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Technology Jackpot

Technology Jackpot
  • The Sahara Hotel and Casino is legendary for a reason. That bawdy stalwart at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip had as epic a run as any resort with the good fortune to see the reign of the Rat Pack. But if there’s one thing that Sammy, Frank, and Dean cherished more than a tender ballad, it was a solid second act. Gutted to the studs, the newly christened SLS Hotel & Casino Las Vegas has risen from the rubble of the Sahara in the summer of 2014. The opportunity to rebuild on a hallowed site from the ground up may well be every hotelier’s dream property. What comes next is a state-of-the-art reincarnation—from a future-proof tech infrastructure to interconnected media.

The Sahara Hotel and Casino is legendary for a reason.
THE BUILDOUT
Although a fresh property build-out presents its own set of unique challenges, equally opportune is partnering with a seasoned manufacturer like Samsung for the latest hardware (Smart TVs, tablets, digital signage). SLS Las Vegas’ team for seamless integration and full connectivity included go-to groups Allin Interactive Corporation and Cox Business/Hospitality Network. SBE, the global hospitality and real estate company that develops, manages and operates SLS outdid themselves with this all-encompassing resort exceeding over 1600 guest rooms and suites in three unique towers spread out over 80,000 square feet. Which means more than 2000 Samsung Smart TVs including immersive flat and curved TVs (55-inch Samsung NC690 and NC890, NC890V Series Smart Hospitality TV) in the presidential suites, all standard guest rooms, and various other models throughout the sprawling property including bars, restaurants, and pool cabanas.

THE PARTNERS
The hospitality industry continues to prioritize wireless connectivity with user-friendly control. Allin, hospitality industry veterans since 1994, focused on the design, development and deployment of advanced software platforms serving TV entertainment. Hospitality Network, an affiliate company of Cox Business, is established in the hotel industry for providing advanced in-room VOD and high-speed Internet service. Wireless is supported by Aruba in-house deployment.

Fred Crespo, Samsung’s director of technology and business development / EBD Hospitality Team, is responsible for canvasing the industry for partners to leverage their technology. Crespo illustrated how SLS Las Vegas benefits from partner pairing: “What we do [at Samsung] is bring our Smart TV platforms and tie it together with partner content from Allin and from Cox,” he said. “We allow for the integration to happen that would give the hotel the benefit of complete convergence, complete consistency from a content standpoint, and a mechanism by which their guests can interact with the TV in a way that quite frankly hasn’t been done before.”

THE MOVEMENT
When Samsung combines their hardware-software stack with partners skilled in services and professional integration, Crespo described a unique synergy. “I think this particular project culminates in a movement in hospitality towards IP as a distribution mechanism. And a movement towards TV as a smart platform. I think what you’re going to start seeing a lot more of are applications where hotel users are starting to awaken to the promise of what integration really looks like and how important of a role TV can play in that experience.”

SAMSUNG’S H-BROWSER PLATFORM SOLUTION
Samsung’s H-Browser platform, an IP-based solution, was key to hiding unsightly digital seams. The H-Browser was developed to aid the hospitality industry in creating customized user interfaces that utilize the HTML5 standard with Flash support. Dynamic content management capabilities are powered via an interactive program guide allowing for premium content, both free and VOD.

Crespo stated that if you can bring a value proposition to a hotelier that eliminates hardware, eliminates complexity, eliminates energy consumption, and converges on a product [already] inside of a room, you are adding value.
CLEAN, SEAMLESS
Eliminating visual clutter was important for the new facility. Early in the process it was decided that there would be no legacy cabling—no coaxial.

As Crespo explained, “Whatever solutions we brought in needed to be able to ride in over the same IP network, so you have a single IP network being managed by a single fabric of network switches able to control the digital display, the large format display of the video walls as well as the in-room TVs. That was an important criteria that added that convergence and that singularity of management that they were looking for.

Crespo stated that if you can bring a value proposition to a hotelier that eliminates hardware, eliminates complexity, eliminates energy consumption, and converges on a product [already] inside of a room, you are adding value. That value is part of his mandate. “Our mandate is to build products that are meaningful, but also to push the envelope of innovation. And what we’re able to present to the market isn’t vaporware. It’s product and solutions that are complete from inception to consumption.”

CONNECTIVITY + CONVENIENCE
Crespo refers to this wireless streaming feature as “as an enhancement tool, a mechanism by which they can please and delight their guests.”

Guests—indeed, the US public in general—interact with media screens an increasingly immersive manner. “It becomes an immediate dis-satisfier when that experience is taken away from them when they check into a hotel,” he quipped.

UTILIZING TABLETS
Crespo breaks down these technological workflow possibilities: “We wound up utilizing our smaller form-factor tablets, and distributed those throughout. Not only do you have them deployed at the front desk for the guest service agents, but also back of house.”

Housekeeping and their supervisors are using Samsung mobile devices to bring more efficiencies to housekeeping management. In a dynamic way, “they’re able to direct their cleaning teams,” Crespo added, “to specific rooms, based on demands of the front desk.”

Shareholders and facility owners needed to know that any technology investment would increase operational efficiency on the property. “That was a very important deliverable to the SLS brand: to make sure that whatever technology we brought in also had a positive impact to the back-end administrative managerial load,” he stated. “If we can bring in solutions to help reduce staffing, or provide better optimization technologies, then they were all ears for that.”

Additionally, using tablets adds to the hotel’s cool factor—an essential element of millennial branding.

SMARTER DIGITAL SIGNAGE

The high-tech innovation that wows guests in each room also impresses visitors in the lobby. Samsung’s 60-foot-long video wall provides a great first impression—a check-in-experience with full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution. Beyond the guest rooms, a massive video wall comprised of 26 Samsung UD Series commercial displays is positioned behind the front desk.

Marc Guarino SLS’ VP, IT and a hotel veteran for over 20 years elaborates on the strategic placement: “We use the Samsung TVs throughout so those units are in all our guest rooms and suites as well as displayed throughout the low-rise. All our digital signage, no matter if we’re publishing, marketing content, showing sporting events throughout the Casino in the Pit, displaying Sunday ticket in the [William Hill] Sports Book or beer garden…those are all through the Samsung unit”.

CONSUMER RESPONSE: GIVE THEM BETTER THAN WHAT THEY HAVE AT HOME
Guarino’s years of industry experience let him confidently forecast future trends. “In a lot of ways, the in-room entertainment system and the television itself is really the media hub for the guestrooms and the interaction with the guest,” he said. “You have a captive audience, so from a marketing standpoint there’s a lot we can do to market or target market those customers inside those guestrooms. You’re moving to mobile apps also.”

“It’s working towards a better experience than you have at home,” he continued. “That’s really what you’re driving towards: providing a better entertainment experience than one would have at home. That’s really where you’re going. You always look for an infrastructure that’s not only going to meet your needs today, but that’s going to expand and support whatever comes in the future.”

Brent Korson is a writer/producer living in New York City with a passion for all things technology, documentary, and plain old good stories.