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Focus on Hospitality: Technology Updates Help Guests Stay Connected

Feb 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney


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Hewlett-Packard Halo system

As technology moves forward, both leisure and business travelers will come to expect greater AV resources from the hospitality industry—from integrated room-AV systems for their entertainment to advanced telepresence systems such as the Hewlett-Packard Halo system (pictured) for business use.

The modern hospitality industry is in a constant state of flux, trying to balance the need for return on investment against rising pressure to provide the latest and greatest in functionality for clients. Generally speaking, that balancing act comes down to a need to invest wisely in equipment that will have a long life, while simultaneously providing customers with the type of modern functionality they have come to expect. These days, those expectations largely come from what travelers are using and enjoying in their own homes. Today's consumers can be so varied in their knowledge and experience that it is often a good idea for major facilities to standardize around equipment that is as rugged and easy to use as possible.

Whether they are leisure or business travelers, guests tend to judge their accommodations by their level of familiarity. In-room amenities such as the television and clock radio need to be intuitive to use. Easy accommodation of personal-electronics gear — digital music players, laptop computers, and mobile phones — will be increasingly desirable in hospitality settings.

In recent years, we've seen the expectations for Internet access move from dial-up to high-speed lines. The industry responded with a rapid infrastructure upgrade, and soon Ethernet ports became ubiquitous in most major hotels. As wireless connectivity became widespread, hotels quickly incorporated Wi-Fi networks. In just a few short years, this trend has reached the point where high-speed Internet access (HSIA) is the norm at modern hotels.

With an in-place infrastructure of televisions, telephones, cable systems, and HSIA, hotels now have the potential to supply a vast array of technology and entertainment to their rooms' occupants. The trick, from a business point of view, is to provide as much wow factor with as little added investment as possible. When you consider that hotels must multiply the cost of each new infrastructure piece by the number of rooms per hotel — and then again by the number of properties the chain operates — the economic implications of even a minor equipment upgrade are huge.

Consider that once upon a time, every major hotel chain invested heavily in telephone systems, enabling guests to access long-distance carriers from their rooms. An expensive investment, but one that reaped rewards as travelers were suddenly able to stay in touch with the folks back home. But today, guests rarely use those expensive room phones for anything more than ordering room service or requesting towels. Almost everybody has gone cellular. This technological shift is an object lesson in the difficulties the industry faces constantly: What technological improvements will tomorrow bring to the hospitality industry?

HDTV

This is one area in which the hospitality industry is poised to make a huge leap into the future, thanks to the FCC-mandated move to digital television in February 2009. Going a step further, video-on-demand (VOD) suppliers have embraced digital rights management, allowing them to leap into the fray by making a wide range of HDTV content available in hotels. When coupled with the cable and satellite industries' race to provide HD content, it seems inevitable that hotel rooms will soon become havens of high-definition viewing. With wider availability and reduced prices for HD display units virtually ensured, it's a safe bet that, just as hotels have incorporated high-speed Internet access over the past few years, HDTV will become the new standard in mid- and premium-level hotel chains in the relatively near future.

And, because of its need for maximum ruggedness, reliability, and longevity, it is generally believed that the hospitality industry will settle on LCD as its preferred display technology. A presentation by Chris Hartmann, managing director of HVS Technology Strategies, at the 2006 Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference in Minneapolis confirmed some of the advantages of LCD displays as their light weight and low energy consumption. As he summarized in the presentation, traditional CRT displays are the brightest, but obviously these are very heavy, and they cannot be wall-mounted. Plasma displays can have burn-in problems, and they can't be used at high altitudes. Projection systems are the least bright, and they have the narrowest viewing angle.



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