As a kid, I remember playing with a video phone at the local phone store – and thinking how cool it would be if we all had access to video phones in the future. Well, the future came, and along with a total lack of jet packs, video phones never really took off.
Apple has managed to change that with their FaceTime application, and while it is by no means the first video calling application, it is the first to become mainstream. Thanks to its easy to use interface, lack of need for configuring settings, and massive install base, FaceTime is a huge hit.
And with that huge hit, comes new ways to use the service. One of the first customer support applications in the travel industry comes from Starwood Preferred Guest, the loyalty program for Starwood hotels.
On Twitter this morning, an SPG rep announced that they will be offering live chat sessions with their customers using FaceTime. The actual practical applications are relatively limited, but some customers may prefer to talk to a rep face to face instead of using email or phone. What do you think? Would you use a FaceTime chat session instead of picking up the phone, or do you think this is more of a gimmick designed to make them look cool?
What do you do when lenders take over two of your hotels, as your coping with the worst recession in seven decades? Well, if you’re Starwood Hotels, you make a $350 million bet with a single property from your W line. The hotel opened on January 15, 2010, and it’s banking on the reputation of Los Angeles as the center of the entertainment world. Located on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, the new W Hotel hopes to attract star-struck tourists who want to get up close and personal with the movie industry.
The only problem is that fewer and fewer people are heading out to Los Angeles, which is putting a bit of a squeeze on the new property. There’s an opportunity hidden in the situation, however. Carlos Becil, W’s North American vice president, says, “When we come out of this down cycle we’ll own the upswing with all these newer hotels,” Becil said to Bloomberg News.
The financial crisis has been particularly hard on the W chain. The W San Diego was taken back by its lenders after Sunstone Hotel Investors, which had owned the property, couldn’t get the terms of its $65 million securitized mortgage changed. The W New York Union Square was bought by Dubai World in 2006. Well, it missed a payment, which wound up pushing the property onto the auction block back in December. Dubai World also has an interest in the W Washington, D.C., a loan on which is 30 days delinquent. The debt servicer and borrower are working on a solution.