Tech messages from Hostec
With nearly 70 technology companies in attendance, offering everything from new software systems to the latest in in-room entertainment, last week's Hostec-Eurhotec exhibition was a foot-wearying success. The latest trends in evidence centred on wireless technologies, hand-held computers and internet browser-based software packages.
Wireless technology allows PCs and other devices such as hand-held computers to communicate with one another without the need for connecting cables. Using wireless, or "wi-fi", you can also link a laptop to a broadband internet connection, which could prove to be a valuable new source of income for hotels.
Future of the industry
Luis Desouza, of supplier NFS Hospitality, explains: "Wireless, hand-held and browser-based technologies are the future for the industry. They let you deliver customer service in a new way. For example, [with a waiter] using a wireless hand-held computer, the bar can come to a guest's table. Because the order goes straight to the bar via the hand-held computer, it saves valuable time spent walking across the restaurant. Screen prompts can also remind the waiter to offer things like side orders."
NFS Hospitality brought to the exhibition several innovative products that use wireless technology. Its combination of hand-held computer, mobile printer and touch-screen point of sale unit with stock control, which make up its Aloha system, could well become popular with restaurants.
ETV Interactive displayed its interactive TV service, which includes a wireless laptop connection boasting several features that could boost hotel revenue. One of these is pay-per-view access to popular television programmes such as EastEnders - for a small fee, guests can watch a recent edition they may have missed. The system offers both terrestrial and satellite TV channels plus the latest films, customised games and internet content, music, and a range of business applications with which guests can edit and print e-mails, documents, presentations and spreadsheets.
The potential of browser-based technologies could be seen at the Guestline stand, with its RezLynx product. RezLynx is based on ASP (application service provider) technology, which holds all the information in a database on a server or main computer that other computers can access. The server can be located at your head office, at your internet service provider or at Guestline, and the information it holds can be accessed by any member of staff with a computer, internet browser and internet connection, either from your hotel or from a hotel in a different location.
RezLynx is a module-based system with modules for property management, central reservations, head office management and online bookings, so you can buy what you need and upgrade in the future if necessary.
When you access the system you find yourself using an interface within your browser but with the usual browser buttons still at the top of the screen. The layout is clear and easy to understand, and feels a little like visiting a website.
Attracting guests and customers is one thing, but keeping them loyal to you is another. MCR Systems has an answer in its Total Loyalty system, based on a customer loyalty card which is swiped through a Uniwell point of sale unit each time the guest buys a meal or drink. Depending on your customers, different points schemes can be set up, and the system can store information such as frequency of visits, preferences, spending patterns and purchasing habits. Also included are 30 standard letter templates that you can use for your marketing and which can be edited with Microsoft's Word program.
Reports can also be generated showing the least-used cards, a weekly trading report, or a list of members in order of most transactions. All the reports can be viewed on screen, printed or e-mailed.
Bartech brought along one of its automated minibar systems, which records an item as "sold" when it's chosen from the bar, and adds it to the guest's final bill. However, the same sensors in the minibar that tell the system that something has been removed can also detect when it has been taken out then replaced unused, so it won't be charged to the guest's bill.
The Bartech system provides a detailed list of which products have been bought from which rooms, and which products need to be replaced, which means that just one member of staff can service the minibars in as many as 400 rooms.
But the "wow award" of the show has to go to Panasonic's new eSeat, a luxurious chair with James Bond-style accessories. Extending from each arm of the seat are cabinets made from dark wood. Hiding under one of the armrests is a DVD-RAM digital storage system and a notebook PC, for use should the guest need to send an urgent e-mail or write a quick report. Under the other is a high-definition 15in wide-screen LCD television and a VCR, and front and side speakers pop up when you need them.
The chair can recline flat and has an air massager, leg vibrator and seat heater. There's also a videophone, internet connection, MiniDisc player and 50in plasma-screen home theatre system. The only thing missing is Pierce Brosnan himself.
Also evident at the show is the growing importance of in-room entertainment. Guests now expect more from their TVs than terrestrial channels and classic films. And as Steven Morris, managing director of ETV Interactive, says: "Analogue TV services are being phased out, and a new breed of interactive digital TV services now offer the guest a clearer picture and much more choice about what they want to see and when they want to see it."
Pay-TV is now seen as something more than just a way of generating direct revenue, as Morris explains: "Hoteliers see the TV set as the preferred medium to reach their customers and know their preferences, communicate hotel services and gauge feedback on the hotel."
Hostec-Eurhotec was proof of just how hi-tech hospitality has become, and how strongly demand is growing for technology that makes the industry more efficient and profitable but is also powerful and easy to use.
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NFS Hospitality Corporation