Senior Vice-President, Marketing and Sales, Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts
The technological revolution is happening - the impact of the internet is already staggering, yet its potential is still being developed and extended. Technology is advancing, but make no mistake, it is developing not for technology's sake but for people's.
The Internet now shows a wide variety of user travel information which was traditionally only available in very limited circulation resources, ie, from a variety of directories or airline computer systems not generally available to the public.
The traditional methods of phone, fax or even letter are time consuming for the searcher, but even worse, offer no guarantee of success. Consumers are increasingly demanding information when they want it, and the Internet fulfils this request as it gives a personal service for the user.
Any early fears we may have had of computers taking over our lives have been overwhelmingly replaced by the wonder of how we would ever get by without them. In the 1990s, business people have become more self sufficient - it's commonplace to carry laptops and mobile phones to process work away from the office.
The Internet in business
The Internet will impact on all our lives in one way or another, and the possibilities are endless.
With the Internet and digital technology having an impact on hotels, Inter-Continental hotels and resorts plan to remain in the fast lane of the so-called information superhighway. We are already providing booking facilities, special Internet-only room rates and access to the Internet in guest rooms.
The Internet currently has 30 to 40 million users and it is predicted that by the year 2000 there will be over 700 million users - nothing to do with the Internet is slow moving!
Predictions from analysts suggest that within the next decade, 20 per cent of all household expenditure will be channelled through the Internet. More surprisingly perhaps, US$3.3 billion travel services will be sold via the Internet in just two years.
Such technological advancements and changes in buying behaviour will clearly have a major impact on the way Inter-Continental provides information about its hotels and resorts, how it sells its rooms and how they can be booked.
Developing on-line bookings was a natural and important step for us to take, and we introduced this on-line booking service in September 1996.
We have introduced on-line reservations via both our own site (http://www.interconti.com) as well as our separate site on Travel Web (the travel site where reservations can be made for hundreds of airlines and thousands of hotels).
Whilst this commitment illustrates that Inter-Continental sees the Internet as significant technology for the 21st century, it does not mean we will see our travel agents as any less important. On the contrary, we believe our site will provide a full information resource for travel agents, linking as it does with all our airline partners, city information, currency exchange and weather forecasts.
For those guests who prefer booking through a travel agent, there will always be that facility, but for those who want to electronically check availability and make a booking for themselves, there is now a service that offers this possibility too. The consumers, our guests, who use the Internet now have even more freedom of choice. This supports Inter-Continental's strategy of 'empowering' the customer.
Hits on the Inter-Continental Internet site (http://www.interconti.com) are now up to 500,000 per month, an increase of 50 per cent since January 1997. On-line reservations started slowly, but are also increasing month on month, and Inter-Continental predicts that revenues generated via Internet bookings will exceed $1 million in 1997.
The Internet's interactive nature demands that information is constantly updated and improved. Unlike a wodge of printed promotional materials, this is a living organism.
To meet the demands of Internet users, we launched Click-it! Weekends earlier this year with our partners, TravelWeb, which provide special value weekend offers to the informed Internet shopper who is seeking a last minute break.
Every Tuesday morning a group of Inter-Continental hotels and resorts are listed with discounted rates of up to 50 per cent for the coming weekend. The hotels change weekly and offer the lowest rates published anywhere. Rates are only applicable for the forthcoming weekend nights of Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
As our guests rely more on the Internet, they also increasingly expect us to provide them with the facilities they need while travelling. Another exciting development in the digital world of Inter-Continental is GlobalNet TV, our branded facility for guest room Internet access.
GlobalNet TV enables guests to access the Internet using the television in their hotel room, and in some locations, to be able to send and receive e-mails. By using an infrared keyboard or TV remote control, guests can 'surf the Net'. It is our aim to have GlobalNet TV in every guest room by the end of 1998.
We have been conducting trials in a number of our hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Results have been very encouraging, providing business and leisure travellers with the added dimensions of interactive information and entertainment facilities in the comfort of their hotel rooms.
Not only are we investing in the ways guests can access the Internet to book one of our rooms or use it from the hotel room, but we are also investing in creating quality information both for our Web site and as a resource for sales staff and for our key customers and travel partners.
We are now able to offer comprehensive interactive information via a CD-ROM to our key customers and travel partners as well as to every sales person at every Inter-Continental hotel, resort and sales office. It is widely recognised that the availability of comprehensive, accurate and current product information plays a crucial role in contributing to the knowledge and productivity of a sales force.
Electronic media is now revolutionising our ability to provide this information. GlobalView is our latest digital innovation - our own internal information database. GlobalView provides information to our key customers and travel partners for application on their own internal intranets. This type of information, along with interactive bookings, is proving to be very popular with many of our key corporate accounts.
Its first application is as an interactive global directory of all our hotels worldwide, which is a world first in the hotel industry. We are capable of showing over 10,000 pages of hotel and company information on one CD-ROM using Internet browser technology. Key locations such as our resort in Bali also offer a virtual reality tour of the hotel and its spectacular beach front surroundings.
As in all its operations, Inter-Continental is pioneering the use of digital and Web technology in the hotel trade. Inter-Continental will continue to provide contemporary business and leisure guest services to meet and exceed the needs of its guests - just what you would expect from the world's most experienced hotel group.