New happy hour: Hotel activities now include wireless Internet surfing

Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal

More guests are hanging out in hotel lobbies and lounges with their laptops, surfing the Internet via wireless connection, thanks to increasingly competitive technological amenities offered by Silicon Valley hotels.

At the Fairmont San Jose, where guests have connected wirelessly to the Internet since March, high-use periods occur in the morning while guests check e-mail with coffee, and again in the late afternoon when visitors descend from their conferences to the lobby lounge for happy hour.

The hotel’s dozen wireless access points, made possible with a partnership with Intel Corp., have supported more than 150 wi-fi users at a time.

“Most of our business comes from the tech market,” says Adrian McNally, rooms division manager at the Fairmont.

Wireless “happy hour,” he says, is “sort of a bonding of colleagues more than anything else. People are definitely conversing while surfing the Internet. Every other table could have a laptop up and running.”

Wi-fi is short for wireless fidelity, technology for broadcasting a high-speed Internet connection to a given area.

The Internet connection is plugged into a transmitter, called an access point, and is broadcast to an area about 300 feet in diameter, called a “hotspot.” Properly equipped laptop computers or other portable devices can pick up the signal and log onto the Internet.

Similar scenes of mingling laptop users are found in the lobbies and courtyards at Hotel Valencia in Santana Row, the Wyndham Hotel in San Jose, the San Jose Marriott and other hotels as more are becoming hotspots.

Wi-fi access in hotels costs about $13 for 24 hours of wireless connectivity, although often the service is free to guests.

At the Fairmont, a user can log on from San Jose, travel to the Fairmont in San Francisco and use the wireless access there within 24 hours at no extra cost. The hotel also offers discounts.

At the Hotel Valencia, wireless connectivity is free and users can meander from public spaces in the hotel to cafes elsewhere in Santana Row.

As a wireless hub, Santana Row promises “seamless” connectivity throughout its wireless zones.

The 213-room Hotel Valencia, which opened this year, offers guests a bundled wireless solution that provides Internet protocol telephony, wired access and Internet content for pay-per-view movies that travel over the Internet. Guests check in curbside via a wireless Palm Pilot device. Once inside, guests can connect to a wireless Internet hub from any public area in the hotel.

The amenities are co-designed by Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard Co.

“If you walk through our lobby at any time, up by the pool or by one of the bars, you’ll constantly see someone utilizing the wireless technology,” says Matthew Nuss, executive vice president of the Valencia Group.

“We made a substantial commitment from a resource standpoint to provide that. We feel technology has become an amenity and it should be complimentary.”

Other hotels agree that providing wireless access points is a competitive edge.

“It can make or break us getting a convention,” the Fairmont’s Mr. McNally says, noting the hotel has also initiated other technology such as high-speed bandwidth to accommodate conferences designed for hundreds of online attendees.

At Wyndham Hotel, wireless connectivity has been available at the lobby and the San Fresco restaurant since summer. Each guest room is wired with high-speed Internet access as well.

“We needed it to provide what the customers were telling us they wanted — they wanted wireless,” says Axel Suray, general manager at the hotel.

“We obviously understood that our clients are tech-savvy and expect the latest in technology wherever they’re going,” says Leif Lendrop, director of sales and marketing at the Marriott San Jose.

“We built the hotel with all that in mind.”

Marriott sells its wireless connectivity along with a bundle of amenities, including unlimited local and domestic long-distance telephone calls, on demand movie selections and high-speed Internet access for $9.95 a day per guest. Guests attending meetings and conventions pay a different price.

Mr. Lendrop puts the daily connectivity subscription rate at 25 percent to 40 percent.

High-speed connectivity is a two-way street, according to Tim Aubrey, vice president of technology at the Canadian headquarters of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.

It meets guests’ needs and also draws them in.

“Our guests are demanding high-speed access. But we also see high-speed access as a digital channel into the guest room for us to offer unique Web-based branded services and to help us build our brand,” he says.

The Fairmont intends to build additional value beginning with integrated voice, data and entertainment services to every electronic device in the room, whether it’s customer-owned or hotel-supplied.

Based on current usage estimates, the Fairmont expects a return on its investment within two years.

“New business models indicate that high speed is not so much a ‘should’ have as a ‘must have,'” Mr. Aubrey says.

JENNIFER PITTMAN is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz.

This article is published here.

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