Fairmont checks into portal upgrade

While guests flock to its hotels and resorts for their vacations, Fairmont staff are spending the summer finishing up an upgrade to its Internet portal and content management system.

The changes, which are set to be completed by the end of September, include tools that will allow staff to manage brand image across its 6,000 pages, as well as location-specific content that will be managed by individual hotels and resorts. The company has hired Toronto-based Navantis to assist with the project, which is based on a combination of custom-developed software and Microsoft products such as SharePoint Portal Server 2003, .Net 2.0 Framework, SQL Server 2005, Content Management Server 2002 and Visual Studio 2005.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has aggressively been working to develop its back-end systems into a service-oriented architecture, and the portal project is intended to build upon that SOA integration, according to the company’s director of Internet strategy David Doucette. The migration to a Microsoft platform marks a shift from the company’s last major site overhaul, which was launched in 2000 and based on Oracle and Unix, with content managed through a product called Vignette.

“At that point, the Web project was part of a larger overriding project to build out an e-commerce platform, in consultation with Accenture,” Doucette said. “It wasn’t only the Web platform, it was all of the software to build a guest data warehouse and campaign management tools.”

Fairmont has already created some of its own applications, including one that is internally referred to as “Restaurant Manager,” which consierges can use to take electronic reservations from guests before they arrive. Restaurant Manager was introduced at the Fairmont Banff Springs, which had a higher volume of reservations and number of outlets, Doucette explained. A more recently developed tool will allow guests to book tee times online. It was first introduced at a property in Mexico and went live at a resort in Montebello, Que., last week. The golf reservation system will be rolled out to the other 10 courses Fairmont manages over the next six months, Doucette said.

Doucette said Fairmont also uses a product called eGain to allow e-mail reservations for some services. While it won’t be abandoning eGain immediately, the new portal platform will ease the migration.

“We find the need for real-time activity booking is really important among the resort properties, where the lead time for booking is generally three to four times what it is for city centre properties,” he said. Those checking into the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto might book activities 14 to 21 days in advance, for example, Doucette said, while those planning a trip to a resort might do so 45 to 90 days before they arrive.

Fairmont was worried it was going to run into performance issues with the Vignette system, Doucette said, and the cost of hardware and software licensing should be reduced after the move to the Microsoft platform. While the company had created its own GUI to make Vignette easier for staff to use, the Microsoft products should also reduce the learning curve for hotel-level staff, he said.

“It will be a lot easier to make sure we’re prepared for more growth, and not scrambling to accommodate it,” he said. “This will increase capacity four-fold.”

Navantis president Jason Martin said it is important to create a portal infrastructure that can be easily accessed and used not just by Fairmont IT staff, but by other line-of-business personnel.

“You don’t want content management to be a technical endeavour. It should be designed for people that can make editorial decisions and marketing decisions,” he said, adding that Fairmont’s aggressive expansion has prepared it well for the software changes. “One of the strong things they were able to do before this even got started was a pretty advanced business process reengineering. We’re trying to keep a lot of that thinking.”

Fairmont will be offering training two weeks prior to the portal going live, with Web-based sessions to be done on a regional basis to walk staff through the applications, Doucette said.

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