Link@Sheraton Uses Windows 7 to Enrich Guest Experience

REDMOND, Wash. — June 23, 2009 — Sheraton Hotels & Resorts will soon roll out PCs using Windows 7 that will give guests in the hotels’ Link@Sheraton, a new way to stay connected and find information about local attractions, restaurants and more.

Sheraton Hotels & Resorts “Link@Sheraton” lobbies give hotel guests an updated, easy-to-use, more sociable version of the traditional hotel business center. Windows 7 gives the PCs a user-friendly experience.

Sheraton Hotels’ use of Windows 7 will put it in consumers’ hands weeks before the official public release of the new operating system, scheduled for Oct. 22.

Sheraton announced the news this week at the hospitality industry’s HITEC conference in Anaheim, Calif. The conference gives leaders in the industry an opportunity to learn how the latest technologies can improve their businesses.

Sheraton launched the “Link@Sheraton experienced with Microsoft” last year after research confirmed that a majority of its guests prefer spending time in social places. Link@Sheraton takes the standard hotel business center — typically located away from common areas — and incorporates it into the lobby.

Hoyt Harper, senior vice president of Brand Management for Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, describes Link@Sheraton sites as being about more than addressing the needs of the business traveler. “We wanted to create a destination where all of our guests could come to socialize, be entertained, people watch, or be alone but not lonely,” Harper says. “We found our inspiration in parks because they’re a symbol of community where people gather to play games, to eat and drink, or just to unwind. With that in mind, we designed the Link@Sheraton to be much more than a business center. It’s a social enabler.”

Combining Technology With the Guest Experience

Responding to the needs of its customers wasn’t going to be as simple as finding a corner of the lobby that could accommodate a few PCs and related peripherals. Harper wanted any changes in the look and feel of Sheraton’s properties to be consistent with the hotel chain’s “brand voice.” In some cases this has required complete renovation of the hotel lobby.

To help out, Harper called Sandra Andrews, U.S. hospitality industry solutions director for Microsoft, whose team offers a combination of technical skills and industry expertise to help hotels and restaurants operate more efficiently and provide better service to their guests. Together they created the guidelines for what the guest experience would be, both physically and digitally, at Sheraton hotels in 71 countries around the globe.

Andrews says part of that experience is to help people connect or be around others, without giving up their personal spaces. That ability to have memorable interactions while still taking care of business increases the likelihood of a return visit.

“If you exceed a guest’s expectations, then you’ve created a memory, and if you create a positive memory, then you build brand loyalty. That’s the name of the game in hospitality,” Andrews says.

Providing new technology and innovative applications is part of the solution. In addition to offering television and the latest magazines and newspapers, each Link@Sheraton site features communal tables, complimentary wireless service, wired ports for personal laptops and at least four personal computers with 17-inch screens, integrated Web cams and Microsoft Office 2007 software.

Microsoft and Sheraton have also created a variety of applications for Link, one of which uses a Microsoft LifeCam Web camera to send a video postcard through Windows Live Services.

“Sheraton guests can say goodnight to their kids, or send a video post card to their parents,” Andrews says. “By providing this for customers, Sheraton helps its guests create a great memory, and Microsoft gets to teach consumers about our technology. So it’s a win-win-win, all the way around.”

Linking Technology to Business Growth

According to Hoyt, the Link@Sheraton experience with Microsoft has had a marked impact on business: Customer satisfaction has increased by 10 percent, and customers have noted Link@Sheraton as a key contributor to why they would return. In addition, food and beverage revenue has increased by 6 percent because guests spend more time in the lobby.

The Link@Sheraton in the Chicago Elk Grove Sheraton Suites highlights the new guest centers’ comfortable and functional layout.

Of the 205 Sheraton hotels in North America, roughly 80 percent now have a Link@Sheraton, with that number expected to reach 90 percent by the end of 2009.

And Harper says the success thus far has paved the way for Link with hotel owners who are usually reluctant to give up precious square footage in their lobby.

“There’s usually some skepticism when dealing with something new and different like the Link, but early adopters have talked about its success, how it’s revitalized the lobby area with new business opportunities such as the Link Café, and how it’s helped resort properties sell optional tours and move other information from the front desk into a managed portal experience accessible in the Link,” Harper says.

Not only have properties with Link increased in size, but they’ve also replaced dedicated kiosks and terminals that took up space in the lobby. In some cases, Sheraton has experimented with Microsoft Surface technology as a new means of allowing guests to access and interact with information.

Keeping the Technology Fresh

For Mark McBeth, vice president of IT for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the parent company of Sheraton, it’s important that the Sheraton guest experience incorporates technology consistent with their lifestyles. “We want make sure our customers are using technology that’s up-to-date and current,” McBeth says.

This summer’s rollout of Windows 7 stays true to that philosophy. In developing Windows 7, Microsoft wanted to make it easier for consumers to complete everyday tasks and activities. Sheraton’s branded portal experience will give guests the chance to see Microsoft’s work firsthand, along with the Web surfing experience available through Internet Explorer 8.

Twelve IT managers from McBeth’s team are also assessing Windows 7 for use in day-to-day business operations at the 480 Starwood properties they support. So far, the feedback on the performance and stability of Windows 7 has been quite positive, to the point that they’ve also installed it on a few production machines. McBeth anticipates that Starwood will start a full refresh of the IT environment when Windows 7 is generally available next fall.

As for Harper, his vision for Link will continue to expand and evolve, with Microsoft expertise and technology playing a big part in the experience Sheraton offers its customers: “Our investment in Link is long-term. We want to keep the guest experience fresh and bring the newest technology to bear so customers can stay connected.”

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