Business bytes

In order to continue attracting high-powered execs from around the world, the Middle East’s hotels have to ensure that their business centres are kitted out with the very latest high-tech gadgets

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By  Sarah Gain Published  October 1, 2006

|~|Business-centres---B.jpg|~||~|The meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) industry is booming in the Middle East. The number of large, business-oriented hotels across the region that offer state-of-the-art business centre facilities is growing rapidly. As the race to tap the lucrative regional and international corporate travel markets becomes increasingly competitive, Dubai’s hotels are striving to deliver high quality facilities and services to corporate clients. Dusit Dubai, for instance, is just one of many hotels in the city that offers comprehensive meetings packages. The hotel has also recently opened a new suite of meeting rooms. A new executive boardroom seats 16, while the hotel’s five multi-purpose meeting rooms have been fitted with high-tech gadgetry to enable business meetings to run more smoothly, providing a spacious working environment for up to 120 guests. “The meeting rooms offer the latest technology, including high-speed wireless internet. The newly-appointed meeting rooms have created a solid platform for our corporate and MICE business,” says Marielle Morin, director of sales and marketing, Dusit Dubai. In Saudi Arabia, too, hotels are investing in the types of facilities that today’s business travellers have come to expect and, as a result, the MICE industry is starting to steadily pick up pace. According to Prashant Sharma, assistant director of sales and marketing at Le Gulf Meridien, clients’ expectations are usually highest when it comes to their technology-oriented requests, making this a very high priority for the hotel. “Over the last two years, business travel [to Saudi Arabia] has increased due to the improved flexibility in the visa application process and active marketing activities. Le Gulf Meridien gets 60% of its business from the corporate segment,” he says. “One of the major trends we have noticed is the increasing demand for technologies like video conferencing and the hotel is considering installing this technology soon. We hope this will allow us to see continued growth in the corporate side of the business.” The InterContinental Riyadh is also planning to improve its business centre facilities in light of the growing demand for services, says John Yohannan, assistant director of sales at the hotel. “We get 70% of our business from the corporate market, mainly conferences and governmental proceedings, as well as meetings of high-ranking business delegations. The majority is local, from within the Kingdom, but we also get some business from Dubai, Bahrain and other countries in the Gulf,” he says. “We plan to start offering special packages for small groups and we will also be constructing three small meeting spaces to seat up to 30 people,” Yohannan continues. “In addition, we intend to renovate business facilities, including upgrading all the equipment. We get a lot of requests for technologies such as wireless internet and video conference facilities.” Indeed, video conferencing technology is at the top of the wish list for many of the region’s hotels. Sony Electronics launched the PCS-G50 system last year, expanding its IPELA line and building on the success of its PCS-1 and PCS-G70 video conferencing series. The internet protocol (IP) -based system is designed specifically for use in conference rooms and the solution’s capture, output and display options can be customised, making it capable of delivering broadcast-quality video over IP networks at a rate of four megabits per second. In addition, the video conferencing technology is compatible with most IT systems, making it easy to retrofit into the business centre. “This new model adds depth and flexibility to the IPELA family,” says Michael McCausland, vice president of visual communications for Sony Electronics in the US. “The PCS-G50 provides excellent audio and video quality for multipoint calls and fills an important mid-range market niche,” he adds. Polycom, a leading provider of collaborative communications solutions, also offers video conferencing technology. Aiming to provide users with an experience that is as close to face-to-face communication as possible, the company offers a complete solution, combining stereo sound and smooth video transmission with its StereoSurround and Pro-Motion technology. Polycom’s VSX systems can deliver television-like quality at rates of 30 frames per second. The VSX 8000 range is custom-made to suit each individual business centre and conference room. “Video communications is at a tipping point, where the quality and performance of the solutions are ready for widespread adoption,” says Robert Hagerty, chairman and CEO of Polycom. “Systems are now affordable and easily cost-justified.” Taking video conferencing one step further, online conferencing may well be the next big thing in the business centre. While traditional video conferencing allows meeting participants to see and speak to remote participants, the real benefit comes from being able to share information, make PowerPoint presentations and collaborate on documents via the PC. Microsoft Office Live Meeting gives business travellers the ability to work together with other meeting attendees on a project in real time. The various interactive tools make it possible to collaborate with individuals or large groups, regionally or internationally. Participants can edit files and collaborate on whiteboards as well as using other Microsoft applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The solution integrates with existing systems and incorporates a familiar and easy-to-use, secure interface. The Live Meeting application can also record the entire meeting, and all documents can be hosted in a virtual meeting room for later reference. The availability of these types of cutting edge technologies might be a major factor in today’s business traveller’s choice of hotel, but Alma Au Yeung, director of events at the Shangri-La hotel Dubai, knows that technology alone is not what keeps business travellers coming back for more. With a 24-hour business centre boasting all the latest high-tech gadgets, from state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment to wireless internet access, the Shangri-La has won several awards for its business and conference facilities but, Yeung says, it’s the personal touch from staff that is responsible for the property’s success. “While the facilities that we have are state-of-the-art, we know that all hotels have pretty much the same hardware and the same kinds of technologies available,” she says. “The lengths the staff go to in order to ensure that every conference is a success is what really set hotels apart.” ||**||Enhanced productivity|~||~||~|In order to ensure that guests are able to get the best use of all the high-tech gadgets, the design of the business centre is key. Ergonomic business centres increase the users’ productivity, according to Dubai-based office furniture company, Bafco, which provides office furniture products. According to marketing manager, Nima Ranjbar, the company’s belief in the importance of ergonomically-designed work environments is backed by solid international research. “Again and again, studies describe how furniture designed with the form of the human body in mind increases productivity because workers are happier and don’t waste so much time with coffee breaks, not to mention visits to the doctor,” he says. “The end result is organisations enjoy cost savings and higher revenue” Two of the newest examples of Bafco’s ergonomic furniture are the Ergohuman chair and Humanscale’s Liberty chair. “The Ergohuman chair offers flex zones that ensure constant support of back and lumbar, and multi-dimensional adjustable arm rests for support,” says Ranjbar. Meanwhile, the Liberty chair has a sculpted seat cushion and tri-panel mesh back to ensure comfort and style. The chair’s features and adjustments, such as its counterbalance mechanism, automatically yield to fit each user’s body, giving optimum recline tension. As a result, there are only two controls for users to get to grips with. “A chair that supports your body, yet allows you to move, minimises the need to get up and step away from your work, increasing not only comfort, but also concentration and ultimately productivity,” explains Ranjbar. However, maximising the ergonomic advantage requires a comprehensive approach to the design of the business centre, Ranjbar says. “The layout and the combination of suitable components must be carefully thought out, from desks and chairs right down to accessories such as monitor arms, keyboard trays and foot machines,” he advises. By working closely with architects and designers at the concept stage of a project, Bafco’s own design experts can ensure that ergonomic opportunities are maximised. “We demonstrate a range of system solutions that successfully tackle the need for such an integrated approach,” Ranjbar adds. “The entire environment [of a business centre] needs to be conducive to efficient work practices. [Hotels] can spend a lot of money on the technological tools but if the atmosphere and environment is not comfortable and welcoming, nobody will choose to make use of the facilities.”||**||

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