Jewish World Review July 19, 2002 / 18 Menachem-Av, 5762

Have PC, must travel

By Mark Kellner | Armed with a laptop, handheld, cell phone and accessories, today's tech traveler dominates the world of hotels and airports. One example is the strip between San Jose and San Francisco, where across the pond from Larry Ellison's towers, the Oracle gather around the clock to enjoy French cuisine, the gym, the pool, the bar and the meting rooms of the Sofitel (stet) Hotel in Redwood City.

"At any hour there seems to be a one on one, small conference, formal meeting or a gathering of Oracle personnel with their partners, customers and friends in the hotel," according to Stephanie Ryan, the five-year veteran general manager of the French-owned flagship property.

"Our guests come primarily from the U.S.," Ms. Ryan said of those who visit Oracle and nearby Electronic Arts, a computer game maker also nearby. "Some of the larger companies do host international visitors. I would say, what I know most about them, they really look for the comfortable environment."

At the same time, the race is on from New York to London and Hong Kong over who can provide the most support for the demands of the digital set.

Thatcher Brown, director of business development for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, a Toronto-based firm, is involved with the technology needs of guests at major hotels including the Plaza in New York, the Fairmont Dubai on the Persian Gulf, and the famous original Fairmont on Nob (stet) Hill in San Francisco. In an interview, Mr. Brown said guests were demanding more in the way of technological accommodation.

"Basically, our guests are looking for the same business-class network access that they enjoy in their offices," he said. "Whether they're connecting through their guest room via wired or wireless networks, they're expecting that and expecting hotel companies to provide that in a secure environment."

To that end, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts has launched one of the most ambitious campaigns I've seen to integrate high tech with the "high touch" world of upmarket lodgings. The firm has launched the "Fairmont Virtual Assistant" program, providing a 24-hour, seven days-per-week, technical support hotline manned by the company's own IT department. Fairmont has extended its e-business and branding initiatives to encompass nearly every aspect of the guests' networking experience, including technical support.

With toll-free access from the US and Canada, Mexico and Bermuda, guests are connected to a helpdesk staffed internally by Fairmont analysts. Fairmont focuses on hiring analysts that have a raised knowledge of the IT industry at large, so they are able to handle a breadth of issues and activities.

Two years ago, the Fairmont organization began to develop an end-to-end network based on technology from Cisco Systems that connects all 38 properties, and allows Fairmont to offer high-speed Internet Access and wireless service across its portfolio of facilities. Currently it is offered in all of the chain's hotel meeting rooms, lobbies and open space areas while most guestrooms will have wired or wireless high speed Internet access by the end of this year, Mr. Brown said.

"Most of our guests use the network for real business purposes, and they tend to be online for hours, not just minutes. They're running VPN clients, and are working as effectively in our hotel rooms as they would be in their own offices," added Tim Aubrey, vice president of technology for the Fairmont chain.

Mr. Brown said the service is made available to most guests at a fee of $9.95 for a 24-hour period. Those Fairmont customers who are "golden platinum" members of the chain's frequent guest program receive the access for free. He added that guests appreciate the technical savvy of the Fairmont chain and the services available.

"One of the delicate balances is using technology to provide better services and experiences to our guests," he said. "Our commitment is to providing benefit to our guests and we look to differentiate ourselves that way, through our e-business initiative."

Find this column useful? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

After Shot manages your digital camera images
X200: Mobile worker's fantasy
Beware: Consumers face a fee for printing own checks

© 2002 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at