. WHATS NEW IN HIGH-TECH HOTELS | Meetings & Conventions


Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio January 2003 Current Issue
January 2003 On TravelPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

On Travel

By Cheryl-Anne Sturken


A look at some of the modern miracles coming soon to a property near you

Less than five years ago, high-speed Internet access first became the talk of the hospitality industry. Soon, “wired and ready for business” was the claim of many hotel chains, which rushed to hook up guest rooms and meeting space. But the price to plug in proved steep for most travelers, and reliability was an iffy thing.

Today, however, technology has become a major determining factor in who gets travel business, and hotels are committed more than ever to meeting the challenge. Several major hotel chains, including Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Gaylord Entertainment, Park Place Entertainment Corp. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts, have relied on San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems to work its technology wizardry to bring them up to speed.

What technologies are hotels implementing, and what new capabilities can business travelers expect to find when checking in a few months from now? Peter Alexander, vice president of worldwide marking operations and commercial marketing for Cisco, recently shared some insights in a talk with M&C.

Q: What’s new in services you offer to hotels to benefit business travelers?

A: We’ve introduced a new technology called long-reach Ethernet, which can run at high speed over existing phone wiring for great distances. Any hotel can now offer a local area network system for business travelers’ laptops.

Q: Is it true that only 10 percent of laptops are ready to go wireless?

A: It is difficult to tell just how many laptops have wireless; only a small percent have the capability built in, but many people add on cards. The demand from the consumer is growing very quickly. Increasingly, we are seeing hot spots for this kind of access in airports, hotels, even in coffee shops. It tends to be more prevalent in high-population areas.

Q: What issues come up regarding the security of information?

A: There are two areas. As a hotel property connects to the Internet to allow customers to access their e-mail, the hotel needs to have safeguards in place to stop the customer from getting into its own system. That’s called a firewall, which is something we can provide.

A related technology that we can supply is a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. Basically, it is the software in your laptop that has the ability to electronically encrypt and protect any of the data flowing between you and your corporate network over the Internet. 

We think it’s a definite marketing plus when hotels can assure their guests that the system they have in place is VPN compatible.

The beauty of it is that, ultimately, security along with broadband access in a hotel infrastructure will allow business users to extend their telephone and videoconferencing capabilities right to the laptops sitting in their rooms.

Q: How will this new system work?

A: It’s what we like to call “soft phone” technology. Basically, it involves a telephone that runs on a laptop and allows you to both make and receive calls as if that were your desktop telephone. What happens is I dial your extension number, your company network sees you are on a secure connection back at the Fairmont, and your PC rings. You answer the call by either clicking on your e-mail or by plugging a headset into the computer.

The next step will involve videoconferencing using a laptop equipped with an eyeball camera as the terminal device. It would allow you to participate in a meeting from your hotel room, utilizing voice and video, with your laptop.

It sounds pretty futuristic, but this is only about 12 to 18 months down the road.

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