Holiday Inn's eHost puts concierge at guests' fingertips

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Getting information on local attractions, restaurants and activities soon will be just a few mouse clicks away at Holiday Inn hotels worldwide.

The chain has approved installation of an online "virtual concierge" service called eHost that provides wide-ranging services to help guests get the most out of their stay.

"With the growth of the tech-savvy, socialized, Generation X customer base, our guests continue to expect the same superior service from Holiday Inn, but the way they want to interact with us is evolving," said Mark Snyder, Holiday Inn's senior vice president of brand management in the Americas.

Snyder said the eHost system already is available at several Holiday Inn properties and would be installed at all Holiday Inns in North America by the end of the year.

Guests staying at a Holiday Inn can log onto eHost via their personal computers and the hotel's free high-speed Internet access.

The system is live 24 hours a day and is designed to provide much of the information offered by a live concierge, such as local movie schedules, weather forecasts information on dining options and airline information.

Additionally, guests can send ePostcards to friends and family from the site as well as e-mail the hotel's general manager or members of the staff.

According to Snyder, "eHost affords our guests more convenience, choice and control than ever before, allowing them to access the hotel's local community they are visiting in a way that is unique to them and customizes results for their individual needs."

The system is designed to complement the services of live concierge representatives.

At least 200 Holiday Inn hotels have concierges on staff.

Future upgrades to the system include providing information in several languages and a room-service option. In fact, Holiday Inn said, some properties  already are using such enhanced features, since the system can be customized for each hotel.

Ameranth Wireless developed the system for Holiday Inn.

"We believe eHost positions Holiday Inn on the cutting edge of technology," said Keith McNally, Ameranth Wireless' CEO. "We will continue to evolve it as a platform that keeps pace with the ever-changing technologies that guests seek."

Shangri-La to manage Abu Dhabi hotel

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts has signed an agreement to manage a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The 214-room Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri is slated to open in February. In addition to guest rooms, the property will have serviced apartments and deluxe villas. Dining, entertainment, retail and recreation facilities will be offered.

A waterway that winds around the property will transport guests to their destination on abras, or Arab gondolas.

Pan Pacific makes rate guarantee

Pan Pacific Hotels & Resorts is offering a best-rate guarantee on bookings made at its Web site.

If online bookers find a lower rate for a Pan Pacific hotel at a retail Web site, Pan Pacific will honor that rate and offer the guest a 10% discount.

The policy mimics online rate guarantees introduced over the past few years by several hotel chains.

Additionally, Pan Pacific launched a reservations program called eDirect by Pan Pacific, to help expedite bookings for corporate clients. Corporate clients can install software that enables them to link directly to a reservations site with their contracted rates.

"Our research shows that clients are looking for a faster, easier and more efficient online booking process," said Kevin Croley, Pan Pacific's vice president of sales and marketing.

Dubai firm buys W in N.Y.

Istithmar, an investment firm owned by the government of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has paid $285 million for the 270-room W Hotel Union Square in New York, one of five W hotels in the city.

SideStep adds brands

SideStep, a consumer search engine, recently added more than 25,000 hotels when it signed partnerships with several firms, including Golden Tulip, NH Hotels, Preferred Hotel Group, Classic International Hotels, Jurys Doyle, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, Sierra Suites and Station Casinos.

Also, five hotel consolidators have partnered with SideStep: Flairview Travel, Hotel Book, Hotel.de, Reserve Travel/Alliance and Skoosh. SideStep also signed deals with Apple Vacations and Mark Travel/Funjet.

SideStep said the new partnerships would particularly enhance its offerings for Las Vegas and Europe.

Studio 6 gets Wi-Fi

Accor North America is installing wireless Internet at all Studio 6 hotels in the U.S. Accor said that installation of Teledex's high-speed ExpressNet AirLink service would be completed in November.

The AirLink system will bring a combination of wired and wireless Internet access to Studio 6 hotels. Approximately 20% of rooms at any one property will have wired and wireless connections. All other rooms will have wireless-only access. Wired rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis for those who have an immediate need, such as government or corporate guests, said Accor.

Innkeepers USA buys SoCal hotels

RLJ Urban Lodging Fund, an affiliate of RLJ Development, struck a $215 million deal to sell four Southern California hotels to Innkeepers USA Trust.

The four include the 192-room Residence Inn San Diego Mission Valley, the 200-room Residence Inn Anaheim/Garden Grove, the 230-room Hilton Suites Anaheim/Orange and the 309-room Hilton Ontario Airport.

The RLJ Urban Lodging Fund was established in October 2004 with equity commitments of $315 million and has since closed on 23 assets with a total acquisition value of more than $700 million. The privately held firm is owned by Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television.

Michael Milligan is Travel Weekly's hotel editor. E-mail him at [email protected].

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