Federal investment spurs HCN tablet business

OTTAWA — The Hotel Communication Network (HCN) is making significant inroads into the U.S. hotel market with its in-room tablet guest information system, spurred by the federal government’s investment in the company.

Comprised of an interest-free loan of $525,000 from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, coupled with $3 million raised by HCN through investors, the funds began flowing in December 2014 and continued until March 2016. That investment allowed the Ottawa-based company to hire software developers to build out a complete tablet-based content set for San Francisco, including such components as restaurants and attractions, said HCN chief operating officer Barry Brisco. Over an eight-month period, the HCN team developed an Android software component “plus complicated monitoring,” he said.

All of that resulted in the installation, between late 2014 and mid-2015, of HCN in-room guest-communication tablets in seven San Francisco hotels, including the Fairmont, Palmer House, Nikko and Marriott Marquis.

At each hotel, at the point of installation, servers are modified and systems customized. Typically, HCN finances, owns, controls and maintains the tablets and software, and hotels pay for the service. HCN tablets provide in-room communication such as guest service requests; dynamic guest messaging; safety and security; information on local attractions; simultaneous broadcasting/publishing to event groups; and guest satisfaction forms completed before check-out.

As some large, full-service hotels phase out room service, which can be a money-loser for properties, HCN is contracting with local restaurants to deliver food to guests’ rooms. HCN’s in-room technology is also offering live concierge chat.

This year’s plans call for the installation, in Q2 and Q3, of HCN tablets in 6,000 guestrooms in Chicago and San Francisco, with another 6,000 guestrooms in those cities “in the pipeline” and expected to be installed by Q4, said Brisco. The focus is on big convention hotels.

The five-year plan has HCN targeting tablet installation in 250,000 rooms in 18 regions, including Toronto and Vancouver and U.S. markets such as Orlando, Fla., Washington D.C., New Orleans, San Diego, Ca., New York City, Las Vegas, Dallas and Phoenix. The focus will continue to be on big convention hotels, said Brisco, “but we could go to smaller hotels, too.” Beginning in 2018, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia will be on HCN’s radar.