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Guests Check-in to a TelePresence Suite

The American hospitality industry has suffered from the global economic meltdown. While room rates sank nearly 9 percent for the U.S. hotel industry overall, luxury hotels saw their rates decline more than 16 percent, according to a market study by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Was the "frugal consumer" phenomenon to blame? Actually, they're not the main culprit. Business people that chose to travel to meet their customers and suppliers are still not likely budgeted to stay at the pricier hotel properties.

What's a savvy upscale hotelier to do, given this scenario? Follow a customer demand trend that has gained momentum -- where spending has risen, based on a solid ROI justification.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts unveiled its first in-hotel Cisco TelePresence meeting suites with a virtual, interactive meeting spanning across two continents. The W Chicago City Center and Sheraton on the Park Sydney are the first in Starwood's global portfolio to introduce the new meeting facilities.

Borderless Face-to-Face Collaboration in Action
Guests and corporate clients were brought together in a true-to-life meeting setting, despite more than 9,000 miles apart and the 17 hour time difference. Participants in both locations had a seat at the table and were able to meet "face-to-face" -- utilizing ultra-high definition video, superior audio and life-size imagery of all participants.

In June of 2009, Starwood announced a partnership with Tata Communications and plans to build Cisco TelePresence rooms in 10 properties worldwide. In addition to the Chicago and Sydney hotels, two more TelePresence meeting suites will open in the first half of this year -- including the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers and Sheraton Centre Toronto.

Other planned locations include The Westin Los Angeles Airport, with the anticipation to expand the offering to key domestic and international business markets such as Dallas, San Francisco, Brussels, Paris, Hong Kong and Frankfurt. As an industry first, reservations for these TelePresence rooms can be made instantly using the Tata Communications online portal.

"The launch of the new Cisco TelePresence meeting suites at the W Chicago and Sheraton on the Park Sydney is another example of Starwood's commitment to innovation by offering our clients an exciting, new meetings solution that facilitates a 'face-to-face' meeting in the same room regardless of global location," said Christie Hicks, Senior Vice President of Global Sales for Starwood. "We have a great partner in Tata Communications and look forward to continuing opening new meeting facilities throughout our portfolio of hotels around the world."

Latest Video Meeting Technology, On-Demand
Cisco TelePresence provides life-like, high definition, conferencing facilities with superior audio, video and environmental qualities allowing participants to meet their colleagues, customers and business partners across a virtual table. The public facility enables those who don't have a corporate TelePresence room to utilize this new benefit at an affordable per-hour rental rate.

Tata Communications has several operational public rooms in India (Mumbai, Bangalore (x2), Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi and Gurgaon), UK (London) and USA (Boston), Manila with PLDT in the Philippines and Johannesburg with Neotel in South Africa.