Yahoo, Sheraton get into the lounge scene

Yahoo and Sheraton have set up Internet lounges and localized Web portals for hotel guests in a trial rollout.

Yahoo is getting into the Wi-Fi hotspot business along with Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, but the partners aren't stopping there.

In a trial announced Monday, the companies are setting up their own virtual and physical spaces -- localized Web portals as well as lounges -- in a few U.S. Sheraton hotels.

Free or fee-based Wi-Fi is nothing new in major hotels, including Sheraton facilities, but Yahoo and Sheraton are looking to enrich the experience with a "virtual concierge" Web portal for guests and in some cases a special lounge in the lobby. The product, called Yahoo Link @ Sheraton, officially began in a trial Monday with lounges and Web portals at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina and Sheraton Boston. Also Monday, the companies launched portals for the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers and the Sheraton Stamford in Connecticut.

At the core of the offering is a co-branded, localized Web portal for each hotel, accessible in the lounge areas and in guest rooms. When guests check in, they will be given pass codes to get on the Wi-Fi network and enter the portal, as well as to take advantage of other services in the Yahoo Link lounge, said Murray Gaylord, vice president of brand marketing at Yahoo. The portal will give guests local information such as weather, nearby attractions and restaurants, and driving directions. Guests and hotel employees will be able to expand on those listings with their own reviews and recommendations.

Hotel guests will also get a free 30-day trial of a bundle of Yahoo premium services, including Yahoo Music, Mail Plus, Briefcase, All Star Games and Finance Tracker.

The Yahoo Link @ Sheraton lounge areas will have a handful of Ethernet-connected desktop PCs as well as seating areas where guests can use their own devices. Every day, around the clock, guests will be able to use the workstations and Wi-Fi and send documents to a printer in the lounge for free printing, Gaylord said. The area will feature comfortable seating, a plasma TV and refreshments for sale, he said.

Yahoo's customers told the company they wanted more than just a network connection or an online Yahoo presence when traveling, Gaylord said.

"People don't want to just stay in their rooms on the computer. ... They want some kind of social interaction," he said.

Sheraton, a division of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, with about 400 hotels worldwide, is responsible for the network infrastructure while Yahoo takes care of the Web portal side, Gaylord said. The companies will look at response to the trial in about six months to gauge whether to expand the offering either in the U.S. or overseas, he said.

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