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Thu 7 Sep 2006 04:00 AM

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High-tech hotels

Interactive TV, wireless internet access and converged data, voice and video IP services are this year’s killer applications. Hotelier Middle East checks out the new technologies that guests can’t live without

|~|Lead---Otrum.jpg|~|Hoteliers must think creatively about technology. customisation is key in differentiating the hotel’s brand image and exceeding guest expectations.|~|Watching their favourite show or DVD on a high-definition television (HDTV), playing music from the television’s acoustically-refined speaker system, or using their laptop to create a multimedia presentation on the television’s flat screen: in this digital age, the guest expects no less.

“Consumers are demanding even more from their entertainment and communications technologies, both in and away from the home,” confirms George Damigos, general manager FTV for Sony Europe.

Having established a partnership with Otrum, Sony Europe hopes to bring its TV technology expertise to bear in the hospitality industry. Otrum is now delivering both the Sony Bravia S-Series and Bravia U-Series with screen sizes from 20” up to 40”. All the screens are compatible with Otrum’s Fusion solution, an interactive platform offering interactive TV entertainment with streaming and internet technologies.

The platform gives hotel guests access to content on demand, delivering everything from internet radio stations through to movies on demand. Using digital video broadcasting, both TV and movie content can be carried in digital format directly to the room. Over 500 channels of digital content are available and Fusion can also carry high-speed internet protocol (IP) communication data.

Via an IP network, Otrum Fusion also offers internet telephony, otherwise known as voice over internet protocol (VoIP). “By consolidating all communication onto a single IP connection, the hotel benefits from a common infrastructure, and the guest benefits from a rich user experience during their stay. By installing the IP network to the room, we open up the possibilities to allow the guest to access a completely new range of multimedia services,” explains Nigel Bateson, vice president products for Otrum ASA.

“Through a product named Hotel Online, Otrum also plans to enable benchmarking and analysis across all hotels within a defined group. This makes it possible to identify and adjust the guest offering based on the performance of an individual hotel and to adjust the product offering to achieve maximum effect,” Bateson adds.

Otrum makes it possible to monitor the performance of revenue generating services such as the in-room cinema or internet connection so that prices can be adjusted appropriately. Subscription TV channels can also be monitored, making it possible to justify which channels are worth continuing to invest in and which should be removed.

Finally, Hotel Online gives an overview of how certain services are used within the hotel, offering a measurement of how frequently specific features, such as express checkout, wake-up and room service, are used by guests.

RiTV (Real Interactive TV) from Orbit also offers a host of customisable features to help hoteliers to create a unique guest experience, allowing hotel information services to be customised to inform guests about the hotel’s facilities and special offers. Messages can be sent from the reception desk to any room or group of rooms and because the RiTV solutions interface with the hotel’s property management system, guests can access their bills on-line in real time and perform express check out.

“As well as all the regular TV functionality, RiTV also provides some of the latest movies through the movies on demand feature. After accepting the charge on the TV screen, guests can view the movie and if the movie has to be stopped for any reason, the guest can restart it from the same point with the film recall feature,” says Ameya Bakshi, implementation and support manager for Reliance InfoComm, Orbit’s implementation partner.

Personalised welcome messages can be set up, and local weather information can be provided through the television, as can a wake-up alarm and room service menus. The system also offers games and has a built-in CD and DVD player. Digital radio and music on demand are also available.

Using a remote control or wireless keyboard, guests can access their favourite websites through the RiTV set, send e-mails and even use Microsoft Office programmes such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The files that the guest creates can be saved temporarily or sent as e-mail attachments.

“Each RiTV service encourages users to spend and thus generates higher revenue for the hotel,” says Bakshi.
With the wide variety of TV-related technology now available on the market, channel content can now be a useful sell tool for hotels, bringing hospitality marketing into the digital age.

So-called “digital signage” or “captive audience networks” are being accepted as an important part of the marketing mix internationally and are now starting to find their way into the Middle East region.

ABC Digital Network has created a marketing solution that uses a live broadcast channel that can run pictures, animations, text and video to inform guests about the hotel.

The hotel is free to design its own content and broadcasts can be customised for different areas of the hotel. The rotation of the schedule is variable and can be edited, changed and re-arranged in minutes across the entire hotel so that any time-sensitive promotions can immediately be modified.

“In effect the ABC Digital Network becomes the hotel’s own live VPN [virtual private network], replacing the concept of in-house videos,” explains Nick Armstrong, general manager of ABC Digital Network.

“We have centralised control over the network from our servers and it is possible to have up to 500 screens each playing a different schedule, and one computer will control them all,” he adds.

“Informing guests about every aspect of the hotel can increase revenue [and] our technology provides effective and measurable results. Maximising the effectiveness of promotions and creating additional purchase opportunities in a captive audience such as the hotel guest is a trend that no hotelier in Dubai’s rapidly expanding market can ignore.” ||**||

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