New Edge is going after the market with humorous ads in a postcard format. Front shown here.
Hotels, conference centers, resorts
and even some budget accommodation chains are turning to advanced communications services to separate them from a dense field of competitors and get heads into beds: Real-time front-office applications, guest services and guest-room amenities like Wi-Fi access are a few of the options. Savvy providers and their partners can rest easy if dabbling in this vertical: Market factors are making it impossible for the hospitality industry to ignore the need for new technologies. Many hotels are waking up to the fact that some investments can generate a better, more attractive experience for guests, leading to higher hotel revenue. Plus, embracing new technology translates to operational efficiencies on the back end.
Broadband especially has become a critical differentiator in the highly competitive hospitality industry. In-Stat/MDR reports the hotel broadband market experienced “a considerable recovery” in 2003, and is positioned for further growth. Room connections are predicted to increase from a little more than half a million this year to more than 2.25 million in 2007. “Hotels are acting on the new vision of broadband’s importance to their competitive ability, and more and more properties are offering high-speed access as an amenity,” says Amy Cravens, a senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR. “This renewed strength in the hotel broadband market will be reflected by an increasing number of rooms deployed each year.”
New Edge is going after the market with humorous ads in a postcard format. Front shown here.
Accordingly, service providers are lining up with hospitality-tailored programs to attack this vertical market. One path is the association approach. Anysia Kiel, national director of affinity sales at PAETEC, says one of the main things the carrier is doing is signing hotel and lodging associations as affiliates.
PAETEC has seven such deals, with more coming. “We get them into contracts for endorsed services,” she explains. “For local, [long distance] and high-speed Internet, PAETEC is their endorsed provider. When we’re the endorsed provider, we go to all of their networking events and we are the only provider there. So when they have their meetings or their trade shows, there are no other telecom providers that are there, so we have the whole audience.”
The optimum customer for PAETEC is a location with at least 80-100 rooms because these properties are T1 candidates. “If we can give them an integrated T, we’re definitely going to save them money over our competitors,” says Kiel.
In another example, Time Warner Cable has launched Road Runner Business Class Hospitality Solutions, a comprehensive offering that provides hotels and motels with high-speed Internet connections. The Road Runner Business Class solution uses existing wiring within hotels and provides users with a high-speed data modem or Ethernet connection. “Hotels are competing more than ever for the customer’s travel dollars,” says Ken Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of Time Warner Cable Commercial Services. “Offering amenities like high-speed Internet connectivity gives hotels a competitive advantage over those who don’t - particularly when catering to the business traveler.”
Wi-Fi service - high-speed wireless access in guest rooms and public areas such as lobbies and poolside - the next wave of broadband deployment in the hotel arena, say industry players. Greg Griffiths, vice president of marketing at New Edge Networks, which began focusing on the vertical early this year says Wi-Fi certainly has emerged as the must-have for any competitive property. “The big press for them right now is to expand Internet access from in the room to also in the lobby,” says Griffiths.
“With hospitality, it’s all about differentiating your amenities so that guests choose to stay there instead of somewhere else,” he adds. “A year ago, that meant Internet access. Today, that means Internet access in a Wi-Fi hotspot in the lobby, so when you’re sitting down having your bagel and orange juice, you can also be on the Internet, having your news and catching up on e-mail.”
MegaPath Networks Inc. is capitalizing on the need for Wi-Fi backhaul. The carrier has signed several name-brand properties, and, for instance, is doing a complete makeover for 1,500 Hampton Inns. “We approach the sector as an integral part of the Wi-Fi solution - we do a lot of providing to the Wi-Fi space,” says Dan Foster, chief marketing officer at MegaPath. “At the end of the day, we provide the company with integration on the back end of the connectivity in the Wi-Fi hotspot, and we’ll bring partners in for those deals.”
The company also is an integrator and reseller for wireless ISP iPass, allowing corporate users to seamlessly go into a hotel and use Wi-Fi, and have it bill on their MegaPath invoice. “Whether you go to a Starbucks or a Hilton, it all gets put through our system,” says Foster. He notes channel partners can sell the solutions as well.
Beyond access, In-Stat/MDR’s Cravens says new broadband-centric services and applications have emerged, such as broadband printing networks linking guestrooms to a central printer and video on demand service, along with branded portals to act as a virtual concierge for in-room services. There’s also a growing concept of “smart guest rooms,” where environmental controls and other in-room devices are linked to the network, although these have yet to be deployed.
Arthur Andersen consultants Erik Lars Hansen and Raymond Owen note in a brief that most larger hotel properties also are looking to integrate disparate legacy networks and in-house systems, such as billing, database marketing, reservations, food/beverage ordering and others.
On the guest services side, applications include smart cards that can be coded as almost a temporary “credit cards” for purchases within the hotel to bill to the room, touch-screen kiosks for access to outside services and concierge information, and video check-in/check-out. For instance, “Touch-and-Go” has been rolled out by Hyatt Hotels to some of its properties. The idea is to have guests to check themselves in 90 seconds or less. “Investments in technologies and effective application of these technologies in hotel operations and services will become one of the most decisive factors differentiating successful hotel organizations globally in the years ahead,” write Hansen and Owen.
These patchwork networks could be a target for VARs, service providers and integrators to come in with a converged network solution that makes these IP-centric, high-bandwidth solutions possible, simplifies management and saves operational costs, particularly since the hospitality market is still very much a franchise market. While a large hotel chain may mandate that, say, properties must have in-room Internet and be exploring Wi-Fi by the end of the year, the typical franchise owner may own a few hotels, but does not have an IT staff. “So for them to upgrade their point-ofsale systems and start getting more sophisticated with their booking and reservation systems, and booking that into the franchise headquarters, they’re looking for a broadband connection that is also a network, so it’s a multifaceted operation,” explains Griffiths.
Further complicating matters is the variety of corporate headquarters a single owner must take into account. “The fact of the matter is that it’s almost like the franchise or restaurant space: A lot of these folks own multiple brands,” explains Foster.
He notes, because of this fact, MegaPath often plays the role of integrator in the hotel space. “So you may live in Portland, Maine and be the hotel baron there, and you’ve got a Marriott and maybe a Hilton as part of the operating company. So people own five or 10 hotels, traditionally.”
Therefore, the franchiser needs someone to come in and explain how to make the messy, complicated business of the broadband network and attendant applications work, take care of provisioning and manage it going forward. A turnkey solution is the preferred route, says Griffiths.
“What’s more important than name recognition with a carrier, by far, is that they need someone to come in and implement this for them,” he says. “And that’s what New Edge specializes in, so the agent plays the role of the outsourced IT director.”
To help agents and partners ramp up, New Edge has an initiative to help channel partners understand hotel applications, the industry in general, the specific value propositions for its products in the space and why hotels are buying broadband.
The carrier profiles the market and provides tools such as training. After extensive market research and end-user surveys asking about buying criteria and the ranking of what’s important in choosing a carrier, New Edge identifies which properties have the most potential in terms of gross sales dollars. It also markets in hospitality trade magazines and at shows - the carrier passes leads on to partners. Agents also have access to the marketing materials for their own use, and can access a sophisticated database with a sweet spot clarification tool. The tool determines highest propensity to buy, network footprint eligibility, etc., and can be used for prospecting.
“Ten years ago, we were putting networks in place for businesses that had IT staffs and knew what they wanted, but today that’s not the case,” says Griffiths. “You need to understand why they’re upgrading to broadband and be able to understand their language. So we go through and profile specific vertical markets and develop products specific to them, then we provide the tools to our partners, so they can be successful in that industry.”
Broadband and WANs aside, hotels are still looking for voice services. PAETEC’s Kiel says one aspect of the hospitality market that has faded away on the voice side is making money on access charges. So, PAETEC goes in with a message of saving money, rather than offering an incremental revenue stream on service. “Income no longer is due to the access rates, 800 origination and so on,” she says. “All of those revenue streams used to be paid back to the hotels, but now it’s regulated a lot more by the FCC, so it’s not as great of a revenue stream for them. They used to make so much money on the access.”
PAETEC often will consolidate lines and offer hotels an equipment-for-service deal, where the property signs a longer contract in return for a free PBX. On the broadband side, the company will bundle services together over a T1 to save costs.
Attacking the market from the applications arena is another approach. MegaPath, for one, is collaborating with front-office applications providers, such as Pegasus, which makes a hotel reservation system. “We go out there and bundle the solution and use that as a Trojan horse,” Foster says. “Putting in a new application set, that’s always the best way to go in with broadband. And we’re always happy to go with resellers and agents that want to chase the vertical space.”
Cox Communications Inc. also is banking on its ability to provide in-room entertainment services along with voice/data communications. Its Hospitality Network division, which specializes in providing in-room guest video and data technology services to the gaming industry, announced an agreement last fall with Mandalay Resort Group, the largest provider of rooms on the Las Vegas Strip, including Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and the Luxor. Hospitality Network will provide digital, in-room, video-on-demand service, highspeed Internet service and in-room wireless keyboard access.
“As a leader in the gaming industry, our focus is on consistently exceeding the amenity expectations of our guests,” says John Marz, senior vice president of Mandalay marketing and events. He echoes the analysts’ assessments: “This new technology will continue to keep our resorts on the cutting edge of guest amenities while increasing the cash-flow opportunities at our properties.”
High-Speed Hotel: 6 Steps to Turn Up Wi-Fi
By Jay Lewis
Wi-Fi is gaining popularity with hotels as a lower-cost and quicker way to deploy high-speed Internet to attract and retain business clientele. While it is easier than a wired solution, deploying a Wi-Fi solution in a hotel requires providers follow a detailed step-by-step process.
Step 1: Conduct a site survey.
The site survey consists of testing frequencies and determining the best location for the access points as well as the number of access points needed. During this process, an access point can be set up and one can determine how far the frequency will travel in all directions. The person doing the survey also will determine how many cable runs will have to be run to complete the installation. Each access point will need electrical power. It is critical that the power be found during site survey. The larger the hotel, the longer a site survey will take but will take about 8 hours for a hotel with up to 200 rooms. A site survey is the most important step in the deployment process. If completed incorrectly, the cost of the job may be bid too high or too low. No vendor wants to have to revise a quote during the installation, nor does a hotel want to be told the price will be higher than the quotation.
Step 2: Order equipment, broadband access and staff.
It is important to ensure broadband access is installed by the phone company, before arriving at the property to install the equipment. This is especially true when scheduling staff to arrive from out of town. Higher bandwidth DSL will be adequate for smaller hotels with limited meeting space. Hotels that have more than 150 rooms with large amounts of meeting space may require one or two full Internet T1s. Intel recommends that a hotel provide 100kbps per each user using the systems at the same time. Make sure the T1 provider offers a service level agreement for these services in case of an outage. Order enterprise-grade equipment. Residential-quality access points never should be deployed in a hotel. Used or refurbished equipment should not be used.
Step 3: Install and deploy the wireless network.
This typically can be done in one to three days depending on the size of the hotel. All new deployments should be installed with secure access for the guest. Guests in adjoining rooms should not be able to see information on any other personms computer. Authentication is a main component to providing secure access. It is important to fully test the system and make sure there is total coverage. It some cases, one will find a low signal in a guest room at the end of a hallway. It is a lot easier to fix a problem when on site.
Step 4: Train the staff.
Make sure there is at least one hotel employee who will be familiar with the system and knows the locations of access points.
If you have a problem, that onsite person can respond more quickly than dispatching a technician to the hotel. Train the hotel front-office staff. Each front-desk clerk should be able to explain the new Wi-Fi service to guests at check-in. Upon completion of the training, make sure the responsible party of the hotel signs off on service acceptance. Keep this documentation in case of a management change at the hotel.
Step 5: Market the service.
Announce the new deployment with online service engines. Work with the hotel to drive new room-night demand.
Provide 24-hour technical support. Guests who experience problems logging on to the Wi-Fi service should be able to call a toll-free number to reach a technical person for assistance. Guests should not rely on the hotel front-desk staff to solve computer issues.
Jay Lewis is vice president of Wi-Fi Guys LLC, a Finland, Minn.-based company that deploys wired and Wi-Fi systems in hotels. It has deployments in Michigan, Minnesota, California, Wisconsin and Washington.
Arthur Andersen www.arthurandersen.com