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How to Future-proof a Hotel: Inside the Thompson Chicago

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October 01, 2013
Cool Tech Properties
Kylie McKlveen

The recently opened Thompson Chicago (formerly the Sutton Place Hotel) sits in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast and is steps away from Michigan Avenue and Oak Street boutiques, with a view of Lake Michigan. The 247-room hotel has undergone a conversion down to the studs. The project is two years in the making and was handed to the new CIO of Commune Hotels & Resorts, Mike Blake, within the past few months. After hearing Blake’s claim that the property was “the most high-tech hotel ever,” HU had to hear more.

Geared to the Guest
The rise of millenials as consumers, in the workplace and as a buzzword in the media is no exception to the travel and hospitality space. “[Commune Hotels & Resorts] wanted to build a tech-forward hotel that really appeals to the millenials. Not only build a hotel to be tech-forward, but also keep it that way,” Blake said. A main focus of the project is that it will be cool today, but grow to be even better in the future.

“It’s really about content, and the way [millenials] consume it. It has a lot to do with instant access – whenever and wherever,” Blake said. And millenials tend to bring their own content. “The No. 1 thing we tried to do was to design it around bandwidth. We’re initially bringing in 200 megabytes of bandwidth (for approx. 250 rooms), expandable very quickly up to one gig. If we think we need more, we will definitely bring in more.”

With the idea of providing guest accessibility to what guests want to watch, when they want to watch it, how they want to watch it, Commune Hotels & Resorts chose Tangerine Global to provide IPTV and content services. Guests can view content on their own devices or on the TV in their guestroom. 

In addition to access to a large amount of bandwidth and content, global business travelers staying at the Thompson Chicago can use the guestroom phone to make international calls. “We worked with Verizon to get an off-premise PBX, and all calls are now IP-based. From a hotel perspective it is very low-cost to run, but from a customer perspective, we envision different packages where you can call all around the world at a minimal cost,” Blake said.

Other amenties include a bedside USB outlet and environmentals by Inncom, which include guest control of the lights and temperature preferences at check-in.

In addition to marketing to millenials and global business travelers through guestroom upgrades, the goal from the beginning was to build a hotel with the groundwork to continue to be on the leading-edge of technology.

“We’ve done some things to future-proof. Because that’s the one thing we know about technology; that we don’t know a lot about technology,” Blake said. He shared that more and more of the computing power is moving off premises and hopes to move more in the future. Not to mention, the cost savings in this endeavor.

Blake described the wiring of the Thompson Chicago compared to a traditional guestroom. “The traditional guestroom has three to four drops per room: one for the phone, one for environmentals, one for the TV and one for the old-school Ethernet wired connection. Then, you’d have your access point for wireless somewhere down the hall.” That corner room may or may not be close enough to the wireless AP and the guest’s connection might be inconsistent.

The Thompson Chicago is equipped with one drop going into each guestroom, which goes through an access point, and feeding from that access point is the TV, environmentals and the phone. The backbone of this project was built by iBAHN and the traffic is controlled via the 7055 switch by Ruckus Wireless.

With this alternative way of configuring the wiring, there is a great deal of capacity, and the guests’ coverage is much higher because they are physically four or five feet from each access point. “When we talk about future-proofing, [when updates are available] all you have to do is take out that one access point and it’s literally something that onsite engineers can do,” Blake said.

Commune Hotels & Resorts spent a considerable amount of time when selecting a locking system as well. Between its two standards, the company selected the Saflok online locking system for two reasons: to control all locks in one central location; and for its potential to evolve with technology. Inside the lock set is an antenna that can be replaced at a very low cost, in which Blake hopes will eventually be replaced with an near field communications lock (NFC) in conjunction with the iPhone. “We’re putting in lock systems that will be ready for the technology. It’s a lot different from what we’ve done in the past, [where] we kind of shoehorned technology in. Now we’re saying, ‘We’re putting in technology because we’re anticipating that this will happen. And when that happens, this is what we’ll be able to do.’ Eventually we will get to a point where this will be a differentiator for us.”

- by Kylie McKlveen

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