Most hotel property management companies are not forward thinkers when it comes to technology. With a converged network project at the new luxury Hotel 1000 in Seattle, MTM Managements MTM Luxury Lodging seeks to establish itself as a technology leader among its peers.
Using the Cisco Unified Communications system and a series of VOIP (voice over IP) applications created by Percipia, MTM Luxury Lodging and the owners of the Hotel 1000 worked to create a superior hotel experience for guests at the high-end hotel and condominium property.
Among the unique applications developed on the converged network, which provides a single infrastructure for data, voice, video and security communication, is a video valet system, an automated system that gathers room ambience preferences and sets them prior to the guests entering their rooms, and a condominium entry application that takes intercoms and electronic door-unlocking to the next level.
“Instead of a separate network for security cameras and monitors, it runs on the converged network along with high-speed Internet access, IPTV, intelligent thermostats, an intelligent minibar application, the phone management system, anti-virus and then elements of audiovisual technologies. Anything which is IP-addressable can be put on the system,” said James Simkins, partner and executive vice president at MTM Luxury Lodging, in Seattle.
The luxury hotel in downtown Seattle, which opened in late June, has 120 guest rooms and 47 condominium units above the guest rooms. Three levels of underground parking are accessed via a valet car elevator.
The valet parking system is probably the standout application that exploits the converged network. When guests or condominium owners on the property want a car to be delivered, they touch the screen on the Cisco IP 7900-series IP phones that are provided in their rooms and are programmed for the application. That sends a signal to the valet drivers mobile phones as well as to a vehicle locator system that notifies the drivers of the vehicles location.
The driver closest to the car accepts the request using a Cisco 7920 Wi-Fi phone, which automatically notifies other drivers that the request has been taken. Another elevator call button on the Wi-Fi phone activates the Hotel 1000 car elevator and brings it to the level where the car and driver are located. Without having to get out of the car, the driver can use the Wi-Fi phone to select the proper floor.
Using the picture phone capability on the wireless phone, the valet driver can send a photo showing the car has arrived, and it appears on the screen of the guests IP Phone.
“Timewise, we have it down to 5 minutes for delivery, and the guest or resident doesnt need to do anything,” Simkins said.
Another “standout application” created by hospitality application developer Percipia is the condo entry application, according to Chris Farrar, president of Percipia, in Columbus, Ohio.
A person at the door that provides access to merchants and guests of the condo owners can use the Cisco IP phone located there to contact an owner. The IP phone provides a directory of condo owners. By pressing a button next to the owners name, the person can automatically dial the call.
“The owner picks up the call and at the same time we use a Web security camera to capture an image of the person standing there and put it on owners phone. If the owner wants to grant access to the condo, they press another button on the phone and it connects to the door lock system and opens the door. Its like buzzing you up taken to the next level,” he said.
Those applications are examples of the vision that the hotel owners and MTM Luxury Lodging had when they began planning the hotel some four years ago. The idea was to use technology to greatly improve the guest experience beyond whats provided today in world-class luxury hotels, according to Brian Flaherty, general manager of the Seattle Hotel 1000.
“It is never just about bricks and mortar, nor is it about technical bells and whistles. It is about the experience that matters to the individual traveler. It made sense to round out the guest experience with the technology experience people have at home or in the office, so that they arrive in an environment that is more familiar to them. That is not the norm for most hotels,” Flaherty said.
The goal was to make the experience more personalized for the guests using the technology infrastructure. That goes all the way down to using infrared sensors in each room to detect guests presence so that they are not disturbed by housekeeping, Flaherty explained.
When a guest checks in, the series of integrated systems is capable of capturing preferences such as room temperature, type of music preferred and what types of art the guest enjoys. That information then is used to set the thermostat in the room at the desired temperature, pipe in the preferred music to the room and display the type of art preferred on the TV screen in the guests room. All of those choices greet the guests when they first enter their rooms.
“If youve given us the opportunity to learn about you and to know about your likes and dislikes, we can program that into our property management system and when we enter [these preferences], the rooms begin to prepare themselves for your arrival,” Flaherty said.
While most hotels have one cabling infrastructure for the point of sale and front desk systems, another for high-speed Internet access in guest rooms, another for the phone system, and yet another coaxial cabling system for TV, the Hotel 1000 systems all share the same cabling plant. Each type of system is separated out into its own VLAN (virtual LAN), allowing communication via XML message-passing between the systems. “That lets us become more efficient, because systems share information back and forth and it allows the management group for the hotel to do a better job of meeting guest needs,” said Chuck Marratt, director of IT at MTM Luxury Lodging, in Kirkland, Wash.
At the Hotel 1000 in Seattle, about 20 VLANs in all are configured on the 13 Cisco Catalyst 3500 switches installed for connecting the separate systems. “We have high-speed Internet access [on one VLAN], video on demand and free TV on another VLAN; the thermostat has its own VLAN, and then we have an honor bar plugged in with Ethernet and communicating on the converged network,” Marratt said.
All of the different devices in the guest room that communicate plug into a 3Com IntelliJack Switch that provides POE (power over Ethernet) for IP phones and wireless access points.
The IntelliJack Switches connect to a Catalyst 3500 switch in wiring closets located on every third floor. The Catalyst 3500s connect to a fiber backbone to a set of Catalyst 3500 switches in the main computer room and to a separate room that houses DirecTV receivers and MPEG 2 codecs for the free to guest TV service.
Because Hotel 1000 for the first time opted to use only IP phones in the room, it created a comprehensive redundant infrastructure to provide service even in the event of a power outage.
Hotel 1000 opted to install two Cisco Call Manager servers to ensure that if one failed, the other would guarantee dial tone. For the same purpose, the Hotel also installed a diesel generator connected on a separate circuit. Each wiring closet also has two Catalyst 3500 switches and two fiber links into the core backbone.
“With the caliber of Hotel 1000 guests, we couldnt have people not have dial tone, so we built in as much redundancy as we could,” Marratt said.
Two Cisco 2800 Integrated Services Routers provide Internet access, and the hotel uses Cisco PIX firewall appliances to secure the network. The hotel also uses Ciscos Unity voice mail system.
To allow separate systems to communicate, Percipia used the Java-based middleware platform that it uses to provide hospitality functionality for Ciscos Call Manager. “We created a glue using our middleware between these different systems and technologies to allow all of these to work together to provide a new service for the guest. No other hotel in the world has this,” Farrar said.
MTM Luxury Lodging and the Hotel 1000 owners did not put out a formal RFP (request for proposal) for the project. Instead, they chose to work directly with Cisco and its channel partner Valcros. Both had earlier proved their mettle with similar, smaller converged network projects for MTM Luxury Lodging.
Valcros, based in San Diego, pulled the various pieces of the system together, collaborated with MTMs IT group on the design and managed the network project.
The system was fairly expensive to install, thanks especially to the added redundancy. Marratt estimates that the entire technology expenditure was close to $1.1 million, which would make most hotel operators faint.
“It is an exorbitant amount. Not many ownership groups want to do that. We had an ownership group that believes in technology,” Marratt said.
Thus far, the owners are pleased with the result. Besides the good feedback they are getting from guests, Hotel 1000 management is also getting plenty of attention from peers, he said.
“Weve had a number of hotel companies come and visit. In fact we are now officially doing what we call Hotel 1000 tech tours,” said Marratt, adding that the first tour planned for later in 2006 will bring together all the technology partners to showcase what the hotel has done.
MTM Luxury Lodging is working on another hotel due to open next July in Boston that will replicate what was done in the Hotel 1000.
At the same time, more applications that exploit the converged infrastructure are being developed. MTM Luxury Lodging hopes to have an application that allows a guest to check in using a BlackBerry or other PDA running by mid-2007. “As you come in from the airport, you [could] check in from the back of a taxi,” Simkins said.
Peering into his crystal ball, Hotel 1000 General Manager Flaherty said he believes the types of services it pioneered will make their way into more mainstream areas. “I think some of these amenities will become standard beyond luxury hotels,” he said.