Content Is Still King

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October 01, 2007
Hotel | Technology
Ashok Kumar - akumar@ieee.org

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Much has been published about the ideal Internet protocol (IP)-based network architecture that a hotel must have. Once a good network is deployed what is next? It is through the greater availability and delivery of varied content that a hotel can harness the power of that network and generate revenues from it. Content is still the king, although the network can be considered the jack that provides for it.

Varied Content Types at a Hotel
Content can vary widely in its media types, from how it gets delivered, locations served and who uses it within the hotel, to whether it is interactive or broadcast. It can be data only, video or in rich media form. The content can be delivered through the high-speed Internet access (HSIA) system, be it wired or wireless. It could come across the TV screen from a video-on-demand system or through the display on the IP phone in the room. The number of edge devices capable of delivering content in the room and common areas keeps on growing.

Content can be in five categories, namely: entertainment, information, personalized, communications and advertising. Entertainment content in the guestrooms is usually free-to-guest TV and video on demand (VoD) which is delivered through the coax network or increasingly now through the IP network. There are proven business models for this at a hotel, although VoD revenues might be on the decline recently. Information content can be about the hotel services available, concierge services or local weather. This becomes an amenity that the hotel provides guests and nonguest visitors for their convenience at no cost. Some content might be just one-way broadcast with current information. It could be delivered on small displays next to elevators or on the larger screens in the lobby and meeting room spaces, including digital signage applications.  
            
Personalized content is information customized to a specific guest or conference groups. It can include language preferences, weather and time in their home town or flight tracking. Specific data is obtained from frequent stay membership data, wherein guests opt in to provide their preferences for their convenience. Communications content can be an extension of the personal information and includes two-way interactive types, text or voice messages and forwarded messaging applications. One simple example is that the guest’s home number is automatically populated on a button on an IP phone in the guestroom for the duration of stay. The personalized and communications content delivered to guests is typically a free-to-guest amenity as a reward for their loyalty.   
            
Advertising content can be a revenue producer for a hotel, presenting a potential opportunity. Online advertisements have been growing steadily in recent years. Some would argue there is a paradigm shift taking place where some advertising is changing over to online due to its dynamic and interactive nature. The advertising content can include in-hotel services, such as restaurant specials, branding and also promoting local merchants. It can also be national advertising that is timely to an event in the surrounding area of the hotel.         

What Challenges Do Hotels Face?
As we can see from above, there are varied content types delivered through different media at many locations in a hotel.  With all the network technology and the edge devices in guestrooms, it is a challenge for a hotel operator to provide content across all of them that is consistent, uniform and useful to the guest.

There are many challenges that a hotel operator faces in providing for the content. It starts with a good network deployment that can provide bandwidth for all the various applications. The use of rich media for messages can be quite powerful, and the network needs to have adequate bandwidth to deliver it. Security is paramount if transactions are going to be sent over that network. This might require a content management server on property which serves as the interface to guests and is refreshed periodically from a centralized source as needed.

Keeping the guests engaged and captivated can be a challenge. One issue with most portals today is that once a guest leaves the hotel’s Web site and goes to the Internet they may never go back to the hotel page during the session, thereby eyeballs are lost. Hotels need to find a way to present the guests with a persistent message. Measurable value needs to be delivered to advertisers and promoters so that they can find it worthwhile to invest in the hotel cyberspace for time-sensitive events as well as for the long run.
       
How Can Hoteliers Capitalize on This?
The key for a hotel is to have uniformity in the message delivered and to make it location-specific and appropriate by the area and who uses it. Each hotel needs to find what the optimum content is that suits their guests and makes it a differentiating factor providing a higher level of guest satisfaction.
 
Hotels have the opportunity to capitalize on the shift to online advertising. National marketers could pay as much as $20,000 to a hotel for two days of banner ads on their network for a weekend sports event. Measurable data can be provided to advertisers, based on network usage and click ratios. There are newer technologies coming in the market that can keep the guests captivated and these can even be an overlay to existing network infrastructure. An example of content delivered to a guest’s laptop at a hotel is shown in the illustration below.   
 
Hotels have a chance to sell not only their physical space in guest and meeting rooms, but also capture the revenues from advertising and transaction services on their hotel network in cyberspace through online content delivery. This can be a way to offset revenue loss from other services that have become free-to-guest, such as HSIA or the decline in revenues from VoD. Stay tuned for more developments in online content availability and delivery over the hotel network in the future. 


Ashok Kumar is an independent technology advisor with extensive experience in the justifiable implementations of emerging technologies such as Wi-Fi, IP networks, voice and video communications. He can be reached at (404) 626-0227 or e-mail akumar@ieee.org.



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