Enhancing guest services

Video on demand could find a lucrative home in the hospitality industry. Services can be delivered cost effectively and could present a big commercial opportunity for broadcasters, producers and hotel owners.

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By  Aubrey Flanagan. Published  September 12, 2006

I|~||~||~|As the birthplace of the zero-based numerical system, the homeland of many great philosophers and religious figures, and a treasure trove of archeological wonders, the Near East has long been a destination for tourists, adventurers, and expatriates worldwide. In this decade, it has seen a particular resurgence of tourism and business travel, such as in the emirate of Dubai, one of the fastest growing centers in the world for business and tourism. Multinational companies have set up bases here. This trend should continue, as the emirate is setting up a new Central Business District, “Business Bay.” When the project is completed, it is expected to have an estimated 500 skyscrapers built around an artificial extension of the Dubai Creek. Tourists and businesspersons alike flock to Dubai for its innovative luxury hotels, such as the soon-to-be-built Crescent Hydropolis Hotel (the world’s first underwater hotel), the Trump International Hotel and Tower (currently being built), and the Burj Al Arab, among others. A new project announced by Dubai’s government in May will see $27 billion invested in increasing the emirate’s number of hotel rooms by 29,000. The largest complex within the development will be called Asia, Asia and, when completed, will be the largest hotel in the world, boasting 6,500 rooms. But sweeping waterfront and desert views, 30th-floor rooms, high-end shopping, and extreme sports must be matched with the state-of-the-art in-room entertainment and service systems to keep a hotel competitive and in the black. Forget the old pay-per-view scheme and the outdated dial-up computer in the basement “business center.” Guests expect high quality and flexible digital entertainment and business functions. They want the latest High Definition Television (HDTV) LCD or plasma screens, highest quality videos-on-demand, interactive digital TV, networked Personal Video Recording (nPVR), local and international TV channels, and Time-Shifted TV (TSTV). They also want personalised and interactive communications with all hotel services and other guests. ||**||II|~||~||~|In other words, the television in the room needs to be transformed from a passive TV screen into an active communications and entertainment window through which many services can be delivered to the guest. The best way for hotels to satisfy these guest expectations is through deploying Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), which delivers all digital TV-related services along with Web and business functions on the same IP network infrastructure to achieve the best cost effectiveness, extensibility and scalability. Considerations of an IPTV solution for hotels include an application and VOD server, an in-room IP Set-Top-Box (STB), IP network, and content and system management. An IP network can be established over different types of wiring, including fiber, cat-5, twisted phone lines, and even coaxial cable. They are usually more reliable and manageable. Application and VOD servers must provide comprehensive guest and management features, such as providing an interactive, easy-to-use menu to guests, streaming on-demand high-quality videos to relevant in-room STBs, managing content update and security, tracking activity, and interfacing with the local Property Management System (PMS). These servers must also be reliable and scalable to support increasing usage and system features. In general, the system should look and behave exactly as a TV would, with all functions being controlled through a simple-to-use remote control. The last thing a guest who may have traveled halfway around the world wants to do is fiddle with a complicated system. The selection of an appropriate TV model would make it easier for more functional and seamless remote control integration. Besides the guests, IP-based room services offer numerous advantages to hotel owners. Hotels can deliver targeted advertisements to the guest rooms, such as ones promoting attractions in the hotel itself or in the area surrounding the hotel, as well as national ads. IP can also be used to take advantage of digital signage in the lobby and other major public areas. Also, through increased Revenue Per Available Room, improved operational efficiency, and greater guest loyalty, IP-based services can significantly boost a hotel’s revenue. Deploying an IP-based room services solution is not as cost-prohibitive as one might think. Many companies, such as InfoValue, can sell these services through a lease-based arrangement. In addition, IP-based services are essentially future proof, in that once you buy the initial system, you can add new services as they become available, without having to buy a new system. ||**||

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