Dangerous 800 Telephone Numbers

 By Les Spielman

HOTELIERS BEWARE!

THERE ARE “800” NUMBERS DANGEROUS TO YOUR FISCAL HEALTH

Let’s start by setting the scene: that lovely couple, Barney and Mildred Dobson, together with their not so lovely 15-year-old son Dennis, arrive for a night’s stay at your hotel on the way to visit Mildred’s mother.

They’ve stayed with you before….both ways on this trip to and from mother’s house….over the years. This time, though, while Barney and Mildred are out for a walk, Dennis has a new weapon that will frustrate, bedevil and may even injure you, and you won’t know anything about it for weeks or possibly longer.

Dennis’s friend has given him a number to call for “SAVVY, SEXY, SENSATIONAL INFORMATION”. No, it’s not a “900” or a “976” number. Your telephone system blocks those calls. It’s an “800” number.

Dennis talked for only about 26 minutes, learning a lot about life in the raw….until he heard his parents opening the door to the room and he hung up in a panic.

The Dobsons leave and it is weeks later that you receive your telephone bill that includes a charge that the hotel’s Call Accounting System deems an “800” number call for $208. Is the hotel responsible? Do you send a bill to Mr. Dobson, a repeat client of the hotel, who will obviously deny any obligation? Do you get out of the hotel business, concluding that this is the last straw?

The fact is that “900” information service (IS) operator has found the way to transmute “800” number calls into pay by the minute calls (referred to as “Pay-Per-Calls”) by constructing through tricks, guile or possibly even fraud that the requirements for actual acceptance of information service calls have been met. The operator may also be successful as the result of the hotel’s failure to note and contest such calls or the hotel’s unwillingness to further bill the occupant of the room from which such a call was actually made.

The “information” being offered is not limited to sex-oriented materials: any and all information may fall within this protocol. The information service operator gets control of the “800” number; this entitles him to a call detail report from the “800” provider which gives him the originator, the time of origination and the duration of the call. With that information in hand, the operator prepares an invoice which he sends to his “800” number provider who immediately invoices the local telephone exchange company that services your hotel. And guess what? The hotel may end up with a $208 bill for the call that not-so-lovely Dennis made from the Dobson’s hotel room weeks before.

But, take heart! The Acting Chief of the Enforcement Division, Common Carrier Bureau of the FCC, Mr. Gregory A. Weiss, as recently as June 15th, 1994, has commented on this serious problem. In response to a letter from the Association of College and University Telecommunications Administrators(ACUTA), Mr. Weiss makes clear that charges may be assessed for calls to “800” numbers only when a caller enters into a “resubscription or comparable arrangement” with an information provider(IP). The FCC has set specific standards for the establishment of resubscription arrangements:

  1. The service provider clearly and conspicuously informs the consumer of the terms and conditions.
  2. The service provider agrees to notify the consumer of any future rate changes.
  3. The consumer agrees to use the service on the terms and conditions disclosed.
  4. The service provider requires the use of an identification number (PIN) to prevent unauthorized access to the service by non-subscribers.
  5. A resubscription arrangement may not be established during a telephone call for which information services charges are assessed.
  6. Mr. Weiss follows up by making perfectly clear that resubscription is not established if a party other than the caller is billed for the services.

It would seem eminently clear that the information provider cannot turn to the hotel, as opposed to the actual caller for compensation. The IP has the burden of demonstrating the existence of a valid resubscription agreement and if the hotel has not specifically agreed to accept the charges, it would not appear that the hotel could be held responsible.

Further, all should be aware that although IP’s may seek to collect unpaid charges, common carriers may not disconnect or interrupt in any way local or long distance telecommunications services for failure to pay charges for presubscribed information services.

Mr. Weiss’ letter is highly instructive and ought be read by all lodging management personnel. Hospitality Automation Consultants will be pleased to send copies as requested by a call to its offices as set out below.

Finally, there is affirmative action to be taken by every lodging organization. Federal and state regulations must be tightened so that information services calls via “800” numbers may not be accomplished through the media of this industry. The Federal Communications Commission and state Public Utilities Commissions must be made continually aware of the impact of the present situation upon the lodging industry. They ought be advised of every instance of billing to the establishment for “800” number information service calls and urgently requested to take steps necessary to eliminate the practice. Hospitality Automation Consultants has developed a letter that may be useful to the members of the industry, and it will be made available to anyone who calls the offices at the number set out below.

All hoteliers must be prepared for unscrupulous information service providers who don’t accept or follow the resubscription rules leading to the lodging being billed for calls made by individual guests. But by careful review most such calls can be identified and denied. Doing so, as well as making regular demands for more stringent regulations, state and federal, will lead to the elimination of the practice and substantial improvement of the mental and fiscal health of our industry.

One last warning about 800 numbers. A new scheme heavily advertised by MCI called “1-800-CALL-INFO” (1-800-225-5463) can be very costly for you, the owner of ANY telephone. Let’s presume that a friend of college asks to use your telephone to make an 800 call. This “800” call can be very costly to you. The cost to get a telephone number, out of your local calling area, is $.75 for the MCI service, the same as your long distance provider, however, the difference begins when the operator asks if you would like for the call to be completed. This call is now treated like an operator assisted call, with the initial minute cost of $3.37, PLUS the $.75 initial charge, PLUS $.27 for each additional minute. It is even worse for international calls. The initial information charge jumps to $3.00 from $.75 and the initial minute charge is $7.75 plus per minute charges of between 1.22 to $4.50. Our strong advise is to block this number from your PBX or Key System Unit (KSU).

Is That Cloud Full of Vapor?

By Les Spielman

So what is the “cloud”?

Believe it or not, most hoteliers do not fully understand what the “cloud” is. Yet the cloud is in the news daily. It touches all of our lives, but is the cloud, in its present form, and the security measures to protect users ready for prime time? The consensus is “cloudy”. Here is what a survey released recently, by a major respected firm has reported.

“Survey Reveals 68 Percent of Global Organizations Planning to Adopt Cloud Strategy”May 2011 Service management provider, XYZ corporation, today reveals the results of a global survey showing that more than half of IT professionals (51%) do not think their own internal service management software processes are mature enough to effectively manage cloud-based services.”

The problem is that most of these organizations are not sure of how much to rely upon the cloud and even in some cases what makes up cloud services. Cloud(s) are made up from computers, always linked or networked together as computer farms. These networks are sometimes hard connected to each other, and sometimes connected to other networks via IP connections.

In this new generation of cloud computing, purchases of hardware are much less of an issue than in the past. But payments for web Hosting, software hosting, storage, PBX hosting, and security suites as well as redundancy facilities never end.

Does moving to the cloud make sense?

There are many pros and cons associated with “Cloud” computing, and hosted solutions for the hotelier.

The Pros:

There are much lower start up costs. Not much equipment to purchase. There is less staff needed to maintain the equipment. There should be no need for future hardware upgrades. Simplicity. Hosting in the cloud can streamline many actions. The cloud grows as quickly as you expand. Cloud computing is very fast to implement number of work stations.

Then there is the fixed-Cost Advantage: Software provided online is upgraded and maintained by the provider, so the small business owner does not have to purchase the newest version of a software program or download fixes and patches. Not having to buy a program outright but entering into a monthly or annual contract (the “SaaS” or Software-as-a-Service model) is also appealing, as is the fact that many applications are offered for free. The fixed cost allows business owners to plan rather than be caught off-guard when a costly software or hardware upgrade must be purchased.

The Cons:

Then again, on the “con” side of moving to cloud computing: Security, security, security! Monthly payments never end. Ongoing cost of higher bandwidth demands increase total cost as the cloud grows to accommodate your needs. There is the natural inability of the hotelier withstand outages or hacker attacks in the cloud. Sometimes there are definite poor performance issues. You can lose control of what happens at the host’s location(s).

Redundancy: One of the misconceptions of cloud hosting is that it’s hosted “in the sky and not in a datacenter,” which is not true. Cloud hosting resides in a single datacenter.

Cost: The cloud gives businesses a hands-free method to scale their hosting, however some problems can arise that are financially surprising. For starters, automatic scaling can make people extremely lazy. If you’re not paying attention to your usage, you just might get a huge surprise on your next bill. One thing that’s a rising concern is that hackers can run up their victims’ hosting bills. One method that’s being used by hackers is a simple low-level DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service), which won’t take your site down but will keep your server very busy. Since you pay for usage with cloud hosting, your costs can spin wildly out of control. So if you’re using cloud hosting, make sure to pay daily attention to your usage.

App performance could suffer. Your data might not be cloud-worthy. By all means, don’t put an application that provides competitive advantage or contains customer-sensitive information in the public cloud. Your application could be too big to scale. The bigger you are, the bigger your IT resource pool. And the bigger your IT resource pool, the less likely it is that you’ll see any enormous financial advantage in outsourcing to the cloud.

Human capital may be lacking. Exploring next-generation IT models requires an adventuresome spirit and technical astuteness. If you don’t have the human capital that is willing to stretch and learn new things, taking on cloud computing can be very frustrating.

Service Level Availability Agreements: Since these agreements are very detailed, it is essential to verify all the services being defined in the contract. Nonetheless, it is very important to understand the amount that you are paying for the quality of services you are receiving. Having just a few minor apps at your property, with less hardware, one must be prepared for the lag, or loss of the full program getting lost in the vapor that is the cloud.

Making False Promises: Every cloud computing service provider that you come across will promise to deliver your demanded services. However, the reality is that they provide different levels of quality and services when it comes to actually installing them. Thus, finding a reliable service provider is a tiring and time-consuming job.

In conclusion

If you’ve been drawn in by the low cost of entry and fast implementation of the cloud, heed this warning that every rose has it’s thorn… even soft, fluffy, cloud hosting ones.

The future looks great down the road, but in the meantime there will be a great shakeout and much angst getting there. If Amazon and Sony can’t get it right yet, what chance do YOU stand?

800 to 900 Telephone Call Fraud

By Les Spielman

The focus of the following article will be on the new fraud issue of 800 telephone calls that are converted into 900 type of calls, which are commonly called “Pay-Per-Call” by the F.C.C.

TELEPHONE FRAUD ALERT!
So you thought that all of your telecommunications problems were solved when you had your PBX switch AND Telephone Call Accounting (TCA) systems updated to handle the new federally mandated change in the new North America Numbering Plan (NANP) that went into effect on January 1, 1995. Then you had to readjust to all of those new crazy area codes.

Well, you guessed wrong!! A new threat is at your door that is just as serious and could ruin your balance sheet. Many of our clients have been sending us copies of outrageous telephone bills from their own local telephone company for “900” telephone calls even though they have blocked “900” and “976” from their own PBX and had also filed with their local exchange company to block these calls. So how did these calls go through? Through a method that is at best very questionable. The “900” information services (IS) operators are using “800” numbers that they turn into a pay by the minute call, these are called “Pay-Per-Call”. Since “800” service is paid for by the subscriber (owner of the 800 number) they are entitled to receive a call detail report from their “800” provider with the called time, call origination telephone number, and the duration of the call. The provider then sends the invoice to your local exchange company, who in turn bills you.

On numerous occasions, we have tested these numbers and quite often no warning is given to the user that they will be billed for the call. Other times a warning was given to the caller that if they stayed on the line, they would be charged, but the hotel’s Call Accounting System shows the call as an “800” call and the guest never pays the outrageous rates that you will be billed for. We tried several of these “pay per minute” 800 numbers from pay phones and to our surprise we received recordings from our Local Exchange Company stating your call cannot be completed as dialed”; on other occasions the call went through.

We have seen calls for $14.95 a minute with calls lasting well over an hour! Many of the alternatives to collect the “900” call’s charges after the guest departs usually does not work well or even worse, can put the guest into an embarrassing situation which prompts him/her not to return to your hotel. This causes the hotel additional lost revenue.

I wish that I could publish a list of those “800” numbers, but as soon as we compile a list, 20 new numbers have been added. Some of the 800 long distance providers are not aware that their service is being used in this fashion. Others could care less as traffic is traffic. So what can you, the hotelier do about this?

We recently learned from a letter sent by the F.C.C. that there are several guidelines that the information provider (IP) MUST adhere to in order to assess any charges for “800” calls. Basically the guidelines are as follows:

  1. The caller must enter into a “presubscribtion or comparable agreement” with an Information Provider (IP), under this agreement there are a whole host separate guidelines. Some of the guidelines include that the service provider clearly and conspicuously informs the consumer of the terms and conditions under which the service is provided, including rates.
    • The name, address and business telephone number of the IP.
    • The IP must notify the consumer of any future rate changes.
    • The consumer agrees to use the service on the terms and conditions disclosed by the provider.
    • The service provider requires the use of an identification number (PIN) or other means to prevent unauthorized access by non-subscribers.
  2. A caller cannot legally establish an arrangement that binds another party – the subscriber to the originating line (Hotel, Hospital, dormitories, etc.)
  3. A presubscription arrangement may not be established during a telephone call for which information services are assessed.

To me this indicates that if these calls are billed to your hotel or hospital and YOU have not formally agreed to accept these charges, then you are not legally liable for the charges. It is also important to know that the F.C.C. clearly states that the burden of proof is on the Information Provider (IP).

Several courses of action MUST be undertaken by your property and any hospitality association that you belong to. You must start a letter writing campaign to BOTH your local PUC AND to the F.C.C. The F.C.C.’s address is: ENFORCEMENT DIVISION, COMMON CARRIER DIVISION, 2025 M Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20554. You should send copies of sample billings with your letter. The address to write to in California is: ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Attention: Telemarketing, 300 S. Spring Street, 5th Floor North, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Each state operates under different laws so you may have to write to the Attorney General as well as the PUC. You can usually find the correct addresses in your state by looking in the front of your Regional Bell Operating Company ( i.e., America West, Pacific Bell, NYNEX, etc.) white pages telephone book or under State Agencies. If you have not been hit by these charges yet, you better start looking at your telephone bills.

We have developed a very specific letter for the lodging industry that should be typed on your letterhead stationary and sent to the F.C.C. Most hotels are already paying for a special type of toll trunks which has specific call restrictions on them. In addition to all of the above information, we, the lodging industry, should make the F.C.C. AND THE INDIVIDUAL PUC’S aware of this equipment.

How Smart Devices Will Change Hotel Technology

By Les Spielman

Some Mind-Blowing Applications Are on the Horizon

Over the past 25-plus years of attending the Consumer Electronics Show, I’ve witnessed the birth, and quick demise of many new technology innovations. One item I recall fondly was the first showing of an item called Bluetooth. I was so struck by the possibilities of this new technology that I spent most of CES at the Ericsson booth. I could easily see its various uses beyond mobile phones. I was lucky enough to get in touch with my stockbroker and bought a lot of Ericsson stock. The rest is history.

The reason for this recollection is even though we were only at CES looking for what we could use in the hospitality industry, we became aware of how many more technologies have cross-platform uses.

As example, several years ago we spotted a new product alliance group that specializes in another type of wireless technology called ZigBee. This opened a new era in wireless technology that crosses all boundaries. I first used ZigBee about three years ago. Today, you will find it in many enterprise applications and even more by cable content providers. Cable companies such as Comcast are converting set-top boxes and remotes to RF wireless to form the next generation of home networking that can control security, energy, health monitoring, home entertainment and other environmental systems.

Because ZigBee uses 2.4 GHz, it can penetrate walls, cabinets, furniture, floors and even humans. Other benefits include the future elimination of batteries for remote control devices, plus a broader broadcast range and a “find” button that will make the remote beep so it can’t get lost as easily.

ZigBee technology is just one new piece of a giant puzzle. Imagine you’re on a business trip and you have your WiFi device(s) of choice with you. You log onto your home security system and notice your garage door is open. With just one touch on your WiFi device you can close that door. The new security systems for both home and businesses will have video cameras activated by you or if something trips the system. Wait a minute. The same system will be monitoring your thermostat, burglar alarm, lights and any room in your house. You will be alerted to unusual activity anywhere in your home. It will be able to phone the police, fire department or paramedics. It makes no difference where in the world you are, as long as you have Internet connectivity, you have control over everything.

In the hospitality industry, Near Field Communications now has an even more secure network that assists the utilization of total hotel security, individual room monitoring for the HVAC system, more bedside controls for lights, electronic drapes, monitoring who’s at the door, fire and smoke security, excessive electrical usage, all centrally monitored by management and the individual guest, from network-controlled smart devices we all carry.

Smart Check-In
Imagine a typical hotel (which already exists today). Your smart device is already registered with the hotel or hotel chain. You walk into the front door of the hotel and there are sensors by the entrance/exit. You press the hotel’s app on your mobile device; you’ve now checked into the hotel without going to the front desk. The hotel’s system sends your smart device an arrival confirmation along your room number.

When you reach your room, the app opens the door using NFC. Look ma, no keys needed. The door security device registers your arrival time along with the device’s ID info. In the meantime, the HVAC system now sets the temperature of your assigned room to the temperature from your profile. Housekeeping and the concierge are notified. Your profile’s request for beverages, fruit, etc. are in the process of being delivered. The special bedding, bathrobe, etc. arrives. The HDTV set has been turned on to your favorite channel and all of the TV channels have been changed to the lineup of your specifications. You touch a low-voltage switch and the shower/bath is set to run the water at your pre-requested temperature. But you change your mind because the hotel’s spa has sent a message to your HDTV, or the room’s IP phone, or your smart device that they’re running a special on a massage of your choice. Your same smartphone/device accepts the invitation for a one-hour massage. The spa is immediately notified and the proper attendants are sent to their station. At the same time, a message has been sent to the shower/bathtub to stop the water.

What you may not realize is the spa had a lull of business and had scheduled for the sale to begin when the bookings at the spa had reached a preset number of vacant time. No human intervention was needed. The system just “pushed” the message out via the IP-enabled HDTV, the IP-enabled room phone and all IP-enabled smartphones in the property.

You finish your massage and go back to your room with your smartphone, which is now your key, charge card, ID, etc. for the hotel, and you dress for dinner. You made the dinner reservation, from either the hotel IP phone, interactive HDTV or your smart device.

Time For Dinner
Upon your arrival at the restaurant you’re handed an interactive tablet, like an iPad. The hotel had just switched all of its tablets to the dinner menu from the lunch menu in one fell swoop from a master terminal. Oh yes, they also adjusted some pricing on several items due to today’s market conditions. The season has also just changed; therefore, the menu now reflects the tone of the new season. The restaurant incurs no printing charges and is assured all prices and menus are correct from their master terminal. If you want to see what the meal will look like, you simply tap the tablet and drill down to the desired level. You can see the actual colors and side dishes of each menu item, i.e., if you ordered meat, making sure that the restaurant’s idea of medium rare is the same as yours. (No worries vegans, we have you covered, too.) You can choose all of the modifiers that you wish. If you want to see the current night’s specials, you tap the appropriate icon. Instead of giving the order verbally to the server, you click on the items you’ve chosen and everything is sent directly to each preparation section, along with your table number, table position, name, and verified room number. You can always change it to a cash sale through the tablet.

As you are waiting for your food, you’re so enthralled with all of this you must Twitter and post on Facebook, as a Facebook and twitter icon was pushed to the tablets. Of course, you just made this hotel and restaurant friends, and you are sharing all of this fantastic food and attention with all of your friends and business associates. The hotel awards you points for sharing your experience and since you are now a friend on Facebook, you get a special desert or a percentage off your next meal at that restaurant.

What I have just written is not in the year 2020. It is now. In the past two years we’ve installed several five-star hotels with all this technology, with several more already on the books.

What About the Future?
The following is an item I saw that really intrigued me. Right now I cannot find a straight hospitality area in which it would fit, so I’m just throwing it out for all of the readers to think about it and start your thought processes working.

What are your thoughts about computer mice? No, not the ones that may have crawled into your system, but the ones you navigate with. Boy, do I have a surprise for you. Imagine a web page or Word document on the screen before you, and the page scrolls automatically, smoothly and effortlessly as you proceed through the article. The system knows where your eyes are and how fast you’re going, so it keeps your place centered on the screen, scrolling automatically as you go, even if you jump back to reread something. This is how reading on a computer screen was always meant to be. There is no need to use your mouse as it is no longer connected to your computer.

Computer eye tracking is not new. It’s available in the military, in specialized industries, for disabled people, etc., but these systems cost millions of dollars. To have it on your laptop is just fantastic.

The task of training the system is quite easy and fast. All it takes is a 10-second calibration process. You look at a dot on the screen as it moves around, the laptop’s video camera follows your eyes, and the software takes it from there. That’s it. I witnessed this at CES. I was totally blown away by a company called Tobii. The demo that really rocked my boat was the Google Earth demo. The software automatically focuses and zooms to wherever you are staring, which is a very weird and exciting experience.

Want to click on something, no problem. In an architecture-design program, you could effortlessly move around a large blueprint with your eyes. Want to zoom in at any point, just stare at the area, just like Google Earth. (For the disabled, Tobii makes a kit that lets you click the mouse by blinking or staring, but the system really works best in conjunction with a regular track pad or mouse.)

Tobii is not a new company. It is quite a large Swedish company that’s been around for some time, and does have several other Swedish companies nipping at its heels. Are you wondering why I put this in this article? Simple, I want to stimulate your creative juices. The other technologies discussed here are already used in hospitality. This one is currently at the multi-million-dollar range but has been programmed to work with older laptop computers at an affordable price. Think of what this technology will mean for your industry.

What is the future of charging for HSIA?

By Les Spielman

To charge or not charge for HSIA, that is the question.

The time is very near when hotels will be forced to purchase a lot more bandwidth from their Internet providers, even though competition will require them to offer Wi-Fi to guests for free, or on a tiered-fee system. While Wi-Fi service might be free for the basic level of use, like e-mail and casual Internet browsing, fees will rise in increments for higher levels of data use, especially for video streaming.

Travelers, in general, hate hotel fees.

It’s much the like the airlines, charging the passengers for all sorts of things, and looking to grab every last cent from each service added. You need to make sure that your price and your product offering are clearly spelled out. Those annoying airline fees, for example, are widely disliked especially when, with no advance notice, you get hit for the “oh by the way” fuel surcharge, extra tax, fees, carry on baggage, etc.

In general, business travelers seem to have two reactions. Most feel that the hotel room Wi-Fi experience is deteriorating, regardless of whether the hotel charges for the service, or bundles it as part of a package. The true road warriors know that there are other options for ensuring good Wi-Fi service on the road, that do not include paying the hotel any fees.

One way around these outrageous fees, and increasingly slow response times in hotel HSIA networks, is for the road warrior to carry his or her own mobile broadband, via a 4G USB modem from a mobile vendor, at a cost of about $50 a month. It takes only a few nights’ saved charges to pay for this better, more flexible service. The new 4G mobile hot spots are extremely fast, and the guest will have access anywhere their vendor of choice has service. An increasingly popular way for road warrior guests to create personal solutions, is to use one of the newer 4G enabled mobile phones, allowing you can tether your smartphone and use it as a wireless hot spot for up to five devices – for only $20.00 a month more than the guest’s basic monthly mobile phone bill. The basic tone throughout the industry, as 4G mobile phones proliferate, will be to use these mobile phones as personal Wi-Fi hot spots. One point to note is that if guests are using a 3G Smartphone as their hot spot, their other wireless devices connected, especially iPads, will suffer from much slower speeds. So speed of service will become both a qualifier for some guests and a requirement for properties to compete.

Cellular service providers are also being hit with major strains upon their systems, from the data-heavy demands of smartphones and other Wi-Fi enabled personal devices, which have quickly changed the economics of the industry. After the first wave of Wi-Fi enabled smartphones hit, wireless providers began revising the way they billed the customer’s account for use. In some cases instituting tiered-fee systems based on monthly data consumption. This restriction upon use of data-rich streaming will favor those hotels charging a reasonable fee for Wi-Fi service without data caps.

If more hotels do upgrade their Wi-Fi services, and put in place a tiered-fee system depending on which bandwidth level customers decide they need, the hotels must do so carefully. Many guests already react to existing fees, often $14.99 a day for basic Internet service in a $300-a-night room, or $5 for that bottle of water left on the desk, as an outrage. Business travelers have a lot more choices among hotels than among airlines, and can be a lot more exacting about paying an extra fee, or finding another property without such fees.

In many hotels that I have stayed at, the Wi-Fi speeds are close to dial-up intolerably slow speeds, even at 7 a.m., when speeds should be near their fastest. I wouldn’t mind spending a reasonable amount for reliable, fast speed HSIA. However, if there are multiple-tier Wi-Fi speeds, I can’t help but wonder if the free or lower-cost Wi-Fi will be so poor that the free tier would be useless? Further, are hotel fees rational? Sure you, the hotelier have many ongoing costs for bandwidth and infrastructure, the MRC for the bandwidth, even employee time for helping the guest getting connected. The day has come where a vast majority of the traveling public will not check into a hotel without internet access. It’s like checking into a hotel without a bathtub or shower. One of the first questions that a guest asks during a reservation is “do you have internet access?” The next question is, “is there a cost for the internet?” When booking a room online the first area that the guest is interested in is location. The second area is the availability of HSIA.

No-one needs to be reminded that a hotel room not rented tonight cannot be put on the shelf for a later sale. An empty room night is lost revenue. A lost room night is a perishable product. Overcharging for HSIA will reduce occupancy. Remember the lesson we learned so well from overcharging for telephone service, driving most all guests to abandon use of our expensive switches. Let’s not as an industry or as individuals make the identical mistake again, not learning from the past.

The year of the mobile app revolution in hospitality

By Les Spielman

My first adventure at HITEC was over thirty years ago. Since then, I haven’t missed one. Each year, one technology niche stands out above the rest, even in incremental years. This year, it appeared to be the year of the mobile app.

Technology continues to change the way the world communicates; and mobile devices, especially tablets and smartphones, have become so central to consumers’ personal and professional lives that hoteliers are taking notice, with checkbooks in hand, ready to buy solutions that drive their mobile strategies and deliver results.

At HITEC, we observed an increasing number of vendors showcasing solutions that drive hotel services and local information to the guest’s mobile device. There are apps that enable guests to make restaurant reservations, book spa treatments, request in-room dining, wake up calls, extra pillows or a toothbrush. Some include links to external services, such as airport check-in services, local weather forecasts and social networking sites. Others include a booking engine to make reservations for future stays, a platform for in-room shopping, and a way to promote partner services with local business to drive additional revenue for the hotel.

This year at HITEC in Minneapolis, I visited twelve companies that were showing tablet and smartphone application solutions. Next year there will probably be 8 and the following year, the number will surely winnow down to 3 – 4 vendors. Consolidation is predictable and beneficial in this industry. Yet this year: so many vendors and so little differentiation. After a while, it just seemed to get boring. Possible three vendors stood out as having complete, useful products. Most of the others looked like “me too” products.

What hoteliers need to be aware of is that not all apps are simple for guests to use, and many don’t have a practical interface on the back-end for staff to manipulate or change data such as prices. There is also the challenge of getting guests to actually ‘engage’ with the services provided. It’s great to offer an app; but it can be a costly investment if guests don’t know the service exists and end up not using it. If guests can download an app to their personal iPad or smartphone before or at arrival, guests can begin booking services long before they need them and find some services completely booked. If the information is presented in their native language, chances of engagement are even higher.

Don’t dismiss the need for real-time reporting when it comes to a mobile concierge solution. A mobile strategy will not be as robust without reports that provide a detailed snapshot of guest usage. Being able to track guest activity and purchasing trends is a real asset to hotel marketers to better target their audience, as well as to guest-facing staff who are providing them with personal service.

It’s equally as important to track guest service requests so that nothing slips through the cracks. Hoteliers should select a solution that enables staff to easily respond to requests and send text, audio or video messages, including welcome messages or promotions, to expand on delivering personalized service. After all, that’s what a mobile concierge is all about – giving guests what they want, when they want it, and on the technology platform they prefer.

As a guide to the hotelier, HACL has put together a quick easy checklist to use when considering a mobile guest-centric system.

Consider using this HACL Mobile Concierge mobile application checklist:

        Is it user friendly?

Does it facilitate easy ordering with supporting images?

Does it provide information in real time?

Does it support a platform for both tablets and phones?

Does it enable two-way instant messaging?

Does it promote and reward in-room shopping?

Is it multi lingual?

Does it deliver the most up-to-date information?

Does it track orders and provide delay alerts?

Does it enhance the guest experience?

Does it enhance customer service by being available regardless of time or location?

Is it an extension of the hotel’s physical concierge services?

Does it support multiple guest access points, including in-room iPads, guest personal devices, lobby kiosks, etc.?

Is it customizable and flexible to reflect the hotel’s brand?

Does it improve marketing?

Is it quick to install and operate in the cloud and over the hotel’s WiFi network to remove the need for local servers?

Does management have complete content control and the ability to make changes to design, products, options, languages and prices in real time?

Does it integrate with the hotel’s existing PMS and HTNG certified PMS systems?

Will my finished app have a differentiated and branded look distancing it from my competitor’s apps?

       Will the vendor customize my apps to my specifications?

Big Data is a Big Deal in Hospitality

By Les Spielman

Recently, news broke of a data breach at White Lodging, a company that maintains multiple popular hotel franchises including Hilton, Sheraton and Marriott. The breach, which actually took place in 2013, resulted in hundreds of cases of credit card fraud for customers who had previously stayed at White Lodging-managed hotels. As writers hurried to draft stories with the latest updates and worried customers checked their bills for unusual activity, White Lodging, along with the major hotels it manages, were tasked with locating the hack, securing their remaining data and cleaning up this PR mess. It was a costly undertaking in terms of time, resources and reputation.

Hospitality is plagued by many of the same IT challenges that face most other industries. Hotels must store, secure and manage vast amounts of data, and the amount of data that needs protection is growing exponentially year-over-year. But unlike many other industries, a majority of the data hotels hold is not strictly their own. The multi-billion dollar industry handles millions of customers annually, all of whom share their personal and financial information and trust that information isn’t liable to loss. While we don’t often put the words “hospitality” and “IT management” in the same sentence, data is data no matter where it is, what it looks like and who’s tasked with managing it, and like any industry, businesses in the hospitality industry are not immune to catastrophic data loss. White Lodging is not the first, nor will it be the last company to fall victim to a major data debacle.

And while there are many methods companies undertake to prevent data loss, it’s inevitable for every business at some point. Businesses in hospitality, with their millions of customers and infinite amounts of private data, are not immune to data loss, but they can prepare themselves for the “big one” by investing in a complete and cohesive disaster recovery solution that ensures that lost data won’t result in lost reputations.

IT managers in hospitality must oversee three main data challenges: growth, storage and backup. The volume of data that each company must manage grows every second. For hospitality, this means corporate, staff and guest information needs to be stored in a location that can be easily accessed by multiple touch points across an organization. This massive data growth also heightens the need for secure storage options, ideally in on- and off-site locations for maximum protection. Lastly, all that data must be routinely backed up. For the most secure backup, I recommend following a simple “3-2-1 rule.” What this means is that every business should make three copies of every piece of important data, store that data in two different formats and keep one copy offsite. This ensures complete data protection in the event of a disaster or breach loss.

To tackle these challenges, IT managers in hospitality sector should look for a solution that provides:

  • Secure backup – Full-service image backup of the complete operating system to allow immediate data restoration; as stated above, this information should be stored in two different locations, with one backup stored in the cloud
  • Device management – Data migration support between new devices, to seamlessly restore a system regardless of the device’s make or model at any time
  • Encryption – Solution that adheres to the Advanced Encryption Standard and provides a personal key, unique and only disclosed to individual users

This multi-tiered approach ensures that all aspects of data security and recovery are addressed while minimizing cost.

Technology has rapidly changed the hospitality industry, making booking, payments and a host of other vital tasks easier, but without the proper protection, it can do more harm than good. A hotel’s reputation and success is built on customer service and most properties already have their hands full dealing with run-of-the-mill complaints like lost reservations and noisy rooms without dealing with catastrophes like data breaches. While these issues certainly have a strong impact on those in the hospitality industry, they pale in comparison to the very-real threat of major data loss. A proper data protection and recovery solution has become not a suggestion, but a requirement for IT managers to successfully protect customers — and their bottom line.

 

Virtual Reality Companies at CES

At this year’s CES, we stopped by a number of virtual reality companies at their booth to try out their latest VR products. Here we provide a quick overview of some of the noteworthy ones:

Oculus VR Crescent Bay

The most impressive of all was Oculus’s Crescent Bay demonstration. Oculus have almost completely solved the motion sickness problem, and the display resolution appeared much better than the Gear VR, better than anything we’ve tried so far. The demonstration was one of the most immersive experiences to date.

Samsung’s Gear VR

Samsung showcased their latest release, Gear VR powered by Oculus, at this year’s Samsung pavilion. People were lining up for up to an hour to view the demo.

The Gear VR is like a smartphone accessory, you will need to have a Samsung Note 4 in order to access the VR content. Once you slot your note 4 into the goggle, the micro USB connector will automatically force the phone to open up the Oculus store front, and from there is where users can access content. Currently, Gear VR is only supported by US version Note 4 only and will not work properly if you are using an international Note 4.

OSVR

This OSVR ecosystem is fully open-source, so regardless of whether you’re interested in working with hardware developmental kit designs, or software plugins for everything from motion control, to game engines, and even stereoscopic video output, you’d have complete access to everything. Game developers, peripheral manufacturers, and virtual reality experts can collaborate together to contribute to this ecosystem.

Companies such as Unity, Unreal, Intel, Bosch, Razer, Sixense, and Leapmotion are all supporters of the OSVR platform. The OSVR developer kit is available for purchase on the Razerstore for $299.99.

Goggle Tech’s” Go4d”

This company’s mobile phone VR headset, Go4d VR, was one that really caught us by surprise. The overall design, head-tracking latency, and resolution are fantastic. We like this headset because there’s no strap that goes over the top of the head, so it doesn’t mess up your hair as much after wearing. The headset is also affordably priced at $99 USD, and unlike the Gear VR that can only work with the Note 4, the Go4d VR goggle can work on all smartphones.

The company also launched the C1-glasses, a $20 USD snap-on VR glasses. The glasses are designed to view 3D images and videos right from your smartphone.

Beenoculous

This Brazilian based company just released their mobile phone VR headset during CES this week, you can get on their website for $35 USD per pair. The headset is designed to work with all smartphone by using the various phone adaptors provided with the headset. Although the price is cheap, this headset can certain do VR just like any other headset on the market.

Avegant’s“ Glyph”

After trying out their demonstration kit, we believe Avegant’s technology has the finest resolution comparing to other HMD devices on the market.

Instead of traditional screen technology, the Glyph is reflecting light off the micro mirror array to form image directly in your eyes, mimicking natural vision that reflects light off objects that goes into your eyes, producing crystal clear image that can’t be done with traditional screen technology.

The Glyph is a complete multimedia device compatible with anything on the current market. You can hook it up to a smartphone, xbox, Pc, DVD’s etc. You also don’t need to wear your glasses. The model we tried at CES didn’t incorporate head tracking but we were told that the consumer model would have head tracking function integrated.

This headset can serve as a private monitor. Avegant wanted content that works on a traditional screen to be compatible with the Glyph. This mean you can work on your PowerPoint presentation, write a love letter to your girlfriend on an airplane without worrying other people peaking at your screen.

ODG’s “ R6 Glasses”

San Francisco based, Osterhout Group (ODG), has been a military contractor for many years prior to entering the consumer market. ODG revealed their consumer augmented reality glasses and the R-6 Smart Glasses.

I must say that the screen resolution, user-interface, and overall experience were the best out of all the AR glasses we’ve tried. But the R-6 is not cheap, the industrial-grade augmented reality glasses is priced at $4,946 USD running on Android platform. The consumer version is scheduled to release later this year and will be available for about $1,000 USD.

CES: Tech of the future poised to impact hospitality

The Consumer Electronics Association’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which took place in Las Vegas, once again offered an eye-opening array of revolutionary innovations that stand to become mainstream in the near future. Here, Les Spielman, president of Hospitality Automation Consultants Ltd., reveals his picks for the top trends from this year’s show.

By Les Spielman

Having attended CES for the past 30+ years I have always returned to reality when I return home. Over the years I have found that a fair amount of new technology finds its way into hospitality one way or another. My first takeaway from this year’s showcase is, everything will be connected and everything will require power!

Concept Cars: Autos Automatically Attuned to Drivers
The automobile is becoming irrelevant because well, you really don’t have to go anywhere to work, buy stuff, order dinner or touch the outside world.  Faraday Future, the Chinese electric car company, kicked things off by showing their prototype that will probably never be seen on the road.

Car people are rapidly taking over the consumer electronics industry.  They want to be everywhere by 2020. Your car will be electronically, automatically attuned to you. Ford says it will also handle things at the house. Toyota has set up a $1B lab to solve any/all problems, needs. The car folks know everyone isn’t going to have 1-2 cars in the garage, so Ford, Audi, GM, etc. are taking on Uber and Lyft so you can share the car with your neighbors.

Ford’s Sync is ready to start your car for you, turn the lights on/off in the house, set your thermostat, warm up your entertainment center, check for thieves, start the robot vacuum, to clean everything.  To them, the house is just an extension of your life so it should be the center of everything.

Home Sweet Connected Home, err Hotel 
All of the major players in the industry put their best home solutions forward at CES, showing how everything worked beautifully together to take care of you.  Most folks start with safety and security, and then think about the rest of the smart home.

The big hitters had their own homes’s Panasonic, LG, Samsung and others had end-to-end solutions for you from the moment someone walked up to the house to when you tucked yourself into bed at night. And all of them worked together so easily – at least on the show floor. We are already seeing this technology in our hotels, but now that it has begun to be more universal, shortly you will see the prices drop for your guest rooms.

Of course, you had to be amazed at Samsung’s refrigerator that kept track of when and how frequently you opened the door and sent the information somewhere. Then too, there was a remote screen for writing notes. It would do all that and more for a mere $5K plus. Then there’s the added electricity required to track how often the door was opened. Today’s mini-bars already beat this pricing structure. Look for very cost effective upgrades for your minibar and other control points within the guestroom and housekeeping.

It’s all part of a $100B industry that we’ll be contributing data and money to by 2020. Yeah, that’s twice what we all contributed to in 2015 but come on, just think how much more it’s going to know about you and do for you. You have to keep in mind that in 2020, 20B of the IoT (Internet of Things) sensors out of the total 50B worldwide will be in the home/hotel gathering information, determining what needs to be done and doing it even before you know you need it.

Smart TVs Focus on Viewing & Content
While we have some naysayers, I have to say the new TV sets’s  HDR (high definition resolution) UHD (ultra-high definition) 4K TVs at the show were spectacular.  LG and others introduced the generation now HDR UHD 4K TV set that is not only super-smart but delivers an even more dramatically compelling image.  With 4K content already being widely offered, HDR images will begin streaming to add to the excitement in a few months.

Content was mind blowing.  Sound was awesome (should be for those with Dolby Atmos) and true, there is only a smattering of HDR. I dislike the people who are telling you to drag your feet on getting the new sets. Most of that tail dragging is because the show is demonstrating 4K too soon, and to wait for content to arrive in quantity before buying.

You can get it your way“ through the cable, OTT (over the air), satellite provider, pay as you go, you name it. It’s here already! I caught a speech given by Reed Hastings, CEO & co-founder of Netflix and he’s going to take killer entertainment global now that he’s one of the biggest studios (and providers) around! Are you listening hospitality content providers?

Smarter Remotes Poised to Upgrade In-room Control  
What I stumbled across at ShowStoppers was this guy who had (what else?) a smart remote. If the Sevenhugs remote is half as good as he was telling us: sold!

I don’t care if it does control everything in the house/ or the guest room, I don’t have everything ready to be controlled, and won’t for a while. Until then, the set manufacturers are trying to talk us into connecting everything in the house to be managed by the TV set, which has a whole set of its own always-on, insecurity issues. So be sure that all technology that you are looking at for your guest rooms are already enabled, or upgrade enabled for the future.

Virtual Reality with Real Applications
International CES is one of the best AR (alternate reality) events you can attend. There were a bunch of new headsets and augmented glasses on the CES floor with tons of cool adventures you could enjoy. No wonder VR unit sales are expected to jump 500 percent this year with a million plus units. AR is expected to hit about $550M.

They were all cool and fun until we learned one thing – less than one percent of the PCs out there are powerful enough to run the kind of high-end VR technology folks showed at CES. That was from Nvidia, who should know graphics inside and out. So right now, it’s pretty much limited to game play or some awesome unreal world/real world walking around. My suggestion is to wait a while for this technology to be deployed.

I was looking for a practical application when the young engineers panel at Storage Visions at the Luxor gave me the answer. One of the questions from the floor was, “Do you prefer to work remotely or in an office/team environment?”  It dawned on me that VR was the real answer for tomorrow’s workforce because your best people could be located anywhere in the world.

Everything Wearable
With all of the promise of a better way of life, there were wearables of every shape, shade, kind :  wrist, finger and clothes, as well as sports bras, shorts and shoes. They were anywhere they could design in a sensor and send data.

Industry vet Dave Berkus joins HACL as partner

Los Angeles, California: — Hospitality technology veteran and HFTP Hall of Fame member, Dave Berkus, has joined Les Spielman’s Hospitality Automation Consultants as partner, the newly formed partnership announced today.

Hospitality Automation Consultants has been an active force in providing services and advice to the industry for twenty five years, serving many of North America’s and the world’s chains and management companies, specializing in telecom and information technology issues, integration, vendor selection and project management. With the addition of Berkus as partner, the firm now boasts deep knowledge in technology marketing, business process management, central reservations and GDS issues, and advanced property systems technology development and deployment.

Berkus, an active angel investor and valued coach to managers and entrepreneurs in many areas of technology, is credited with many “firsts” in hospitality technology, including creation of the industry’s first multi-property management systems, first menu analysis links between POS and back office systems, first wireless check-in systems and first cellular phones linked to hotel guest room extensions. He is also credited with designing and creating the first property-based yield management system using artificial intelligence, and has been called the “father of open systems” in the industry, having been the first to force vendors to adopt UNIX and the PC in an age of proprietary systems and terminal-based workstations.

Berkus was founder and CEO of Computerized Lodging Systems (CLS) and of Hotelware Corporation, and has served or serves on the boards of a number of hospitality technology companies.

As consultant to AremiSoft, Berkus introduced the company into the United States. Later as consultant to Sulcus Hospitality Technologies and to Rio Systems, Inc., Berkus helped engineer the acquisition of Sulcus by Eltrax and Eltrax by AremiSoft, then the acquisition of Rio Systems by AremiSoft (now SoftBrands). In the back office systems world, Berkus consulted to and negotiated the sale of Unisolve to Great Plains Software (now Microsoft). Berkus introduced Multi Systems (MSI) to Jonas, resulting in the acquisition of MSI in 2016.  He has consulted with a number of the industry’s technology firms regarding marketing, strategic planning for growth, technology renewal and market expansion.

He is author of fourteen books on entrepreneurism including the BERKONOMICS series of three books. His weekly emails and blogs are distributed to one hundred thousand CxOs and entrepreneurs. His TEDx talk is available on YouTube, and he tours the world giving keynotes to entrepreneurs, hoteliers, and angel-VC investors on best practices.  His TV show, “The Berkus Report,” is carried over TWC and other affiliated cable channels.  He was named “Tech Leader of the Year” by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and “Director of the Year” by the Forum for Corporate Directors.