True Stories: Crowne Plaza Hotel calls on VoIP

12 Jan 2004

The Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport is the first hotel in Europe to deploy voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) technology from Cisco. Owned by Gerry Houlihan and Aidan Crowe, the partners behind the Clontarf Castle Hotel, the Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport offers 204 bedrooms and 12 meeting rooms. In keeping with many top-end hotels it offers a health club and an executive floor with a club lounge.

“When I first started looking at the telephone systems my view was that a phone was simply used for making and receiving voice calls,” recalls John O’Connor, finance director of the Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport. “I looked at various other PABX-based [private automated branch exchange] systems on the market and my mind was pretty much made up. But having looked at the Cisco system, I saw it was head and shoulders above everything else. Basically, it would give our clients that little bit extra; something different.”

According to O’Connor, his experience at Clontarf Castle Hotel is that businesspeople are looking for internet access in their bedrooms. “They want to be continually connected to their office. So our number one priority was to provide internet access to every one of our bedrooms in the new hotel. In addition, we have wireless connectivity in parts of the hotel so no matter where you are you will have access either via dataport or wireless,” he explains.

Each of the 204 bedrooms is equipped with at least one telephone set with a large LCD (liquid crystal display) screen. Attached to each phone is a network cable that plugs into the Ethernet port of a laptop computer. When the guest starts up their browser application they are taken to an introductory page where they can sign up for the service. “There will be different charging options,” explains O’Connor. “We can offer it free to certain corporate clients as part of a package or guests can pay be hour or by day.”

Guests can also rent a wireless access card that fits into a standard PCMCIA slot for use in those areas of the hotel with wireless access.

However, guests do not have to have a laptop to enjoy the benefits of the system. “The phone offers a lot of features,” says O’Connor. “It effectively becomes the guest services directory, although there will also be a printed copy in the room. But the phone can be set up in ways so that it can offer a wide range of services to different guests such as stock market quote, weather reports and so on.”

The phone sets also link into the hotel’s Fidelio back-office system so if a guest is from, say Japan, the phone will automatically display the menu items in Japanese. “It comes pre-programmed with seven languages,” explains O’Connor, “but we can add more if required.”

Other services available from the phone include caller-ID of incoming calls, the ability to call back missed calls and voice mail. There is also an option to send voice messages by email. Using the number keys in much the same way as one would use them to send a text message from a mobile phone to enter an email address. The voice message can then be recorded and is sent to that email address as a .wav file attachment. Furthermore, incoming voices mails can be stored for several days after the guest has checked out and can be retrieved by staff if necessary.

Users can also programme wake-up calls and order room service. But that’s not all. Housekeeping staff can also use the fact that the phone system is linked to the back-office system to improve efficiency. They can specify if a room is occupied or unoccupied, and whether or not it has been cleaned. Reception, therefore, knows instantly if a room is ready to be occupied by a new guest or not.

In addition to the fixed sets, Cisco has provided The Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport with a number of wireless handsets. While they look similar to standard DECT cordless phones, they in fact use the hotel’s wireless network for communication. These handsets are typically kept behind the bar and in the restaurant so if there are incoming calls for a guest they can take them in those locations. Certain key guests, such as conference co-ordinators can also be issued with these handsets so they are never out of reach.

The phones have been a big hit with the staff at least. “People in our administrative offices keep asking if the system can do this or that,” says O’Connor, who is now looking at installing a similar system in the Clontarf Castle Hotel. “It seems that whatever you can think of it can do. You can display a company logo in a guest’s room, you can change ringtones and so on. The beauty of it is, the infrastructure is in place and as Cisco develops its products new features can easily be added to the system.”

By David Stewart

Pictured: Ivan Duggan, sales manager, Cisco Ireland (left) with John O’Connor, finance director of the Crowne Plaza Hotel