Broadband Gives Hotels a Leg Up
by Jim Bray
A historic Canadian hotel chain is moving into cyberspace in a triple
pronged strategy aimed at snagging and keeping visitors while enhancing
its own operations.
Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, the luxury lodging chain, is making a significant
investment in technology that, among other things, will ensure guests
can access the Internet at broadband speeds regardless of where they are
in the hotel's empire. And that doesn't just mean in any hotel; it means
from anywhere in any of Fairmont's properties, including public areas
such as lobbies and bars.
The idea is to give Fairmont a leg up in a marketplace that has become
even more highly competitive since the September 11th attacks.
"Fairmont will be the only luxury hotel chain in North America to
extend high-speed connectivity across its entire portfolio," says
Tim Aubrey, Fairmont's vice president of technology. "This give us
a tremendous competitive advantage since today's mobile professionals
need to be as efficient in their hotel room as the office."
But that's really only one side of the coin. Fairmont is piggybacking
its "virtual" guest services onto the broadband network that
already links the properties through their Toronto head office, increasing
the company's efficiency and flexibility at the same time.
The company uses three separate portals to do this, each portal serving
different facets of the business. The external site at www.fairmont.com,
is a straightforward Web site that lets guests book rooms and offers looks
at various features and services.
The second portal, www.thefairmont.net, is billed as an "online
concierge tool" for hotel guests. It begins with a broadband Internet
connection that not only offers Web surfing, but which equips each guest
with his or her unique IP address to make possible instant messaging,
When guests log on with their Web browser, it homes onto thefairmont.net
and from there they can either veer off into normal cyberspace or use
the domain to look over hotel information such as the daily special in
the restaurant. They'll also be able to make restaurant reservations,
book various hotel activities, order theater tickets, or retrieve detailed
maps of local neighborhoods.
A partnership with the 10Best Virtual Concierge company also provides
guests with supposedly unbiased recommendations on where to eat and what
to do locally during their Fairmont stay. It includes "ten best"
lists for a variety of lifestyle categories, including directions on how
to reach each one. Finally, the Virtual Concierge provides guests with
local weather information, and stats and facts about each city.
And each resort's staff can augment these lists by adding their "personal
recommendations" for hot places to visit.
Fairmont also plans to offer these services on the rooms' TV's eventually,
for the "computer challenged," in much the same way they can
now choose movies to watch.
While travelers might find the benefits of having such up-to-date information
at their mousepads obvious, Aubrey says the plan works for Fairmont as
well, in that it can offer virtually instant information updates to guests
without having to constantly reprint expensive in-room folders and booklets.
All that's required is for a designated hotel employee to log into the
myfairmont.com site and use its engine to change a particular item, add
a new special, or whatever.
The third portal is the company's Intranet, where hotel employees can
access information behind the scenes including such touches as whether
or not a particular guest likes having the National Post delivered as
opposed to the local paper, or the type of room preferred. This lets Fairmont
customize a guest's stay, invisibly and unobtrusively, based on previous
experience at any of the company's properties.
The hardware connecting everything is an all-Cisco system that routes
everything at broadband speeds through the chain's Toronto headquarters.
Aubrey says they chose Cisco because it's the only vendor that offers
an end to end solution that lets Fairmont tackle the task on its own terms
and without any outside partnerships.
"We're doing it on our own, rather than having a revenue share agreement
with a service provider," he says, "And we're using our own
in-house Help Desk to offer 24/7 assistance to guests and staff alike.
If someone's having a problem, we want them to have a Fairmont solution."
Aubrey says that one of their biggest challenges has been how to support
all the protocols a guest might need. "We've worked closely with
Cisco to ensure we can host just about any computer, support VPN clients,
web casts, chat sessions and the like," he says.
The project is well under way. Meeting rooms and public areas in all
37 of the company's properties in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Bermuda
and Barbados are already connected, and Aubrey says the service is being
very well received. There's still much to be done, however; the rollout
to all the hotels' rooms will take several months more.
What's next? Aubrey envisions using the broadband network to provide
enhanced services such as Voice over IP which could dramatically reduce
telecom capital and operating costs for hotel and clients alike.
In the meantime, Fairmont feels it is indeed getting that leg up on a
competition that, if it offers high speed Internet access at all, doesn't
include the value-added features.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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