Interview with Paul Dietzler Senior VP of Finance and Information Technology Omni Hotels

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March 01, 2003
Face to Face
Richard Siegel - Rich@hospitalityupgrade.com

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© 2003 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Note from Rich:
It seems so often in life everyone is trying to “out-big” the next guy. Omni Hotels has taken a very interesting path to get where they are today. Paul Dietzler’s path is also very interesting. Is Omni the biggest hotel company we ever sat down with to talk technology? Nope. What is important is not how big a company is, but how successfully they take care of their customers. Paul’s initiatives establish him as a visionary when addressing his company’s technology needs. This is a very interesting interview that I know you will enjoy.

Rich: Let’s start with your background and your career before Omni.
Paul: I started in the hospitality industry 18 years ago. While attending the University of Minnesota, I worked as a bellman and a bartender at a Radisson Resort. As I enjoyed the hospitality industry, after college I accepted an accounting position at a new Marriott hotel that was opening in Minnetonka, Minn. The hotel was operated by Interstate hotels, and I worked for this company three years before I joined TRT Holdings, soon to be Omni Hotels’ parent company.

What did you do with Interstate?
I was the food and beverage controller, then I was quickly promoted to assistant controller.

Highlight for us the history of your current company.
Omni Hotel’s parent company is TRT Holdings. Beginning in the early 1990s, TRT Holdings began acquiring hotels. In 1991 they acquired what is now the Omni Austin Hotel at Southpark, where I began as controller. Through the early to mid-1990s, TRT Holdings acquired seven full-service hotels—six in Texas and one in Tucson, Ariz. We ran these hotels for TRT Holdings under the Shoreline Operating Company name. I worked at many of these properties in various finance and operations positions. In early 1996 TRT Holdings acquired Omni Hotels.

After acquiring multiple hotels you must have transitioned to the corporate environment.
Yes, that is correct. We were a very small hotel company when we acquired Omni Hotels and it was at this point that I entered the corporate office as a regional controller. I was promoted to corporate controller and then to my current position. In 1999 I assumed responsibility for information technology as well as operational finance for the hotels.

Many would think that being a finance guy and an IT guy would be the ultimate conflict.
For Omni Hotels it’s the best of both worlds. I am responsible for only operational finance. We have a separate senior vice president who is responsible for corporate accounting. Within our organization, IT prior to 1999 was a department behind the scenes; nobody thought about it. With my finance background I was able to demonstrate the value of technology and represent technology as a separate department within the company equal to any other discipline.

Could you explain what you mean by operational finance?
Anything that happens at the hotels from a finance standpoint, whether it’s budgeting, forecasting, hiring controllers or assistant controllers, falls within my area of responsibility.

In 1996 when TRT Holdings bought Omni Hotels, how many hotels did you have?
We had seven full-service hotels that we converted to the Omni Hotels brand. Omni Hotels at that point consisted of nine owned and nine managed properties, and roughly 10 to 11 franchised hotels. Today we are at 40 hotels, of which seven are franchised and the balance being owned and managed. We have been able to grow the brand consistently since 1996.

Where do you position Omni Hotels?
We position ourselves right below The Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons, but above a typical Marriott or Hilton. We definitely see a business niche in that tier based upon our service strength. We see ourselves significantly ahead of what you may consider our mainstream competitors.

You are our second CIO interview since last year’s inaugural CIO Summit. Do you have any comments?
I thought it was fantastic. It was a good opportunity to have challenging topics discussed. The best thing was being able to interact with my colleagues in the industry.

We are doing it again this year, are you going to be there?
Absolutely.

You recently had a big announcement regarding high-speed Internet access in your hotels. Tell us what that is all about.
We are providing free guestroom wireless Internet access. In 2001 we entered into a partnership with Core Communications out of Dulles, Va. to deploy high-speed Internet to our meeting space. That partnership has gone very well. Everybody in the industry, at some point in time, has made previous commitments with vendors that did not materialize.

Including Omni Hotels?
Yes.

What are you doing now?
We really saw that wireless was the clear option for the guestroom. We are the first luxury brand to implement across the brand.

You actually started with Core for your meeting room space, correct?
Correct. We got the majority of our meeting space wired in 2001 and early 2002. We needed to get Internet access deployed quickly in the meeting space; we liked Core’s business model and selected them for our meeting space provider at that point. Core has financial stability and a strong balance sheet.

What happened after the meeting space was completed?
We began to talk to Core about the guestrooms. We selected three beta sites to deploy wireless access for the guestrooms—the Omni Chicago Hotel, Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza and the Omni Mandalay Hotel [near Dallas] here in Las Colinas, Texas.

How did it go?
It went very well; we are currently deploying in all owned and managed hotels.

The industry accepted early that highspeed access for the meeting rooms was a nobrainer since it was a revenue producer. As a financial guy, do you agree with this? Has it paid off?
It has paid off. It’s not necessarily the revenue that you are going to generate from having connectivity in the meeting space, but it’s the room nights generating room, food and beverage revenue that you have to add into the equation. If you don’t have the service available, you may lose a large group. When you look at the ROI for the deployment of Internet access to the meeting space, you need to be able to consider the total hotel revenue impact.

It is a competitive tool. If a client wants it and you don’t have it but the next guy does; you’re in trouble.
That’s the issue in the guestrooms as well. Corporate accounts are demanding that you have high-speed Internet access in guestrooms as well.

Is there a breaking point where a certain amount of meeting space requires someone to offer high speed or wireless as you have done, or does everybody need to have it today? I’m not talking about Omni Hotels specifically; I’m talking generally throughout the hotel industry.
It is my opinion that in order to remain competitive, you must provide high-speed Internet connectivity to both your meeting space and your guestrooms.

You were one of the many hotels who chose CAIS the first time around, correct?
Yes. Hindsight is always 20/20. The reality is that before the technology decline and prior to Sept. 11, these companies had a business model that they thought could work, sold it to the hotel industry and lo and behold it didn’t hold water. When we went out and selected a vendor the second time, we needed to be particularly careful. We needed a vendor that was going to be around for the long term and was going to be able to be a true business partner with Omni Hotels.

Regarding free wireless access in the guestrooms, when someone checks in to your property, what do they actually need?
If you have a newer laptop that has wireless integrated within it, then all you do is power it up and you will receive the wireless signal to gain connectivity. If you do not have the integration, which most laptops older than six months are missing, then you may have a wireless NIC. We also have a wireless bridge available at the front desk for guests to check out for a daily rate, which is USB-powered. This device connects to a laptop’s USB port and picks up the wireless signal.

Training of your staff is also important, right?
Yes, it is. We have found that the training is relatively easy and the majority of our guests utilizing the service will not have any challenges. Core provides an 800 support number that can be called to walk our guests through the process.

This whole concept of wireless is interesting.
Our decision to deploy wireless stems from the fact that it’s going to become more prevalent; it is going to become the preferred method of connectivity. Wireless networks at home and work are becoming more common; wireless is gaining rapid adoption.

Do you have issues with security?
There are always security concerns as it is the Internet. Each hotel has a dedicated Internet T-1 for the hotel guests’ Internet needs, eliminating any risk of Omni Hotels’ guests or proprietary information being accessed.

Of your 40 properties, how many are franchised and do you find these franchises are supportive of your technology initiatives?
We have seven franchised properties. When you look at Omni Hotels’ percentage of franchised hotels, it is low compared to the industry. It’s easier for us to be able to get adoption for seven hotels as opposed to a chain that may have 70 percent to 80 percent of their hotels franchised. It is usually clear to the franchise owners that the technology decisions being made are in the best interest of the brand.

From a purely marketing standpoint, what benefits do you expect from this initiative?
We will be able to attract new customers and retain our existing business relationships. As one of the early adopters of wireless in the guestroom, Omni Hotels hopes to drive incremental room nights, both transient and group. High-speed Internet access is in demand… you will have to have it.

Do you have visions of people sitting around in the lobby working on their laptops?
Yes, absolutely. What we have seen is that they do use it. Guests will grab something to eat, have a drink and check email.

What are the biggest problems you have encountered with it? Are there other people like me who didn’t know what they were doing?
The education of users will come over time. The obstacles for connectivity for a wireless solution or an Ethernet solution are basically the same. If a business traveler is going to have issues with an Ethernet solution, chances are they will have an issue with wireless. From a deployment standpoint, you can minimize your issues by ensuring each guestroom is getting a good wireless signal.

Like cell phone signals?
If you look at cell phones there are certain areas where you do not get a very good signal. Within a hotel there are going to be certain areas where you are not going to be able to draw a very good wireless signal too. You need to be able to engineer and compensate for those areas. That is a challenge. You need to make sure you get adequate coverage in each guestroom.

Is it your plan to create a wireless environment for guestrooms and meeting rooms?
Primarily guestrooms. We’ll augment our hard-wired solution in the meeting space with wireless when the customer requests it.

So right now it’s just wireless in the guestrooms. Let’s say I’m a hotel property and you come in and you’re going to create wireless Internet access in my guestrooms. What do you do? What happens with the walkthrough?
Each hotel is different. You need to look at the physical structure and ask, “Is wireless possible given any barriers because of construction?” And you need to engineer where you are going to place the wireless access points (WAP) throughout the hotel, and how many are going to be needed based on the physical structure. Cable is run to each of those wireless access points, which then drives the wireless signal.

How many rooms do you have at the Omni Mandalay Hotel in Las Colinas?
Four hundred and twenty-one.

How many wireless access points do you place in a hotel like this?
This is based on structure—at the Omni Mandalay Hotel we have close to 30. Our other Dallas hotel will only receive 15.

How large are they?
They are small—just a few inches tall. They are not significant at all. What we have seen is that we are able to get more coverage than we had originally anticipated. We actually have one facility that is in a very open area, so we’re putting the access points on the outside of the building. It’s a glass structure and from an exterior standpoint it’s easy to get penetration.

So, in a case like that you would put it on the outside. But in a place like the Mandalay do you put it on the inside?
Yes, everything is on the inside. We need to be able to adjust the range of the access points. We have had some challenges in the downtown locations. You may bleed over into a business or their corporate wireless network bleeds into the hotel’s. You need to be able to pull back your signal so you are not interfering with a neighboring business.

In theory, anybody can come into your hotel, sit in the lobby, power up and be on the Internet?
Yes.

Interesting. Airports are trying to sell subscriptions to access the Internet, correct?
Yes. It will be interesting to see if these companies are successful. When you are killing a lot of time in the airport and you need to actually get to your e-mail, this may be a great service. In reality, business travelers are gaining access to email either through their phones or through their Blackberry-type products and don’t use their laptop to do so.

Jules Sieburgh from Host Marriott was on a panel at the recent HOSTEC/EURHOTEC and said because of the use of PDAs, the need for high-speed Internet in hotels is not going to be a necessity anymore.
I don’t disagree with him, but you do have heavy Internet users in your hotel that need to do some type of spreadsheet work or have presentations to download and need Internet access in the guestrooms.

Good point. So from a competitive standpoint, you need to offer this service.
Yes.

Paul, has your financial background helped or hindered you when addressing the technology needs of your company?
It has definitely helped. An example was our decision in 2001 to deploy Oracle Financials for our organization. Because I was responsible for the finance and technology aspects of the project, we were able to select the Oracle Financials and put the project in place on January 1, 2001. By May 1, we were live for our corporate environment and five of our hotels.

Could you explain how a technology project of this magnitude happens?
After extensive research, we justified the ROI for the system and obtained approval from ownership.

And then?
I think the biggest challenges and the failures that you have seen with other companies that have implemented ERP systems is the bureaucratic nature of corporate offices and the failure for them to change their business practices. From a technology side, I was able to say we are going to deploy Oracle financials and we are going to deploy it with limited customizations. I was able to influence the financial discipline to change any of the existing business practices if necessary to fit the new system.

Then what happened?
We did limited customization and we were able to get a new financial system up and operational within 120 days.

How about the marketing side of the equation? Today, marketing and sales is a technology issue as much as anything else, right?
Of course it is.

Distribution is the technology issue for hotels today. Does the fact that you have 40 properties vs. others that have thousands of properties change the game for you?
The game is the same regardless of size. I work closely with the senior vice president of sales and marketing, corporate director of revenue management and the vice president of marketing. We have an IT steering committee that focuses on reservations, connectivity, CRM and revenue management.

Who sits on this committee?
Myself, the senior vice president of sales and marketing, the general manager for the reservation center, the chief operating officer, the vice president of marketing, the applications development manager, and our corporate director of revenue management. Collectively we meet on a monthly basis and talk about all revenue issues related to technology. We make decisions regarding which way we need to drive technology changes, and how we are going to prioritize the changes necessary.

Can I sit in on one of your meetings?
Absolutely. You are more than welcome.

I might do that.
You should know that although we have 40 hotels we run our own reservation system in house.

Where is it?
Our reservations center and corresponding data center are located in Omaha, Neb. We have the same stresses and same system issues related to supporting a central reservation system as any one of our competitors.

When it comes to reservations, the hot topic is distribution, alternate Web sites, net rates, etc. What is your strategy for addressing the situation?
We have changed our strategy. We reintroduced our Net rates [NetSavvy program] late last year.

Net rates?
The hotel industry needs to gain control of rate integrity. Brands need to be able to control their inventory and control what price you are going to sell at, and not offer dramatically lower rates to discounters.

What are you saying?
Our approach is that the lowest rate you will be able to find on the Internet is going to be through our Web site, www.omnihotels.com. We will drive rate parity with all Internet distribution channels.

Do you track what percentage of reservations come to you via the Web vs. other means?
Yes, we track that. On our Web site, we had a 150 percent increase in 2002 over 2001. No one could have anticipated that the Internet growth was going to be this rapid after the events of Sept. 11. The reality is that people want discount travel and they are going to go to the Internet to try to find it.

It’s also about supply and demand. There is an abundant supply of rooms right now and as a business you have to do what you can to sell your product. There are different avenues out there and the consumer knows this too, so they go out and shop.
They do.

Does your committee meet and strategize on all these topics; what are your revenue management practices?
Yes. Currently, my primary technology focus is increasing revenue from a technology standpoint. In 2001, we implemented a revenue management system, not a great time to bring it live after the events of Sept. 11, but we have it in place now for the next up-turn.

You will get arguments on that. Some say revenue management only works best when the demand is high. Others will argue that it’s not necessarily the case because you really want to maximize your revenue while you are in a low period. When did you install your revenue management system?
We made the decision to implement a new revenue management system in the beginning of 2001, right after a great year in 2000.

What company are you using?
We are using Manugistics, which acquired Talus.

I’m sure the drop-off in business after Sept. 11 hurt your ability to maximize your investment in a revenue management system. Do you have regrets?
No. We needed an automated revenue management system. What we have gained from implementing the revenue management system is not only better revenue management practices, but also better integration between our property management systems and central reservation systems. We run a stand-alone central revenue management system, which is tied to our central reservations system. Through the process we were also finetuning our interfaces and our data extracts.

How long did it take to get the revenue management system up and running?
It took eight solid months.

That sounds about right. What are you using for your central reservation system?
Omni CRS is a proprietary system that has been under in-house development for over 15 years. It runs on AIX and Informix and the current application is written in Informix-4GL.

Do you do all of your development in house?
Yes. I have six programmers/developers in Omaha.

What do they deal with?
They deal with all aspects of the reservations process, system enhancements, GDS connectivity, Pegasus connectivity, our CRM processes, the central reservation integration to the revenue management system, our two-way interfaces to our PMS, and new initiatives such as our XML interface with Passkey.

What did you do with Passkey?
We selected Passkey as a benefit for our group meeting planners. We saw the value in the functionality that Passkey could provide our group customers, such as online registration, Internet-based rooming lists, tracking pick-up on a group and giving attendees a URL to book their own reservations. Once a group cut-off date arrives, the information in Passkey feeds into our central reservation system and our property management systems.

Is this type of technology becoming more common?
It’s common technology that group meeting planners are very interested in. They are familiar with Passkey from Passkey’s presence in convention and visitor bureaus.

Is there a minimum group size to reap the benefits of the type of technology Passkey provides?
Benefits are definitely greater for larger groups over 50 rooms. We are going to offer it to all groups; if a group wants to utilize the service, they can.

Do you encourage the smaller groups to use this?
Yes. If we are not keying in rooming lists and the group contact likes the services, all parties win.

That’s an example of technology where everybody benefits.
I agree.

Anytime you can decrease your workload and put it on somebody else and have them feel like it benefits them is good.
It saves the meeting planner, the sales manager and the reservations agent time and from an integration standpoint the information that is provided is much more valuable as well. In addition, the meeting planner has more control over their event.
 
There seems to be a great deal of interest from meeting planners for hotels to offer an online walk-through. Have you looked at this technology?
We have. We do virtual tours on our Web site and also provide e-brochures, but not to the extent your are talking about; it’s definitely something we are looking into.

I believe the virtual visit is going to come into play more and more. Meeting planners are going to demand it.
I agree. Currently we do meeting space diagrams and virtual setups and similar things for a few of our larger hotels.

Group technology seems to be one of the high-growth areas today.
It is. Being in control of the majority of our hotels, we’ve been able to make the booking process and the contract process consistent from hotel to hotel and ultimately the guest experience consistent from hotel to hotel.

You have many counterparts out there who are really jealous that you control the vast majority of your properties.
At 40 hotels, Omni Hotels is often considered a small player, but when you look at the control we have within those properties it’s a significant advantage. Because of our size and ownership model, we are able to be very agile and complete projects much faster and more consistently compared to our competitors.

Let’s look at some of the technology that has not seemed to take off.
OK.

The hotel industry has never truly embraced ASP technology. As a company with 40 properties, you would seem like a perfect candidate for this technology.
It didn’t take off for a couple of reasons.
 
Such as?
One of the reasons is the vendors that are out there offering it. You have got to look at the financial stability and the success of those vendors, many of which are not proven. Another factor is the cost equation; it has not proven to be more cost efficient to utilize an ASP. For every significant IT investment that we’ve made in the past three years, I’ve looked at ASP models. The decision has always been to keep it internal from a pure ROI standpoint.

But with 40 properties, I can see benefits with the exchange and control of your data with an ASP solution. How do you do things today?
We run back-of-the-house applications in a centralized environment from our data center in Las Colinas. These systems include Oracle financials, Kronos—our timekeeping system, Ultipro—our payroll/HR system, and we have begun the centralization of sales and catering systems. We have been able to more cost-effectively deploy back-of-the-house technologies ourselves.

Do you think the ASP concept has come and gone from our industry?
Not at all. When you look at property management systems and central reservation systems it will happen; it’s just a matter of time. The downturn of the economy has not helped any of the ASP vendors, but leaders will begin to emerge. Selecting an ASP vendor is a risky proposition; you are assuming a huge risk placing your inventory and your revenue stream in the hands of someone else. If it’s 40 hotels or 2,000 hotels, it’s not a position you want to be in unless you have 100 percent confidence in that partner.

Interesting. But, you did mention PMS and CRS.
I see our next PMS replacement being some type of ASP model. I have not seen a CRS application that would currently warrant a change from our existing system.

Do you outsource anything?
We do host our marketing data warehouse with lebensart technologies out of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Explain what lebensart does.
We feed all of our guest history to lebensart and they cleanse and warehouse our data. They aid us in our direct marketing initiatives and with initiatives surrounding our frequent guest program.

There are certain things that a 40-property chain can and cannot do, and I think sometimes you would be a viable candidate for outsourcing, especially when it comes to CRMrelated functions.
There are things you shouldn’t take on internally. With 40 hotels, we still have to do the same functions as the large brands. We need to be selective about which functions we are going to control and which functions we need to augment with a vendor.

CRM remains a hot topic for the industry. What is Omni Hotels doing?
CRM is really a process. It’s about technology and it’s about the business processes associated with how you are going to recognize and take care of your guest. We’ve stepped into our CRM initiative using a slightly different approach than some of the larger hotel companies. We didn’t go out and spend millions of dollars on a CRM system that many believe would be the end-all.

Why not?
First, we needed to get entrenched with what the process was going to be. We have all of our frequent guest preferences housed within our central reservation database. Every guest that is a Select Guest member, which is our loyalty program, has all of their profile information, special requests, airline affiliation, etc. kept within a central reservation database accessible by hotel associates. Every time a Select Guest member is identified prior to arrival, all their information is populated at the hotel level. Property associates are then tasked with satisfying their specific preferences.

So what is your process?
The service component recognizes the guest prior to check in. The marketing aspect is getting all of our guest history to lebensart so we can start to analyze the consolidated data. We take selected data from the warehouse and integrate that back into individual Select Guest profiles.

When I checked out of your hotel this morning, I was asked to fill out a comment card. Feedback from your guests is important, right?
Yes it is. We partner with JD Powers; we do voice questionnaires through them on a monthly basis and at select hotels we solicit other forms of feedback. We solicit our Select Guest members for feedback quite frequently.

Are your CRM initiatives actually working to your level of expectation?
Yes. They’re measurable. We’ve got a team of individuals dedicated specifically to CRM who report to the vice president of marketing. It’s been the single biggest marketing focus that we’ve had in the past three years.

You talked earlier about property technology and PMS; what do you do today?
We use Hotel Information Systems’ Lodging Touch; we were the early adopters of Lodging Touch back in 1997.

What about from a sales automation standpoint?
We utilize Newmarket International. We have Delphi MPE deployed; over time the existing hotels with stand-alone Delphi systems will be migrated. For the national sales office, we also use Newmarket’s Global SFA.

What about at the property level as far as the exchange of data between the property management, sales systems or other systems?
We have not integrated between the sales, property management or central reservation systems at this point. That is an initiative that we hope to undertake
next.

How about food and beverage? You were an F&B controller once, right?
Yes, I was for a short period of time. The majority of our point-of-sale systems are MICROS. We’ve found that MICROS works well; it’s robust and gives us all the functionality that we need. It’s a proven system with a proven company.

What about purchasing? Do you think e-procurement will ever re-surface and be more widely accepted?
Yes. But we’ve taken a wait and see approach. I’ve looked at every type of ASP purchasing model and I don’t understand the business model. I think they are going to take shape over the next few years. Omni Hotels is beginning to utilize an internal procurement component within Oracle. If a company emerges that makes sense for us to partner with in the future, we will.

E-procurement was very similar to high-speed Internet access for the guestroom in that it sounded great at the time, but seriously stumbled when trying to get going.
I agree. We evaluated many of the early companies, but made no commitment.

How would you define the state of the industry regarding technology, where we are and what is coming in the future?
You are going to continue to see enhancements to back-of-the-house systems, reservation systems and changing complexity with distribution systems. As to any earth-shaking enhancements that are going to directly affect the guest and the guest experience, I don’t see any significant items on the horizon.

I am not sure I agree with that.
The biggest thing that’s going to change the guest experience is going to be future TV/entertainment systems. However, growth with these vendors has been limited given our current economic downturn and hotel capital for technology investments has diminished.

Could you explain what you mean?
The future TV/entertainment digital systems will provide the benefits of streaming video and audio, integrated with Internet, and track individual guest behaviors. As these solutions will be capital intensive, the hotel industry will need to rebound before you will see mass deployment. The next question you need to ask yourself is which companies are going to weather the current downturn.

What do you do today for the guestroom movie selections?
We are with LodgeNet.

You did something unique with in-room entertainment via the television, correct?
Yes. We made a decision as a hotel brand several years ago to remove the adult programming.

I didn’t know that.
We are the only luxury hotel chain that I am aware of that has taken the initiative of removing the adult movies.

Good for you. What was the impact? Everyone knows that adult movies were the big revenue producer for the in-room movie providers.
Our decision to not profit from pornography was costly; however this has driven new business to Omni Hotes as well. We have received over 60,000 positive responses.

That’s great.
We get a lot of praise for the decision. On ABC’s PrimeTime last month, they gave us a blurb at the end highlighting Omni Hotels’ decision not to profit from pornography.

PrimeTime and Hospitality Upgrade… it doesn’t get better than this, right?
(laughing) Yes, hand in hand.

You talked earlier about the guest experience. Are there things the hotel industry should be looking at to simplify the check-in experience to make it easier and quicker?
An option to ease check in may be placing card readers in lobbies for smartcard-enabled hotels. An arriving guest could walk through the lobby, swipe their card and go to their room.

Are you doing this?
We are looking at it today. We’ve got the infrastructure in place in two hotels to be able to do this, but we believe there also needs to be a human element. Look back at the banking industry in the 1980s when ATMs were introduced, the reality of the need to talk to a teller today is nonexistent. Personal relationships are very important to Omni Hotels. While remote kiosk check in/smartcard check in, for example, may make sense in limited-service hotels, for Omni Hotels it does not make sense. There needs to be some human interaction and personal experience that the customer and the guest can cling to. Omni Hotels is pre-checking in most guests prior to arrival, which makes for a very quick experience. It’s limited interaction, but interaction just the same and that’s probably not a bad thing.

You might get arguments regarding this. If you are the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and you have 5,000 rooms with three-quarters of the house turning over on a Sunday, there are going to be lines. If guests can avoid that experience via kiosks, it’s positive.
Absolutely. But, that’s a whole different experience than an Omni Hotel.

I agree with you. I worked at the front desk and always believed that this person sets the stage for a positive guest experience.
The whole hotel experience revolves around people. You can have the greatest amenities and infrastructure, but the people make the experience memorable. Technology needs to enhance the guest experience, not be the guest experience. You always need to keep in mind what the guest really wants.

What about telecom? Are there still revenues to be had from the phones in the room?
There are limited opportunities available. The only thing to look at is package pricing. We are all carrying cell phones. The industry has profited nicely for years from long-distance calls and the consumer said enough is enough; one of the first things corporations dictated to its associates with the downturn is that they are not going to reimburse for miscellaneous incidentals such as telephone expenses.

Good point. Back in the old days when you had to make a call you had to use the hotel phone.
Yes, you had a captive audience in the room.

We have an article in this issue about what’s going on with call accounting. You have some calls being made from the room, right?
Yes. We do try to maximize what we have and we are exploring various call accounting systems. We need to be able to maximize revenue to some degree with the amount that’s still remaining.

I noticed you don’t charge for 800 access.
We haven’t done that for years. When you make an 800-call and you go to check out, it is disturbing to find a 50 cent or 75 cent charge on your bill.

I agree. I don’t enjoy talking on my cell phone for long periods of time. I like that your hotel offers cordless phones; you can go sit on the couch and talk on the phone. That and reasonable long-distance rates could inspire usage.
Good point.

You are still building hotels, right?
Yes, we’re currently building hotels in Orlando and San Diego. We are also adding a 600-room tower to our hotel in Atlanta.

How do you start addressing your technology needs for something that’s being built as compared to your existing properties?
You need to anticipate future technology needs and incorporate them into your design. The biggest question is what’s going to be the TV/entertainment solution that is ultimately going to be delivered to the room. The question becomes cabling infrastructure and how you want to deal with that for the unknown. Clearly, during construction is the time to cable the guestroom appropriately for the entertainment systems that are going to come in the future. From the back-of-the-house standpoint, make sure your design and infrastructure can be supported remotely after opening so that you don’t need IT resources onsite.

You only hear the horror stories where someone built a brand-new hotel, didn’t address certain technology needs and couldn’t go back and re-do it.
No you can’t.

Paul, this has been great. Thank you for meeting with me.
Rich, I appreciate you coming to Dallas. I’m looking forward to this year’s CIO Summit. Thanks for asking. (smile) My pleasure.

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