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Key to Successful In-Room Technology is 
Simplicity and Discretion
 
Paris, 5 March 1999 – Guestroom technology should be “discreet, intuitive and forgiving”, and “serve, not challenge the guest”.  This formula for meeting the needs of hotel customers was provided by Fraser Hickox, group general manager research & technology for the Peninsula Hotel Group at EURHOTEC '99, the European hospitality technology exhibition and conference which convened in Vienna last month.

At the company’s flagship property, the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, various room functions are accessed by panels strategically located around the room.  Hickox described how a bedside panel controls lighting, air-conditioning, radio, TV and curtains.  Rooms at the New York property include a mood switch which allows the guest to select his or her preferred lighting and airconditioning levels.  Another panel inside the entry of each room records outdoor temperature and humidity or UV levels, and wind chill factors.

Refurbishment at the Peninsula Hong Kong allowed for installation of an interface at check-in which automatically captures and feeds a central guest room server with information specific to each guest.  A fax machine signals via the bedside and door panels whether a fax has been received, and the group is currently working on automatically programming the fax header with the guest’s name upon check-in.

Hickox emphasised the importance of planning for in-room technology: “Unlike the life of a modern computer, a building will continue to exist well beyond many electronic cycles.  Planning is therefore essential,” he said.

Looking to the future, he predicted that a new era of television transmission built on digital TV means the TV set will be closer to a computer than today’s traditional television.  “The number of options, display formats and related capabilities will be numerous and complex,” he said.  He anticipates that video-on-demand companies will transform into gateways to video libraries into which a guest may dial for all types of programming, in the same way that a phone call is made today.

Telephony will merge with the television receiver of each room,  which will also undergo major physical change, he predicted.  The Peninsula is currently designing furniture around the new, ultra-thin 16:9 plasma TV, which virtually eliminates the need for armoires.  He questioned how long it would be before telephones with a video capability would offer guests a virtual reality link-up with their company or family with the aid of an “immersion chair”, an “Arthur C. Clarke” headset, a visor and various sensors.

“If this sounds far-fetched, consider that what we know now will represent less than 20% of our knowledge and capability in ten years time,” said Hickox, adding that ultimately hotels must not forget that “we are a people business, and while technology offers great opportunity it is the outstretched hand of the hotelier that consummates the relationship.”

Rick Warner, senior vice-president, hotel systems at BASS Hotels & Resorts, assessed the implications for hotels of hi-tech phenomena such as high-speed Internet access.  Bass’ research has found that 65% of business customers travel with laptops, and over 50% of these use them to check their e-mails and connect to their company, he said.  Over 60% of them have Ethernet cards, which allow for 30 times faster connectivity than conventional dialling.

This brings a number of benefits for hotels, according to Warner.  It frees up PBX lines, brings in incremental revenue and boosts guest satisfaction.  The challenge, he said, is the infrastructure required to accommodate the new technology.  “Hotels are having to leverage their existing infrastructure by adopting a data over voice solution, using voice connection to connect from the room to the Local Area Network, or wireless solutions via the desktop PC, thin client or a set-top box.”

Warner outlined areas of emerging technology, including the increasing use of Smartcards, identification and verification technology (door locks which recognise guests and open automatically), tracking and location technology and applications which allow for complete customisation of the hotel room according to guest needs before they check in.

Among emerging trends he identified were the technological convergence between voice and data, standardisation and consolidation, and mass customisation, or one-to-one marketing.  He urged hoteliers to take advantage of opportunities for widening their distribution channels.

“Certain types of car in the United States come with new technology which, by using a cellphone allow the driver to make hotel bookings in response to his or her voice.  Hotels should make sure they get a piece of the action as far as these new booking capabilities are concerned,” he said.

EURHOTEC, convened annually by the International Hotel & Restaurant Association (IH&RA), focuses on the use of technology to improve management and profitability in the hospitality industry.  EURHOTEC '99 attracted more than 1,100 visitors from 54 countries.  62 technology experts headed the three-day conference programme, with 90 exhibitors showcasing their hi-tech products and services at the EURHOTEC exhibition.  EURHOTEC 2000 will convene at the Congress & Exhibition Centre Bealieu, Lausanne, Switzerland, from 16-18 February.

The International Hotel & Restaurant Association (IH&RA) is a global network of independent and chain operators, national associations, hospitality suppliers and educational centres in the hotel and restaurant industry in more than 150 countries.  As the voice of the industry it represents, protects, promotes and informs its members to enable them to achieve their objectives.

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Contact:
Caroline Harvey
Tel: (33 1) 44 89 94 07
http:/www.ih-ra.com
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Also See: Technology: In-room Entertainment - What's in the Future / H&MM / Marty Whitford / Nov 1998 
Hilton New York Towers to Install Smartcard Electronic Door Locks / July 1998 
The Battle for the High-Speed Internet Guest / Geneva Rinehart / Feb 1999 

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