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Room Service

Even before the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center opened in Kissimmee in 2002, its creators were planning a technological tool they said would revolutionize the hotel experience for meetings and conventions. More than three years and $2 million later, the resort has unveiled an innovative computer system that's getting national attention.

Each of Gaylord's 1,406 rooms is equipped with a 15-inch flat-screen monitor and a full-size keyboard and mouse. There's no computer tower because the system runs on "thin technology" that operates everything out of the hotel's central server.

When booking conferences, meeting planners can purchase packages that let them e-mail individual attendees with on-site surveys, itinerary changes and a customized greeting letter. They can sell advertising space to their sponsors, who are guaranteed a captive audience on the electronic communications.

IN TOUCH: Gaylord's service allows for more interaction between convention attendees and planners.Convention attendees can e-mail each other, give feedback on sessions they've just attended, create their own schedules, attend "virtual trade shows," book appointments with vendors and view room-specific maps that help them get around on the property. They can also use the in-room computers for services available to all of Gaylord's guests, such as ordering an extra blanket or a razor, specifying when the valet should have their car ready, researching area theme parks and restaurants or surfing the internet.

They also can use the system to check their web-based personal or work e-mail. And as long as they don't need to download attachments -- which the Gaylord doesn't allow, as a virus protection measure -- they can leave their laptops at home, although each room is still equipped with separate high-speed internet access for people who need it.

How the concept came about is "one of those bar napkin stories" that originated when several Gaylord execs were brainstorming after hours at a technology convention in New York, says Chief Information Officer Richard Zarth. The hotel company looked for a contractor to design and implement the system but eventually decided to handle the work in-house.

"IT in hotels is not usually a large presence," Zarth says. "Hotels can be very far behind. We're not usually known as the bleeding edge of technology."

But today the Kissimmee hotel has 16 information technology employees who operate the system and manage IT for the Gaylord's 400,000-sq.-ft. convention center. IT content manager Dan Crawford is working on adding features.

It remains to be seen whether meeting planners will pay more for the technology, which costs from $300 for an a la carte service to $10,000-plus for a larger package, and will book their events at the Gaylord because of it. Zarth believes they will and estimates it will take about four years for the hotel to see a return on its investment.