By Eric Auchard
NEW YORK, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Cendant Corp. CD.N, the world's leading hotel franchisor, and high-speed Internet service provider CAIS Internet Inc. CAIS.O, on Monday said they unveiled a pact to pipe high-speed Web services into 700,000 rooms in hotels and resorts run by Cendant affiliates.
The partners said in a statement that the five-year deal will cover high-speed access systems at Ramada, Howard Johnson, and Days Inns hotels and the resort properties of Resort Condominiums International LLC, a timeshare exchange company.
Separately, Cendant announced a deal with Netopia Inc. NTPA.O, a supplier of high-speed Internet services to small- and medium-sized businesses, to supply franchisees of four Cendant chains, or 4,500 hotels, with promotional Web sites.
The CAIS project, which is scheduled to get underway in some hotels in January, will target more than 6,000 North American properties, in what the backers called the biggest high-speed Internet access project ever undertaken in the hotel industry.
Cendant and CAIS will be joined in the hotel Internet access project by VirtuaLINC Corp., a Dallas-based supplier of high-speed, Web-based videoconferencing services for hotels, convention centers and other hospitality-related ventures.
In a telephone interview, Eric Pfeffer, president and chief executive of the hotel unit of New York-based Cendant detailed the project after announcing the plans at a Cendant franchise conference in Las Vegas Monday afternoon.
"This landmark agreement in the hotel industry raises the bar for meeting the expectations of business travelers," Pfeffer said. "High-speed Internet access, a popularly-requested amenity by our hotel guests, may come to be as common, even more common, in mid-market and economy properties as it is in more expensive hotels," he said.
Hotel guests using the high-speed Internet access system in their rooms initially can expect to pay $9.95 for 24 hours of access, he said.
The deal is structured so that no costs would be borne by the hotel franchisees themselves. "This is all investment by CAIS and VirtuaLINC," Pfeffer said, noting that these companies win access to a vast captive audience through the agreement.
Other Cendant franchises to be covered by the project include Super 8, Travelodge, Knights Inn, Villager Lodge hotel franchise systems, the companies said.
The Cendant properties are visited by more than 65 million travelers annually. In addition, the broadband links will be made available via public-area Internet kiosks to be placed in selected hotels.
CAIS and VirtuaLINC plan to jointly build Internet kiosks and high-speed Internet meeting room systems as part of the broader Internet access system.
Guest room links and specialized Web site content will be supplied by CAIS. Meeting room services will include interactive video communications from VirtuaLINC.
VirtuaLINC is backed by Israel's Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. GILTF.O, MCI WorldCom Inc. WCOM.O, the No. 2 U.S. telecommunications company, among others.
Pfeffer said that within two years, he expected Cendant hotels representing more than 542,000 rooms across North America to offer the high-speed service as a standard feature.
Cendant's more than 3,500 resorts, or roughly 200,000 rooms, affiliated with Cendant's Resort Condominiums Inc. (RCI) unit will take up to five years to be fully wired for such services, with an initial focus on North American resorts, Pfeffer said.
The installation of the high-speed Internet access systems relies on the properties' existing telephone wiring. Hotels stand to benefit by sharing user fees and revenue generated from electronic commerce tied to guest use of the system, Pfeffer.
Once wired for high-speed access, rooms will be available to guests traveling with laptop computers.
Already, all 70 hotels in Cendant's Wingate Inn chain, which targets business travelers seeking mid-priced accommodations, have announced plans to offer high-speed Internet access systems.
"No other hotel company has put together a deal that encompasses this many guest rooms," Pfeffer said, although he acknowledged that several hotel chains were moving rapidly in this direction.
Netopia's separate deal with Cendant calls for it to offer a standardized template to franchises in Cendant's Travelodge, Ramada Inn, Days Inn and Howard Johnson chains to create individual Web sites for each hotel property.
Financial terms of this second, 3-year pact were not disclosed. These Web sites will allow individual hotels to take room reservations direct from customers via the Web, and also offer local tourist attractions space for advertising.
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