Five Star Networking

The hospitality industry in Dubai is proving to be a highly competitive market. As a result hotels are increasingly resorting to IT to support business activities and guest services. To this end, The Fairmont Dubai has deployed a comprehensive networking solution as it strives to meet the business travellers’ every need

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  April 7, 2002

Connected|~||~||~|With hotels springing up throughout Dubai, the battle to attract and maintain guests is hotly contested. In the competitive hospitality industry, technology is proving a core factor in supporting both business processes and guest services. The recently opened, Fairmont Dubai has placed IT at the heart of the hotel in a bid to serve the every need of the business guest and carve itself a position in the local market.

“The vision with this hotel was that it would be the pre-eminent business hotel in Dubai. It would be difficult to achieve that without making a strong commitment to technology and the Internet,” says David Blancard, director of technology operations, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.

“Our intention is that when a guest comes into Dubai to do business that they will do most of their business in the hotel, rather than just sleeping here and doing business elsewhere,” he adds.

Reinforcing the Fairmont Hotels’ commitment to this vision is an international agreement with networking vendor, Cisco Systems. “We are a worldwide partner with Cisco Systems to provide its mobile office platform,” explains Blancard. “That’s a full Ethernet and IP networking solution for travelling guests to use laptops or local devices in all of our hotels.”

Meeting the IT requirements of guests was a fundamental consideration during the construction of the Fairmont Dubai, and has ensured that the hotel is the most technologically advanced within the group’s 38 properties. The substantial Cisco-based infrastructure means the hotel is able to deliver Internet and laptop connections to guests throughout the hotel.

“The hotel is wired with about 2600 Ethernet ports, and that includes the 394 guest rooms, all the meeting rooms, all of the convention centre meeting rooms, and our administration network as well. Also scattered about [the hotel] you will see [hardwired Ethernet] in the bars, in the restaurants, all over the place. Its all high speed, broadband network,” adds Blancard.

In addition to the hardwiring infrastructure throughout the Fairmont, the hotel is also implementing wireless networks around the property, ensuring that guests can roam around the hotel, but remain conencted.

“We are also installing Cisco’s Internet 350 product to provide wireless ports in all of the public spaces, [such as] the lobby, the first and second floor restaurants, the coffee shops, the ninth floor health spa, the pool decks and the 35th floor convention centre,” comments Blancard.

Flexibility and personalisation are the key benefits of the Cisco infrastructure for both the hotel and its guests. Using Cisco’s Building Broadband Service Manager (BBSM) enables the hotel to not only tailor networks to meet both the needs of an individual guest or large business groups, but also to ensure that network security is maintained.

“If a single traveller were to check into a hotel room with a laptop, we use Cisco’s BBSM product to assign a secure port to that room so that they can run all protocols through the Internet,” explains Blancard.

“If we have a large client coming in and they have 20 or 30 rooms for a conference or a meeting, we can actually partition off rooms into their own private local area network (LAN) with their own connection back to their corporate office,” he adds.

“If they don’t want to go back over the network using a virtual private network (VPN), we can use the hotel’s in-built networking centre and put in additional Internet connections specifically for those clients and give them a secure system back to their office,” says Blancard.

The BBSM solution also enables the Fairmont to effectively monitor, allocate and charge the guest for the amount of bandwidth they consume.

“A guest that is sending an e-mail doesn’t need a lot of bandwidth, but a guest that is watching a MPEG video requires a lot of bandwidth. The system [BBSM] allows us to make sure that they are both happy, and use the bandwidth that we have paid for from the local telephone company effectively. It also tells us immediately if it is running out of bandwidth and we can start taking steps to sort that,” says the director of technology operations.

||**||Entertained|~||~||~|While the Cisco networking kit has enabled the hotel to deliver business and IT services to guests, Marconi’s broadband networking equipment provides some light relief and entertainment to hotel guests, in the shape of the interactive television system.

“The Marconi equipment is here specifically for broadband entertainment and the television systems,” says Blancard.

“Each guest room actually has an Ethernet connection for the television system, and every TV in the building also has an accompanying personal computer — we call it a set-top — and it’s a small computer that has a connection to the television set. If the guest wants to watch TV, he is basically watching television signals through satellite over the building’s MA TV network,” he adds.

The interactive television system is also capable of delivering MP3 and MPEG audio and video to each guest room through the set-top boxes and via the hotel’s broadband network. “In addition to the high speed network for the laptops, we also have a broadband network specifically for the televisions,” comments Blancard.

Guests are also able to switch the television into digital mode to access an in-house interactive menu, providing a host of information in the form of web pages. Although in its initial rollout the interactive menu just provided information about the hotel, the Fairmont Dubai is already planning to turn the channel into a revenue generator by selling online advertising to local companies.

“[The] interactive menu system allows us to put recommendations to the guest through web pages. Any kind of web development is a work in progress, so when we opened the hotel we had a limited interactive menu, which was just there to make sure that the system worked, but now what we are able to do is go to local companies that would like to put content on those screens,” explains Blancard.

The interactive menu can also be tailored to provide guests with information about events and activities both in Dubai and the hotel itself. “You can change it weekly, adding special promotions and events in Dubai. For example, we could do something about the Dubai Shopping Festival in the month of March,” says Claire Malcolm, director of public relations at the hotel.

“But we also have to link it back to the guest and what the guest needs. We can’t just throw information at them,” she adds.

With this in mind, and with a television system providing 65 channels to viewers, the hotel has begun downloading television directories into its interactive menu to minimise channel hopping and allow guest to access information at the touch of a button.

“We’re downloading all the TV directories from all the TV providers that have the connections that we need, and we’ll present that back to the guest as [an online] TV guide,” says Blancard.

||**||Guest Services|~||~||~|With so much emphasis and networking infrastructure invested in servicing guests and meeting their requirements, the Fairmont Dubai’s day-to-day network administration is handled by its head office in Canada. Robust network links are responsible for maintaining the security and information flow between the two.

“We have a high speed network link back to our office in Toronto, and the day-to-day tasks, such as creating accounts, resetting passwords, checking virus updates and so forth is done by our office in Toronto,” explains Blancard.

“These guys [local IT staff] operate as the hands and the eyes when there needs to be work done on the [Dubai] property. These people spend a lot more time focusing on guest services, physical media, like printing and hardware and so forth,” he adds.

The hotel’s environment and the demands of the 24x7 business traveller places heavy demands on the staff within the hotel. The current team within the hotel includes three IT members, one telecommunications employee and three audio visual experts.

According to Andrew Huzyk, the technology manager at the Fairmont Dubai, this number is set to increase in the future.

“We’ll be expanding that to six or seven IT people to give us the coverage that we need,” he explains.

The hotel is also undertaking a staff training programme within the hotel to ensure that all employees have an understanding of the guest IT services and are able to handle IT enquiries and problems.

“The plan that we are undergoing right now is to get everybody in the hotel who has direct guest contact trained on the basic technology that’s available to the guests,” says Huzyk.

“We firmly believe in educating the staff to be able to handle the majority of guest problems. So we train our telephone operators, bell men and butlers to be able to accommodate most of those [IT] requests, and it reduces the amount of stress on the IT department,” adds Blancard.

As for future IT and entertainment services, the Fairmont Dubai ensured that flexibility and scalability were key components of both the Cisco and Marconi solutions and will provide the hotel with the necessary bandwidth and infrastructure to meet the demands of future services.

“When we were building the hotel we put in quite a bit of networking equipment to make sure that we could handle future considerations, services and products,” says Blancard.

As well as increasing the personalisation of the interactive menu in guest rooms, the Fairmont Dubai is also investigating ways to personalise in-room music using its digital music library. The hotel is also set to roll out a video-on-demand service over its interactive television system.

“The [television] system is designed with a video-on-demand service. This is something that will be implemented over the next year,” comments Blancard.

“The system is designed to allow up to 160 simultaneous movies to be played in the hotel over the broadband network. A guest in a room can watch one of the newly released movies digitally and the system allows them to stop, rewind, replay, and fast forward through the digital stream, just as if they had the DVD in their room. It is all done digitally through the broadband network in the hotel,” he explains.

With laptops, printers, mobile telephones, GSM cards and 22 videoconferencing kits all available for guests to hire or use, the Fairmont is well positioned to meet the demands of its guests. But the hotel is also quick to point out that it has invested an equal amount of time and energy into the provision of in-house staff to support these guest services and technologies.

“Some of the equipment may sit on the shelf for a year and never get used, and some of it will get used everyday. The point of it is our promise — especially to our business guests — if you come to the Fairmont we will have the equipment and the expertise to make sure that your meeting happens here better than anywhere else,” says Blancard.

Malcolm adds, “We provide the technology and the people who are going to help you use that, it’s the whole service promise, from providing it, to using it, follow up, check out. We are going to give you everything from A-Z.”
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