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COMMENTARY

Hawaii's Hotel Technology Gap
Could Hurt Us, Part 2


By Rob Kay and Jeff Bloom

Our last column discussed what we reckon is a big gap in telecommunications technology that even some of our best hotels suffer from. This prevents business users from getting fast, clean Internet connections and we believe this will inevitably hinder business and convention travel in the Aloha State. These inadequacies are especially glaring when compared to upscale hotels on the Mainland or other world class destinations such as Hong Kong, Singapore and even Las Vegas--where catering to high technology clientele is a way of life. In this column we would like to explore why Hawaii hotels have a technology gap and what some properties are doing to remedy this situation.


Older Telephone Infrastructure
Why do our hotels lag behind other destinations in the connectivity department? Perhaps the most obvious reason is that even our best hotels have an aging telecommunications infrastructure. A retired hotel executive (who did not want to be named) told us that nowadays to accommodate business travelers a minimum of two phone lines per room are needed. However, he stated that the capital outlay to upgrade the infrastructure would be enormous. "The business case for this," he said, "was hard for hotels to make." Though expensive capital improvements in technology are needed, the economic downturn in has given most hoteliers no choice but to squeeze every nickel out of their existing plant.

There is also another explanation for the hotels’ "technology gap". According to Sandra Moreno, VP, Meetings, Conventions and Incentives at the HVCB, "Hawaii has always been considered a resort destination rather than a ‘business’ destination." Hotels, she explained, catered primarily to the leisure traveler rather than business person. Thus they didn’t feel the pressing need to provide the topflight communications amenities that one would associate with business destinations such as New York, Hong Kong or London.

However, Ms. Moreno said many of the local hotels are now very aware that Hawaii properties, particularly the upscale ones frequented by business travelers, need to be upgraded for telecommunications and Internet connectivity. She added that local tourism officials got a rude awakening last year when the World Trade Organization’s advance team gave local properties a failing grade for business and telecommunications facilities. Ms. Moreno said "this was a wakeup call".


Moving On:
Though Microsoft’s visitors recently experienced less than satisfactory connectivity, we are told that the situation is rapidly changing. David Mozdren, a Hawaii-based hotel technology consultant, told us that the larger chain hotels with Hawaii properties were standardizing their technology requirements with those on the mainland. We called several of the hotels popular with business travelers to find out specifically what they offer in the way of connectivity and what their future plans were. Here are the results of our survey:

Sheraton Waikiki—Spokesman Michael Troy, Director of Electronic Marketing, said that there is presently T1 connectivity to all the meeting and function rooms. Troy stated that the hotel plans to offer high speed connectivity in all the rooms of the hotel sometime in the year 2000.

Hilton Hawaiian Village— The Hilton Hawaiian Village also has an aggressive infrastructure improvement program. According to Pat McHugh, MIS Director, 200 guest rooms and all the meeting rooms are being equipped with high speed network connectivity equivalent to an office Ethernet. What this means is that a visitor with a laptop (with an ethernet card) need only plug in for a fast connection. McHugh said that the room upgrade will be completed in the first quarter of 2000 but eventually the entire hotel will have broadband connectivity. In addition to high speed Internet connectivity, HHV’s Alii Tower will have guest rooms that feature a home office style "workspace" that will include a two-line speakerphone and, an in-room fax machine/copier/printer.

Hawaii Prince—The Prince is also very competitive when it comes to offering broadband to its clientele. David Clancy, Systems Network Director, told us that management will provide 125 rooms in each of their four hotels with T-1 connectivity. In addition to high speed connections, the rooms will have Windows NT workstations and MS office products installed. All meeting rooms will also have high speed access and, a laser color printer will be available at a central location. The high tech makeover for the 500 rooms will be available at end of first quarter 2000. Currently the Prince provides data ports in all their rooms with reliable 28.8 connectivity as well as fax machines and printers in the corporate rooms. They also have a business center with a reliable 56 kps dial up.


Conclusion:
The current state of affairs is not good but there is hope. Most of the upscale properties that we spoke to definitely have seen the light and some are taking steps to remedy connectivity and bandwidth deficits as soon as the first quarter of next year. They tend to be staffed by progressive management and MIS people who understand that even leisure tourists are apt to be carrying laptops. We believe these hotels will be ahead of the game when it comes to attracting business and convention travelers. The laggards may find themselves playing catch up.

Jeff Bloom is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839- 1200. Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Pacific Business News - Friday January 7, 2000

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