WHEN HOTELS GO HI-TECH
In a chat with the executives of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, Qatar Today finds out what the tech-assisted hotel stay of tomorrow would be like.
With technological advances encompassing every business, Qatar Today, in a chat with the executives of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, finds out how the tech-assisted hotels stay of tomorrow would be like.
While almost every industry has undergone a technological renaissance over the past few years, the front-end of the hospitality sector has stayed pretty much the same. Check in, pop in your key card, baulk at the mini-bar prices, stare in confusion at the shower controls, ring reception for the wifi password, etc. etc. Same cycle, different rooms. But this is set to change and in a hurry.
“Hotels have largely been conservative in utilising technology; you'd be surprised but I sometimes see tenders from hotels for data networks with 10-100 MB capacity when everyone has already started dealing in terms of gigabytes. Now they are rethinking on how to meet guest expectations and with that they will invest heavily in wi-fi and data networks,” says Theirry Bonnin, the Vice-President of Sales for Global Accounts & Verticals at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. It is his first visit to Qatar and he is joined by Regional Director Najeh Khalil who has quite a stunning report card to present. “In the past four years of direct presence in Qatar, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has enjoyed a huge growth, doubling every year for their first three years with clients in government, hospitality, healthcare and education sectors. We are committed to increasing our investment locally to be part of the success the country is going to have by 2022 and 2030,” Khalil says. With a focus on the integration, management and security of telephony, networking and wi-fi, the company can't be more thrilled about Qatar's hyperactivity. “The country is building so much and is keen on implementing the best of cutting-edge technology to take advantage of the very advanced infrastructure in place,” Bonnin says, complimenting Qatar's high-speed fibre connectivity. “Sometimes you can have great equipment but the provider might let you down. So it's a shared responsibility.”
Their solutions for the hospitality industry have earned them a large client base in an exploding market, with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise having been commissioned to work with 46 upcoming 4- and 5-star hotels in addition to revamping existing ones like Radisson Blu and Grand Heritage Doha, according to Khalil. “When Radisson Blu upgraded their hotel, they refreshed not just the rooms but also their IT infrastructure which is now an important element in hotels, both business and leisure. Hotels have to adapt to current demands of quality wifi in the rooms and guest areas, enough to support not just one person but the whole
family consuming multimedia content, sometimes from multiple devices,” Bonnin says.
“If you think about it, hotels are the early adopters of the Bring Your Own Device,” Khalil says. And it's doubly tricky because not only can't you dictate what devices your guests are using but you also can't enforce any security policies, like companies can do on their employees. “Your users might not always have a sense of security; like if they are children wanting to watch their favourite cartoons on their tablets. So the wi fi has to be robust and flexible to keep up with the demand and network usage while keeping the networks secure.”
Another issue to take into consideration is that hotels don't have a large IT department to support this infrastructure – often it's just one or two people. “So embedded features like blocking room to room interactions must be implemented without adding to the workload of the team,” Bonnin reminds us. The need of the hour is to provide a strong, secure solution that requires the least amount of administration.
For hotels, the possibilities are just starting to open up. “The trend is towards going fully mobile and providing guests more services on their mobile phones,” Bonnin says, proceeding to paint a picture of hotel stays in the immediate future. “When you check in you'll be able to download an application that associates your smartphone with your room. So now you can use your smartphone as your room key, receive calls to your room on it, order room service from the pool or call housekeeping etc. You can take a photo or video of complaints in your room, like a faulty light or a leaky tap and send it across.” This can be taken a step further when geo-localisation comes into play. “When you are a couple of metres from the bar, the hotel can push a coupon for a welcome drink or restaurant offers. The idea is to generate more cash and keep loyalty of the customer within the hotel. That's just the beginning. These kind of applications, which we develop at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, helps hotels create loyalty by getting to know the guests' preferences. The more it is used, the richer the database becomes,” he says.
Even as we are sitting in Doha and discussing the future of technology in hotels, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise is in the process of being sold by the parent company to a Chinese investment firm. Associated Press had reported earlier this year that the deal is expected to be closed by Chinese Huaxin in the third quarter. Bonnin, however, is reluctant to divulge details as the process is “taking more time than expected”. Is it because the Chinese partnership, while opening new markets, might create problems in others? Bonnin says the necessary authorisations in the U.S. will be sought and he won't be able to comment on these matters until the deals have been finalised. “What I can tell is that Alcatel-Lucent will keep some shares and still be part of the new consortium. The idea is to invest in new technology and make an impact in a new geographical reach. The acquisition will also put us in a better position in cloud and verticals ecosystem.”
“The advantage we have here is that we are not being acquired by another IT company which could lead to conflict in products and solutions. The financial institution in question is a long-term partner who have already invested in one of our other ventures – Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell. They know us very well – our skills and capabilities – and they are coming in to spend on this organisation because they see a future, they see great solutions that need a bigger market reach,” Bonnin says
"If you think about it, hotels are the early adopters of the Bring Your Own Device. And it's doubly tricky because not only can't you dictate what devices your guests are using but also you can't enforce any security policies, like companies can do on their employees." NAJEH KHALIL Regional Director Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise