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See–And Touch– The Future

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June 01, 2007
Technology | Guestroom
Toni Poe

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

A look into Microsoft's Executive Briefing Center

Many elements go into the creation of great guest experiences, but one key factor is a hospitality company’s ability to predict the future with a high degree of accuracy. The clearer the crystal ball, the better the organization’s ability to anticipate guest needs and have the right resources to meet those needs. For example, a general manager who knew that tomorrow would bring a wave of early checkins could marshal the front desk, housekeeping and bell staffs to be ready for the inrush of guests.

If the ability to look days or months ahead is valuable, how about looking years ahead? What if you could anticipate which technologies the guest of the future will want, need and expect as part of his or her hospitality experience? Hospitality executives armed with such information can use this knowledge today to establish competitive points of differentiation. They can also sharpen their properties’ appeal to the rising millennial generation of travelers—the generation that has grown up with technologies keeping them seamlessly, conveniently connected to work, home and entertainment wherever they go. These guests demand personalization, and they will expect the same levels of connection, comfort and control in their hotels, restaurants and resorts that they experience at home, at work and in their daily lives.

Fortunately, this future-revealing crystal ball isn’t a myth. It’s a very real place on the Redmond, Wash., campus of Microsoft Corporation. The company’s Executive Briefing Center contains both the Microsoft Home, a realistic experience of how technology is revolutionizing the way we live and work, and the Microsoft Center for Information Work (CIW), which showcases how future developments can empower information workers. Both facilities offer hospitality executives the opportunity to learn more about the digital convergence of work and lifestyle that will be a hallmark of tomorrow’s guest.

Personalization and Guest Control
Today and in the future, successful hospitality companies need to expand their ability to personalize each guest’s experience.  Many guests travel with their own music, movies, photos and games, and they expect to access them seamlessly while on the road. Likewise, business travelers already expect to use their own devices—including laptops, PDAs and cell phones—to connect with their homes, offices and clients. Hotels will need a technology infrastructure that supports each guest’s individual connection profile and a wide variety of devices.

There’s nothing more personalized than one’s physical and behavioral characteristics, and the Microsoft Home showcases a number of biometric technologies to recognize people and authenticate identity. A retinal scan combined with facial recognition technology is used for secure access; other biometric screening devices such as voice recognition or fingerprints are available for use as encrypted authorization tools. Hospitality executives concerned about security could adapt these technologies, as well as those that allow a guest’s own cell phone or PDA to act as a unique room key.

Since the home knows the identity of the person who has just entered, it automatically adjusts temperature, lighting, window shade position and even music to each person’s preferences. And with the power of surface technology, the walls or décor can change to reflect the individual’s mood. Imagine that a valuable frequent traveler who has established his preferences through a hotel’s customer loyalty program could check into any property in the portfolio, knowing that the room environment will be preset to his specifications from the moment he walks in the door. For guests who request it, personalization could even extend to displaying their family photos as art.

Such guest-specific information could also be used to offer more targeted local restaurant, entertainment or leisure options to each guest, much as interactive screens in the home’s kitchen offer recipes and restaurant coupons based on what and where one has eaten in the past.

Connection and Collaboration
The trend of people working from home and using multiple offices is likely to accelerate. For many people their work environment is already wherever they are at the moment. Future guests will place a high value on hospitality properties that make it simple and seamless for them to connect and collaborate with people, data and applications in their hotel room or on property in a meeting or conference facility.

Enhanced meeting and collaboration technology has been a hallmark of the Microsoft CIW. The Microsoft RoundTable™, a technology incubated at the CIW, uses a 360-degree camera to show participants attending a meeting in real time, with a “smart” camera that points to whoever is speaking at the moment. This highly affordable and portable video conference call allows the traveler to pick up the nuances of facial expressions and gestures from tens, hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The CIW also shows how meeting attendees can share information and collaborate via Web-based workspaces and portals, enabled through technologies that include Microsoft Office Communications Server. Electronic whiteboarding lets people in different locations interact as if they were in the same room, using Tablet PCs or other smaller-form-factor devices to capture, contribute and analyze information as well as gain access to team resources. Leveraging the power of social networking, files and people are interconnected, helping users to navigate topics and always be within a few degrees of the information they need.

Enhancing the Guest Experience
These are only a few of the hospitality-relevant technologies brought to life at the Microsoft Executive Briefing Center. Visitors can discover many forward-looking solutions that their companies can adapt to enhance the guest experience. For example, intelligent hotel room entertainment centers and gaming consoles that recognize individual guests could target offerings based on preferences and past choices, displaying guests’ choices on high-definition flat-panel screens that match the vividness of state-of-the-art home theaters.  RFID-equipped bracelets are already providing location and cashless payment options for families visiting large hotels and resorts.

Microsoft’s ability to connect with both the consumer and enterprise spaces, and its pervasive platform, enriched by leveraging input from hospitality industry partners building a wide range of solutions, combines to give a clearer picture of what’s to come.

Toni Poe works for Microsoft Corporation as a hospitality industry solution specialist.

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