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Sat 5 Jun 2010 04:00 AM

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Get Connected!

Lee Jamieson discovers that guests are demanding more from their in-room systems. Technology moves fast - but can hoteliers keep up?

Get Connected!
VingCard lock
Get Connected!
Aloft guest rooms, which are equipped with a plug and play device connected to a 42 inch LCD TV.
Get Connected!
Samir Abi Frem of Rotana: We must incorporate the guests’ own technology in the rooms.
Get Connected!
BeoVision 10 by Bang and Olufsen: TV can be more than a screen, it has become a guest interface.

Lee Jamieson discovers that guests are demanding more from their in-room systems. Technology moves fast - but can hoteliers keep up?

Hoteliers across the region are discovering that the technological demands of their guests are becoming increasingly more complex.

The role of in-room technology has evolved: whereas hotels once provided discrete in-room systems, they now have to support a wide range of devices and technological platforms. The travellers of today require "plug and play" compatibility between their own personal devices and the hotel's in-room technology provision. networks.

"Guests arrive at the hotel with all the technology they need," explains Rotana corporate vice president for information technology, Samir Abi Frem. "The challenge is to find a way to integrate their devices into the existing in-room hotel systems."

"Nowadays, nearly every guest is carrying an iPod, digital camera and a 3G mobile. The customers' changing needs are therefore driving market developments. For example at Rotana, our guests can connect their media devices to our in-room audio-visual equipment to create a more homely experience."

As guests change their media consumption habits, hoteliers must realign their in-room technology appropriately. It is therefore essential for hoteliers to fully understand the evolving technological and media consumption requirements of their customers and to enable quick and easy connectivity between media devices and formats.

Anticipating the growing momentum behind this trend, Starwood placed connectivity at the heart of its Aloft brand when it opened in Abu Dhabi in October last year.

"We recognised that being able to connect laptops and media players is extremely important for our guests," explains Aloft Abu Dhabi's director of operations, Rainer Weinberg. "We have therefore equipped our guest rooms with a plug and play device connected to a 42 inch LCD TV."

Aloft partnered with TeleAdapt and installed their in-room media connectivity solution for hotels, MediaHub. The product works by acting as an extension of the in-room TV by providing ports for the guest's own electronics.

"Business travellers who are away from their families appreciate a conduit to reconnect them with their homes," says TeleAdapt regional manager Inam Haider. "They want to enjoy their own media choices on the in-room TV without feeling like they have to crack into a safe in order to do it."

Speaking of safes, the technology for in-room security can also be linked to guests' own products and systems. This has enabled VingCard Elsafe to secure a sizable market share of the region's guestroom lock market.

VingCard's RFID locks are compatible with a guest's personal technology - with a NFC-enabled cell phone a guest can dispense with the traditional room key. They can check in remotely from the airport, go straight to the room upon arrival and operate the door lock with their mobile phone.

"By having every lock wirelessly connected, a new array of features and benefits becomes available," explains VingCard Elsafe regional vice president Manit Narang. "You can cancel, extend and also reassign cards with just one click from a central computer.

"You can even use pre-issued loyalty key cards so that guests don't need to get their room key issued at the front desk. And this same technology also extends to some of our in-room safes." Home from home

The modern guestroom has become a hub - a place where guest technology connects with the hotel's; a place where guests can connect with their work, their families and their virtual lives.

For many foreign business travellers the ability to connect with their colleagues, partners and customers with minimal disruption is of paramount importance. The growth in VoIP, the standard protocol for voice over the internet, is making this possible by enabling users to make audio and video calls via the internet regardless of their location - and for a fraction of the price charged by traditional telephone service providers.

"The demand for internet-based call solutions is increasing as more and more guests seek to connect online with colleagues and family whilst on the road," says City Seasons group IT manager Ehab Medhat. "This technology could dramatically reduce costs for hotels."

However, VoIP has been a contentious issue in the Middle East for many years. The UAE only legalised it in March and Etisalat's VoIP rollout strategy is not yet complete.In time, the introduction of VoIP in the UAE has the potential to radically change guestroom technology.

"I think that IT professionals will be working hard to implement IP Telephony over the next few years," adds Medhat. "Screen-based IP phones offer a more interactive way to communicate with our guests. For example, hotels could share  promotions that could be accepted via a touch sensitive phone screen."

The need for connectivity is now fully embedded into the modern concept of "room service". Indeed, a good in-room entertainment system has the potential to improve a hotel's RevPAR with guests feeling more comfortable and productive in their rooms.

"Technology suppliers have to realise that the screen has become more than just a TV," explains Bang and Olufsen Enterprise managing director Flemming Nielsen. "It's an interface for the guest. "

It is therefore essential that manufacturers use standard communication protocols to enable connectivity between third party devices - now and in the future. Eco travellers

As guests become more environmentally aware, the installation of in-room technology designed to reduce travellers' carbon footprints has gone to the top of the agenda.

The UAE's performance is very poor, ranking in the bottom 15 on the 2010 Environmental Performance Index - more than 30 places behind industrial giant, China.

"Enabling our guests to reduce their carbon footprint is certainly important to us," says Jumeirah Group chief information officer, Marwan Al Ali. "We currently deploy energy management systems that use sensors and interfaces to ensure that the energy consumption is reduced without impacting upon the guest experience.

"For example, movement sensors only activate lights when required and the air conditioning switches off  when balcony doors are opened."

RWN Trading supplies a novel guestroom automation system, Zity, which is designed to reduce energy consumption, operational costs and increase guest comfort. Zity wirelessly automates things like lighting, blinds, and audio-visual settings.

RWN Trading marketing director, Carol Prince, explained: "Zity optimises the guestroom's energy consumption, which soon adds up to a substantial saving for the hotel."

Potentially, general managers could use the data collected through their EOS systems as a marketing tool - touting their green credentials to attract carbon-conscious guests.

"Occupancy rates of green buildings are approximately 3.5% higher," adds Prince.

The revolution for introducing robust in-room technologies is now in full swing across the Middle East. But hoteliers should remember that, although this trend may feel cutting edge, it is actually an extension of a very simple, age-old principle.

Hoteliers have long understood the importance of adapting their services and facilities around the changing needs of their guests - and with today's customers arriving with an array of "plug and play" technology, the modern guestroom needs to adapt with them.