Here's a look at what meeting planners want in guest room and meeting room technology - and what hotels are providing. But first, a consideration of the times when being wired doesn't cut it.
No doubt you and your attendees check e-mail while on the road. Your meetings likely have at least one presenter who needs an Internet connection to do a live Web demo. You probably have all the hotel company Web sites bookmarked, so you can get up-to-the-minute information about potential meeting properties when you're beginning a site search. You might even send your meeting RFPs by e-mail.
So what is the place of relationships in this wired world? Front and center, say meeting planners.
"I am doing an enormous amount of my job online," says Wanda Bowling, manager, meetings and conventions, Columbus Life/Western Southern Enterprise in Cincinnati, Ohio. "I use e-mail more than phone lines now, I always look for hotel Web sites for information, but nothing can take the place of my relationships with hotel salespeople."
Jim Lavold, associate director, meetings, for Northwestern Mutual, Milwaukee, Wis., communicates primarily by e-mail as well. In fact, he says, "sometimes I have to fight the urge to fire off an e-mail rather than pick up the phone. We all can get caught up in the technology and in doing things electronically. If we're not careful, we may lose the relationship part of it." Attending the Incentive Travel & Meeting Executives show in Chicago for the past two years - after an absence of more than a decade - was an eye-opener for Lavold, who has been planning meetings for Northwestern Mutual for 21 years. "Relationships are the reason to go to events like IT&ME," he says. "In one day, I could see lots of people and get a ton of work done."
For Bowling, having a personal relationship with hotel staff gives her a higher level of trust and confidence when she's on site. "It is most important for me when walking into a hotel for a convention that these people know me and my group, and will respond to our needs in a way that comes only from having a personal relationship," she says. "I can honestly say at this point I would not book a program entirely online."
Jack Horne, associate vice president, national sales, for Hyatt Hotels Corp., heard similar comments at a series of recent focus groups with Hyatt customers. Although Hyatt is on track to be the first chain to allow planners to check hotel inventory and actually book room blocks and meeting space online (for small, short-lead-time meetings), he notes that national customers "say they'd still rather call their national salesperson, give them 10 programs, and have the salesperson call them back the next day."
When Horne asked about guest room technology, planners said they wanted accessible outlets, two-line phones, and cordless phones. High-speed Internet access isn't yet seen as a necessity. Most people simply want to be able to check e-mail and receive calls at the same time, so two-line phones fit the bill as well as the high-speed systems many hotels are installing that generally cost $9.95 a day.
Here's a look at the high-tech plans of hotel companies, plus details on some especially wired properties:
Adam's Mark Hotels & Resorts www.adamsmark.com The 22 hotels in the Adam's Mark portfolio offer guest room data ports.
Wired Showcase: The Adam's Mark Dallas offers network connectivity, fiber optics, DSL, and ISDN in all 230,000 square feet of its meeting space, as well as data ports and two-line phones in all 1,842 guest rooms.
Delta Hotels & Resorts www.deltahotels.com Delta is evaluating installing high-speed Internet access in guest rooms at its 31 hotels in Canada and one in Orlando. All new properties will have the high-speed access.
Wired Showcase: Each of the 226 suites at the Delta Vancouver Suites has high-speed Internet access for $9.95 a day, dual-line speakerphones, data port, and flexible workstation. The hotel lobby has an Internet station, and the 5,000 square feet of meeting space features high-speed Internet access. The new 16,000-square-foot Morris J. Wosk Center for Dialogue is directly connected to the hotel. Among other features, it offers a simultaneous interpretation setup for seven different languages.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts www.fairmont.com Some meeting rooms feature Ether-net connections on a T3 backbone (200 times faster than a dial-up modem); this will become standard in all locations. High-speed Internet connections are being installed in guest rooms.
Wired Showcase: The 392 guest rooms at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport all offer two dual-line phones (including one cordless phone), data port, laptop safe, and complimentary high-speed Internet access. High-speed access, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing are available in 7,000 square feet of meeting space.
Hilton Hotels Corp. www.hilton.com Hilton currently offers T1 lines in all meeting rooms. In the 220 hotels that it owns, Hilton is installing interactive television and high-speed Internet access via television through a partnership with LodgeNet, a broadband interactive services provider. Hilton also is installing high-speed Internet access in rooms for guests who prefer to use their laptops rather than the TV. This service, provided by CAIS, will cost $9.95 a day. Hilton's technology team is available to consult with groups that have complex technology needs.
Wired Showcase: The 1,401 rooms at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York feature dual-line speakerphones, data ports, fax machines, and high-speed Internet access provided by CAIS for $9.95 a day. The hotel's new business center also offers high-speed Internet access, and PC and Mac workstations. The Waldorf is part of Hilton's Tele-Suite Network, a system that allows guests at hotels across the country (Atlanta, Beverly Hills, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.) to join in videoconferences where participants appear life-size and across the "same" table from each other. The hotel's 25 meeting rooms hold 1,500 guests.
Hyatt Hotels & Resorts www.hyatt.com Hyatt will have T1 lines on Category 5 service in all meeting hotels by the end of the first quarter of 2001. At press time, Hyatt was in the process of selecting a vendor to provide daily-fee, high-speed Internet access in all guest rooms. Those installations will begin before the end of this year.
Wired Showcase: In its 50,000 square feet of meeting space, the 793-room Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport has ISDN lines for videoconferencing, broadband Internet access, the ability to handle 300 computer setups for an individual meeting, the ability to network all the hotel's meeting space, the ability to connect off-site computers to any of the meeting rooms, and a group of certified network specialists on staff. Guest rooms have dual-line phones; 75 "business plan" rooms are equipped with printer/copier/fax machines.
Inter-Continental Hotels www.interconti.com All Inter-Continental hotels in North America will have T1 lines by the end of this year, while one quarter of the guest rooms will be equipped with PCs. Inter-Con's CyberAssist program offers business guests 24-hour tech support - everything from setting up a guest's computer to answering questions about Internet applications, software, and hardware. Every Inter-Continental has a business center with Internet access and a range of modems and adapters.
Wired Showcase: The 380-room Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental San Francisco offers three options for in-room Internet access: a standard data port, daily-fee high-speed connections via Ethernet, or via an interface on the TV screen. Also in rooms: dual-line phones and personalizable voice mail. Business rooms have printer/copier/fax machines. The hotel has 14,500 square feet of meeting space.
Kimpton Group www.kimptongroup.com By year's end, Kimpton's 23 hotels will have two-line phones with data ports in guest rooms; by June 2001, four- and five-star properties will have in-room, high-speed Internet access.
Wired Showcase: The 189 rooms at Kimpton's Hotel Monaco in Denver offer high-speed Internet access by IPORT for $9.95 a day, along with dual-line phones and fax machines.
Loews Hotels www.loewshotels.com Loews' 15 North American hotels are adding high-tech features individually.
Wired Showcase: The 800-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel has ISDN and T1 lines, plus videoconferencing capabilities in all its 85,000 square feet of meeting space. All guest rooms have data ports, and select rooms will soon have Web TV installed.
Marriott Hotels & Resorts Renaissance Hotels & Resorts www.marriott.com Marriott International will install high-speed Internet access by STSN ($9.95 a day) in all guest rooms, meeting rooms, and business centers of 500 properties by year's end.
In addition to the Internet, guests also can access a Web site that provides information on the hotel, local restaurants, special online conference services, transportation, and shopping. Marriott's meeting hotels also have tech support teams. Videocon-ferencing is available at some 300 Marriott and Renaissance hotels and Marriott Conference Centers.
Wired Showcase: The 1,500 rooms at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., offer three ways to access the Internet: standard data port; daily-fee, high-speed Internet access by STSN; and Web TV. Rooms also offer dual-line phones and personalizable voice mail. The hotel has 173,000 square feet of meeting space.
Omni Hotels www.omnihotels.com Guest rooms have dual-line speakerphones. By early 2001, guest and meeting rooms in Omni's 30 owned and managed hotels in North America will have daily-fee, high-speed Internet access by VirtuaLINC and CAIS.
Wired Showcase: The 390-room Omni Interlocken in Broomfield, Colo., has high-speed Internet access in all guest rooms, meeting rooms, and common areas. A fiber-optic infrastructure that can be accessed throughout the hotel offers wireless Internet access and videoconferencing capabilities. The property has 34,000 square feet of meeting space.
Radisson Hotels & Resorts www.radisson.com Radisson offers broadband Internet access by VirtuaLINC for $9.95 a day in guest rooms, meeting rooms, and common areas at 30 of its hotels. Several videoconferencing options are available at 50 Radisson properties.
Wired Showcase: The 210 rooms at the Radisson San Francisco Airport each have dual-line phones and a PC with high-speed Internet access.
Ritz-Carlton Hotels www.ritzcarlton.com Ritz-Carlton offers STSN high-speed Internet access for $9.95 a day in 25 of its hotels. STSN also provides a hotel home page with local information on restaurants, transportation, and attractions. The service networks guest rooms to the business center, so documents can be sent there for printing. In-house meetings can post links on the hotel home page. STSN connections are also in meeting rooms.
Wired Showcase: The 300-room Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C., has 20,000 square feet of meeting space with multiple fiber-optic cables enabling immediate live broadcasts. Computer networking is possible within and between all meeting rooms. Guest rooms offer daily-fee, high-speed Internet access.
Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts www.shangri-la.com Shangri-La's 37 hotels in 10 Asian countries are adding high-speed Internet connections to guest rooms by mid-2001. ViewInternet is providing the service, allowing access via laptop and the television screen.
Wired Showcase: The 850-room Shangri-La Bangkok's ballroom and 23 meeting rooms total 55,812 square feet of wired meeting space.
Sonesta Hotels & Resorts www.sonesta.com Sonesta is installing T1 lines in meeting rooms at all its U.S. hotels. Each hotel has a tech consultant for groups.
Wired Showcase: The 400-room Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, Mass., has T1-speed wireless Internet access built in on the first two floors, where the hotel's 22,000 square feet of meeting space is situated. Guests with laptops can connect to the Internet in the lobby, by the pool, and, of course, in meeting rooms. Groups are charged $100 per day, per meeting room computer. (Outside the event space, the wireless connection is gratis.) Guest rooms offer high-speed Internet access for $10 a day.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts www.starwood.com All Starwood guest rooms have dual-line phones; 20 percent of rooms are equipped with a printer/copier/fax machine. In meeting rooms, T1 lines can be provided as needed.
Wired Showcase: The 297 rooms at the St. Regis Los Angeles, newly created from the Westin Century Plaza, offer three dual-line phones (one of which is cordless); DVD player; CD player; daily-fee, high-speed Internet access; a laptop safe that provides battery charging; and a printer/copier/fax machine.
Westin Hotels & Resorts www.westin.com Westin is installing Category 5 wiring and daily-fee, high-speed Internet access at its hotels around the world. Guest Office rooms have a printer/copier/fax machine and dual-line speakerphones with data ports.
Wired Showcase: The 369 rooms at the Westin Westminster, in Colorado's high-tech corridor, offer high-speed connectivity via Ethernet ports, along with two dual-line phones with data ports. The hotel also offers WaveLAN, a Lucent Technologies product that grants wireless Internet access throughout the property.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts www.wyndham.com Wyndham is installing daily-fee, high-speed Internet access in all guest rooms and wireless Internet access in public areas and meeting rooms. Also coming soon to guest rooms are cordless phones.
Wired Showcase: The 1,620-room Wyndham Anatole Hotel in Dallas has 300,000 square feet of meeting space equipped with a fiber-optic backbone. Meetings have Internet access over T1 lines and the hotel will soon provide wireless Internet access in all public areas. The hotel also has videoconferencing and webconferencing capabilities available for meetings.
"People don't go back to their hotel rooms just to sleep any more. They have work to do there, too," notes Jana Stern, director of conventions and conference planning at ING-ReliaStar in Minneapolis. The 30 to 50 attendees of her management meetings usually request high-speed Internet connections with dual-line phones in their rooms. Most want in-room fax machines as well.
However, some of today's business conference demands revolve more around hotel staffing and the management of the available technology.
Says Stern, "There is nothing more frustrating than hauling a laptop thousands of miles, checking in, and settling down to get some work done, only to find that you can't connect to the Internet because of a glitch. A technician on site who can come up and assist is a big plus in my book."
For all meetings, ReliaStar chooses hotels that have technologically advanced business centers. But for management meetings, Stern says, evening accessibility is the most crucial point of all. "Being open from nine to three just isn't enough - that's when everyone is busy with meetings. Afterward is when the printing and copying gets done in preparation for the next day." Stern often requests extended business center hours - even if it means paying extra fees.
In meeting rooms, Stern notes, "people don't do overheads any more. PowerPoint presentations require an LCD projector to project images from laptop computers onto the screen. Hotels charge $350 to $750 per day just to rent them, so we have purchased two of these machines to take with us." Wireless microphones are another must-have, so that presenters are free to move around the room. Stern also requires meeting rooms to have high-speed Internet access, so presenters can show attendees how to extract information from the World Wide Web via live demonstrations.
Videoconferencing capability is becoming a hot ticket, Stern adds, but it isn't a must for her yet. "If it were less costly and readily available, we would use it more often," she says.
What I Need: Stern prefers two phone lines, so she can check e-mail and receive phone calls. She also appreciates having a hotel tech consultant on duty after hours.
Screening on the Road One phone in each guest room at the 750-room Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando, a Loews Hotel, has caller-ID.
Lynn Schwandt, field conference manager for Aid Association for Lutherans in Appleton, Wis., has a lengthy list of technological requirements for meeting rooms at AAL's incentive conferences.
In the mid-1990s, when the technical complexity of meetings started to escalate, an AAL production specialist began traveling to each of the company's five annual incentive conferences. The specialist oversees all the technical aspects of production and hires a staff of technicians when the group arrives on site.
Schwandt says that confidence in the in-house audiovisual staff's competence is imperative for her to plan a successful incentive meeting. She requests resumes of staff technicians before making the decision whether to use the hotel's services orthe service out. AAL has purchased several pieces of more costly equipment to save rental fees.
Digital cameras are the newest technology tool that the conference staff is using. Taking their own photos throughout an incentive program saves the expense of a professional photographer. And going digital means lots of flexibility in how the photos are used. In fact, during a recent conference's closing finale, contracted entertainer Dale Irvin even used some of the staff shots in his humorous wrap-up.
What I Need: In guest rooms, Schwandt expects the same amenities for herself that she insists upon for her attendees, namely data ports and personalizable voice mail (so callers know they've reached the right room). She's also learned firsthand how useful in-room fax machines are, particularly when you travel a few time zones away from your office or suppliers. "I was recently working on finalizing a proposal and needed to communicate changes. By the time they got into the office, I was long gone to meetings, but they were able to work with the proposal. When I returned to my room, faxes were waiting for me. The fax machine was the perfect solution."
Pacific Life, due to fairly stringent technological meeting room needs, holds its 15 to 20 annual training and education meetings at its corporate office in Newport Beach, Calif., says Linda Rayner, director of conference planning at the company's Annuities division. Her groups of 55 to 65 stockbrokers and financial planners stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Newport Beach, next door to corporate headquarters.
In their guest rooms, Rayner says, it is important for attendees to have speakerphones and high-speed Internet access. "Everyone is so used to it at work that a regular modem line seems like molasses in comparison," she notes. If the Internet access is not separate from the phone line, then the room should have two phone lines to allow for simultaneous phone conversations and Internet access. In-room printers and fax machines are appreciated guest room amenities, she adds, but not requisites.
And widespread laptop use rules out the need for in-room computers, as long as the hotel business center has one or two available, so that those who don't tote their machines are able to check e-mail.
At Pacific Life's corporate headquarters, training rooms are each equipped with a CD player, a VCR, a video camera, and wireless microphones. Each room has a ceiling-mounted LCD projector that is hard-wired into the room so users can plug in a desktop or a laptop and project PowerPoint presentations or Internet demos onto the screen.
Videoconferencing is available along with one not-so high-tech tool - a large-screen TV, tuned to CNBC during breaks so attendees can get stock and business updates.
Although off-site training is occasionally considered, Rayner explains, the outcome is usually the same - the company's technological needs make it cost-prohibitive to use sites other than its own conference center. Or the hotels' capabilities aren't up to par.
"I'd like to train off site at a hotel," she adds. "It would be nice, but fairly complicated and expensive because of everything we need to have for our sessions."
What I Need: Rayner's personal guest room technology needs are fairly basic, she says, with the only essentials being a modem connection and speaker phone. Still, depending on the size and type of the meeting she's running, a fax machine is very handy as well.
Ritz-Carlton has "technology butlers" on staff who can help with any technical problems and will even swap equipment if necessary.
On call 24/7, the butlers are trained to solve common computer conundrums, including trouble accessing the Internet or configuring e-mail accounts, incompatibility of software and hardware, use of in-room fax machines, and questions about voltage conversion for international guests. They can also set up conference calls.
The first technology butlers started answering questions at The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur in August 1998. They were an instant hit, and the program was rolled out companywide in September 1999.
Store Me, Charge Me Laptop-sized, in-room safes were a revelation. Now the new St. Regis Los Angeles, a Starwood property, is taking the next logical step: its in-room safes will accommodate your laptop and offer an outlet so you can charge it up, too.
After a $20 million expansion and renovation, the 151-room Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Mich., is a model of luxury and connectedness. Consider the new 5,000-square-foot Townsend Ballroom, which has carved cherry-wood paneling and custom-made Waterford chandeliers, along with high-speed Internet access and built-in computer interfaces for PowerPoint and LCD projection.
Two new executive boardrooms are equipped with laptop connections built in to the tables.
Videoconferencing is available through a PictureTel Concorde 4500 system. And guest rooms all have T1 Internet connections.