Hot Topics—Experts explore technology infrastructure

Hoteliers are trying to find a way to recoup massive losses over the last couple of years caused by the pandemic. They are trying to find a way to operate in a world with fewer people working at their properties, but their guests want a better experience than they’ve ever had before.

With so many challenges impeding hoteliers’ progress in making this happen, technology is one way to solve many of these problems.

In the latest Hotel Business Hot Topics session, “Improve your assets: Increase ROI with the right technology infrastructure,” in partnership with Corning, panelists discussed the importance of technology, both guest-facing and back-of-house, and why making sure it is supported with the right infrastructure is essential.

Moderator Chip Rogers, president/CEO, American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), was joined by Larry Birnbaum, principal advisor, Xenios Group; Jessica Janis, practice leader, hospitality, Corning Optical Communications; Rado Ivanov, VP, global design, U.S. and Canada, Marriott International; and Shannon McCallum, VP, hotel operations, Resorts World Las Vegas.

Rogers opened the discussion by asking McCallum about how she approached technology when Resorts World, the first new hotel to open on the Las Vegas Strip in 11 years, was being planned.

“It was really important to take a look at the technology that was out there because when you’re starting fresh, you have the opportunity to look at all of the different technology out there in order to make a new, different and forward-looking experience,” she said. “Our goal was to put the best technology in this location so we could help to support all of our systems.”

She said the resort team had a strong focus on the infrastructure. “People are traveling now with multiple devices and if you can’t connect your WiFi, it can be the biggest guest dissatisfier.”

Poor WiFi can be the difference between having return guests and having them choose a different property next time they come to town.

Ivanov pointed to a study that found that 73% of guests are likely to return to a property that meets their technology needs. “This is huge,” he said. “When we are talking initial investment versus long-term, it’s not just something like, ‘Oh, I put so much technology in, and I see absolutely no impact on RevPAR or ADR.’ It goes the other way. It might not impact your daily rate per se, but it will bring your guests back, and that is where the value of the investment is.”

Not only are guests relying on that strong WiFi, but with so many systems in hotels operating using it, poor signals and quality can literally disable operations at the entire property.

“As we have this convergence of front-of-house and back-of-house, there’s a whole bunch of operations applications that have to be run on the same network,” said Birnbaum. “We don’t want to build a separate network for them. What’s happened in a number of projects is, as we look at Voice over WiFi, location-based services for assets, people and safety and the Five-Star Promise for staff alert systems and things like that, this network is now performing at a higher level that just guest WiFi.”

Given all of the potential for problems when the WiFi is not up to par, Janis stressed the importance of spending the extra money upfront for the best infrastructure. “On the infrastructure side, we are really pushing the message that you want to push fiber all the way to the guestroom instead of stopping at the IT closet,” she said. “But when I give the message to owners, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘Wow, fiber is expensive.’ It might have been that way—you think of the white glove treatment and you can’t bend it—that’s not the case anymore.”

She said that, especially with new-builds, the cost is now on par with traditional switched infrastructure, but it brings a lot of benefits to the property. “You can look at [fiber] like a 30-year asset,” she said. “It takes up way less space from those IT closets. At Resorts World…the planned number of IT closets was in the hundreds. We were able to take it down to [approximately] 24 or 26, which gave a ton of space back to the buildings. With that, you’ve also got efficiencies in energy…There’s a lot of things that go into taking fiber to the room that folks don’t think about.”

For more insights on this Hot Topics session, make sure to check out the January issue of Hotel Business.

Watch the session