Hunter hotel checks in convergence

Broadband costs remain high

Business travellers frustrated with the quality of network connections in Australian hotels have light at the end of the tunnel with a new converged IP network at the Crown Plaza in the NSW Hunter Valley.

The network is used to deliver services and applications, including wired and wireless broadband Internet access, digital video on demand, IP telephony, and wireless point of sale (POS) devices for real-time processing of guest orders.

Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, part of the worldwide InterContinental Hotels Group, has 150 rooms, 72 two-bedroom villas, and conference facilities for up to 560 delegates. The hotel is set on an 18-hole golf course.

Local communications integrator Integ Communications deployed the new network, which also promises to streamline the hotel's back-office processes.

Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley general manager Neil Houghton said the hotel's target market is 70 percent business and 30 percent leisure travellers, and business travellers are technologically savvy so don't have to time to "mess around with complicated connectivity options and slow Internet services".

"They need to be able to connect and get on with business," Houghton said. "The network gives our business guests a true mobile office environment. And it has helped increase staff efficiencies and improve responsiveness [with] wireless telephony, wireless Internet access, [and] the wireless point of sale solution."

With broadband Internet access in Australian hotels notoriously scant and expensive, Houghton said Crowne Plaza is a "model site" for other four and five star hotels in the country who want to implement a converged network to improve customer service and drive growth plans.

New network or not, access rates of $10 per hour or $26.95 for 24 hours still make broadband access at the hotel a premium service.

Integ Group CEO Ian Poole said the four and five star hotel market is a sector that has traditionally been conservative in the uptake of technology, but now it is starting to "forge ahead" with the deployment of innovative solutions.

"Guest satisfaction, repeat visits, and increasing occupancy levels are the key drivers," Poole said.

The converged network is based on Alcatel's IP-PABX, data switching systems, IP telephones, and wireless access points.

Each room and villa has two Alcatel IPTouch phones featuring soft keys for access to Hotel services. Staff also carry Wi-Fi handsets bringing the total number of IP telephones to over 500.

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