New York
Technology: Conrad Concierge
When guests check in at Conrad New York, which opened in the Battery Park City neighborhood in March, technology is an essential piece of the conversation. “Part of the challenge is making sure guests are understanding of it and realize everything that is available to them,” says Patrick Roy, director of sales and marketing for Conrad New York.

In many ways, hotels have become more representative of what guests have at home, Roy says. If a guest walks into his room and finds an analog TV set when he has a 60-inch flat-screen HD TV at home, frustration begins to mount. To meet guest expectations, the 463 suites at Conrad New York have two flat-screen HD TVs—one 37-inch, one 42-inch—with 60 HD channels.

Thanks to Intelity’s ICE, a technology platform that integrates all hotel systems, guests can download the Conrad New York app and personalize their service needs via laptops and mobile devices, or by using the in-room TVs. Guests staying in one of the hotel’s 12 luxury suites or the Conrad Suite have access to in-room iPads throughout their stay. The virtual concierge allows guests to order room service, make dining reservations, specify housekeeping preferences, request additional amenities, and more. Roy says guests can even pre-request services in the 24-hour period before their arrival.

All requests go straight to the ICE system, and are delivered instantaneously to the appropriate departments and staff. “It leads to improved customer service, and hopefully loyalty scores when the guests leave,” Roy says.

The hotel is pursuing LEED Gold certification for new construction, and a number of the technologies in use at the property help support this certification. For example, when guests unlock their doors, an INNCOM wireless in-room control system kicks in. This automatically adjusts interior systems, including lighting, drapes, temperature, and music, to pre-set preferences. All of these selections can be set via an interactive guide available on the in-room TVs. The INNCOM system is integrated with a Saflok RFID door system. This means in-room controls are automatically shut down when the system senses that guests are no longer in their rooms, which helps the hotel save energy and reduce operating expenses.

Technology cannot replace the hotel’s employees, but it’s a useful tool. “The benefit of having great technology is marrying that with a strong personal touch,” Roy says. “That is really the sweet spot we want to get to.”

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