- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Armed with a laptop, a cell phone and accessories, the tech traveler of today dominates the world of hotelsand airports. One example is the strip between San Jose and San Francisco, where across the pond from Larry Ellison's towers, Oracle Corp. personnel gather round the clock to enjoy the French cuisine, the gym, the pool, the bar and the meeting rooms of the Sofitel Hotel in Redwood City, Calif.
"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, 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. "Some of the larger companies do host international visitors.
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 in the Persian Gulf, and the renowned original Fairmont on Nob Hill in San Francisco.
"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 started one of the most ambitious campaigns I've seen to integrate high tech with the "high touch" world of upmarket lodgings. The firm has begun the "Fairmont Virtual Assistant" program, providing a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week, technical support hot line manned by the company's information technology department. Fairmont has extended its electronic business and branding initiatives to encompass nearly every aspect of the guests' networking experience, including technical support.
With toll-free access from the United States and Canada, Mexico and Bermuda, guests are connected to a help desk staffed internally by Fairmont analysts. Fairmont focuses on hiring analysts who understand the information technology industry, so they can 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 Inc. that connects Fairmont's 38 properties and allows it to offer high-speed Internet access and wireless service across its portfolio of facilities. This is currently offered in all of the chain's hotel meeting rooms, lobbies and open-space areas, while most guest rooms will have wired or wireless high-speed Internet access by the end of the 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 [virtual private network] 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 Fairmont.
Mr. Brown said the service is available to most guests for $9.95 for a 24-hour period. Those customers who are "golden platinum" members of Fairmont's frequent-guest program receive the access for free.

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