When the Royal York Hotel opened in 1929, it offered guests state of the art flush toilets and the latest in high-speed elevators.

But what today’s business traveller wants most is a high-speed Internet connection back to the home office network and the ability to connect anywhere, anytime.

Information from a TIA (Travel Industry Association of America) poll indicates that 62 per cent of business travellers access the Internet from their hotel and 14 per cent do so from the airport, averaging 75 minutes a day online from locations on the road.

The poll also showed a 60 to 65 per cent decline in productivity when workers were away from the office.

“The reason for that decline is painfully slow dialup access. Or they can’t get a dial tone, or when they do they can’t get connected to the server at the corporate office,” said Kaulin Melnyk, major account manager with Cisco Systems Canada.

In order to establish itself as a destination for business travel in the competitive hospitality industry, Fairmont Hotels, which now owns and operates The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, is investing heavily in technology.

Partnering with Cisco Systems, Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels and Resorts announced Monday it will offer high-speed Internet access to guests through wired and wireless access using Cisco’s mobile office application. By early 2002 Fairmont will offer access in 19,000 of its hotel rooms and the service is currently available in all lobbies and conference centres in properties operated under the Fairmont name in Canada, the U.S., Bermuda and Barbados. Right now 30 per cent or 6,000 of all guestrooms in the chain feature high-speed connections.

“We want our guests to know they can travel with their notebooks and have the connectivity they need to communicate back to their corporate network or to their homes,” said Timothy Aubrey, vice-president of technology with Fairmont Hotels. Fairmont is considered the largest luxury chain in North America having taken CP and Delta Hotel properties under the Fairmont umbrella.

“Many of our competitors talk about high-speed Internet capability, but typically those are trophy hotels or one-offs. To be able to extend these capabilities across the entire portfolio is quite phenomenal.”

Fairmont is adopting a unified network strategy, collapsing all of its disparate network links from the hotels into one higher speed network able to carry different mediums.

The Royal York has 45 function rooms equipped to enable and is now extending it gradually to guestrooms.

The average cost to wire a hotel room is about $400 and Aubrey estimates Fairmont will see a return on investment in about two years, based on a three per cent usage rate.

“Once we have the quick ROI on an investment like this it lays a foundation that we can build out all kinds of capabilities for the future,” he said.

Fairmont has been working with Cisco for the past two years building a network infrastructure to supply a secure high-speed system for all its locations.

“It is a full DS3 backbone that runs across the entire country,” said Aubrey. “We extend capabilities to the hotels in various forms — we offer wireless in the open spaces and in areas like lobbies and lounges where difficult to enable physical connectivity. In the guest room it will be a combination, depending on what is more economical for the property in question.”

Typically, Aubrey said, the preference is to build out broadband access over cable because it gives the most long-term flexibility.

“In terms of technology used, it is a high-speed back bone that collapses into high-speed switch Ethernet at the hotel level and off that we hang wireless access points where appropriate,” he said.

Security was a particular concern when setting up the service. It also had to be fast and simple, providing not only access to e-mail and the Internet, but access to data and voice and video applications said Kaulin Melnyk, major account manager with Cisco Systems Canada. “It also has to be easy management from an IT perspective — we don’t need calls to the corporate help desk saying ‘I’m in a different hotel, how do I access the network?’”

According to Christian Bazinet, solutions development manager with Cisco Systems Canada Co. Fairmont guests will have “the highest level of WEP (wired equivalent protocol) encryption, which is128 bit encryption.”

Considerable thought was put into ensuring guests’ use would be differentiated from the hotel’s own network.

“We’ve set up logical barriers between guests and the hotel and we’ve partitioned the two networks as well. So we come across common physical infrastructure but they’re logically partitioned and on the guest side we have to set it up to support all the VPN protocols as well,” said Aubrey.

By segmenting off each guest, it also allows Fairmont to facilitate the billing of each guest using the service.

“We then know whereabouts the guest is in the hotel — it’s an interesting side benefit,” said Aubrey.

With 33 per cent of meeting groups rating Internet access as a key requirement when booking a conference, Aubrey said offering high-speed access is becoming not only an expected service, he feels it is also a market differentiator.

The chain is also looking at the service as an added revenue stream — charging a flat rate of $9.95 per guest. Guests will have dialup and broadband connectivity to choose from via wired and wireless Ethernet access. Those choosing Ethernet access will download documents 100 times faster than with a dialup connection.

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