Wired to the max

Sunday, July 13, 2003

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Don't rush to the front desk when you arrive at Hotel Valencia. Just step out of your car and let the doorman swipe your credit card through an electronic reader. Using a handheld computer dangling from his belt, he will confirm your reservation and make a magnetic room key for you on the spot.

As you enter your room, the Internet Protocol phone will show you the latest stock quotes and your colleagues' flight delays. In the lobby and conference spaces, wireless Internet access, or Wi-Fi, allows you to send e-mail or surf the Web from your laptop. Later on, the IP phone's dining directory will help you find a great restaurant.

Developers say Hotel Valencia is one of the most technologically advanced hotels in the world. But many luxury chains have updated older properties with Wi-Fi and IP phones, and they're building new units with advanced wiring to provide guests -- particularly business travelers -- all the amenities of a wired office.

"You match a hotel with the need of your traveler, and technology is a very important need of a traveler coming to Silicon Valley," said Matthew Nuss, vice president of Valencia Group. "We married the level of technology with the savviness of our traveler."

Dallas-based Wyndham International offers Wi-Fi access in many properties. Toronto-based Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts completed an ambitious project in July 2002 that added Wi-Fi access in public spaces and T1 line access to most individual hotel rooms throughout its 58 properties in 27 countries.

Although some hotel executives market technology as a convenient perk, many see it as a requirement for doing business in the digital age. Particularly in the technology industry, conference organizers often demand Wi-Fi-enabled venues for shareholder meetings, trade shows or employee retreats.

The 240-room Hotel Valencia opened recently in San Jose's European-style commercial-residential neighborhood, Santana Row. Houston-based Valencia Group also runs Hotel Valencia Riverwalk in San Antonio.

With the help of Silicon Valley tech giants Cisco Systems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., Hotel Valencia guests have access to wired Internet connections up to 100 megabytes per second in their rooms and Wi-Fi access anywhere within the 42-acre Santana Row neighborhood.

All rooms have IP phones and high-speed Internet connections, which are free of charge except for long distance telephone calls. Guests can enjoy video-on-demand movies and broadband entertainment programs provided by Los Angeles-based NXTV Inc. for an additional $12.95 per day.

A typical room costs $169 on weekdays during a grand opening campaign, which will last until about Labor Day. About 75 percent of hotel guests are business people, Nuss said.

HP has helped a dozen hotels provide high-speed Internet access, but HP spokeswoman Tracy DeDore says Hotel Valencia, which spent nearly $500,000 on technology infrastructure and equipment, is unique.

"This breadth of technology does not exist in any other hotels in the country," DeDore said.

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