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Intel offers technology boost to UNLV-Caesars project to elevate hospitality experience

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A rendering shows a casino floor lab at the Black Fire Innovation hub, currently under construction, at UNLV’s Harry Reid Research & Technology Park.

Wed, Oct 30, 2019 (2 a.m.)

A frequent traveler to Las Vegas for business, Joe Jensen has often wondered if the hotel check-in process could be shortened.

“Most people today will check in for a flight on their phone — the phone app for airlines is pretty good in general,” Jensen said. “Then you go to a hotel and you’re left wondering why you can’t do the same thing, like choose your room, at the hotel.”

Jensen — vice president of Intel’s retail, banking, hospitality and education division — said consumer expectations for transactional experiences are trending up, which is leading to a need for streamlined services.

Sensing an opportunity to add its tech prowess to a unique existing partnership, the Silicon Valley company, known mostly for its computer processors, on Tuesday announced an agreement to work with Caesars Entertainment and UNLV on the Black Fire Innovation education hub.

Announced in April, Black Fire is an under-construction, 43,000-square-foot academic incubator that will be located in UNLV’s Harry Reid Research & Technology Park.

Black Fire will feature mock hotel rooms, a casino floor and a sports book.

It will also feature an Intel presence that, according to Caesars vice president of business innovation and technology strategy John Celona, will “elevate” opportunities for students to learn about visual analytics, bleeding-edge computing capabilities and the internet of things.

“Not only will they work alongside industry leaders and train the workforce of the future, Intel will play an integral role in improving the travel and hospitality customer experience,” Celona said.

Caesars, which had an existing relationship with Intel, reached out to the tech company to see if it would have interest in joining in on Black Fire, a Caesars spokeswoman said.

“Vegas has it dialed-in when it comes to the entertainment aspect,” Jensen said. “The next wave is bringing technology in. That’s where I think we can come in. We do a lot of work in the spaces where businesses are serving consumers. It’s helping to marry new technology trends into the consumer experience.”

That, said Jensen and UNLV Research Foundation President Zach Miles, is essentially what Black Fire is all about.

For its part, Intel will provide the innovation hub with different computing and tech-centered resources in an effort to “develop next-generation” consumer experiences. It will also offer students research and internship avenues.

“This collaboration will push the boundaries of hospitality innovation and is exactly what we envisioned for Black Fire Innovation,” said Miles, who doubles as UNLV’s associate vice president for economic development. “Intel’s technical expertise will accelerate research and development activities for our teams and partners, and it will prepare our students for integration into future-focused hospitality roles.”

Intel, Jensen said, will have a presence in Black Fire’s co-working space. The innovation center is expected to be complete by Jan. 1, according to a UNLV spokesman.

Intel, which has about 119,000 employees around the globe, also partnered with UNLV and local tech firm Switch in 2014 to bring a supercomputer system — called Cherry Creek II — to Las Vegas.

“UNLV is a leader in hospitality education and Caesars is obviously a leader in entertainment and the resort experience,” Jensen said. “The three parties coming together, it’s going to bring the best of all sides when you factor in our technological expertise.”

The $35 million center will be located in a four-story building at the technology park, which is a collaboration between UNLV, the UNLV Research Foundation and Gardner Company, a real estate firm.

Black Fire will also offer opportunities for startups, researchers and partners to examine how technology changes the way companies approach hospitality to appeal to evolving consumer tastes, according to UNLV.

“People come to Las Vegas to have a great experience,” Jensen said. “What we’re trying to do is help elevate that experience to the next level.”

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