How High-Tech Can Hotels Go?
By Melanie Nayer ~ Exclusive Column
Wednesday, 14th September 2011
The future of technology in hotels is consistently evolving, reinventing itself and giving guests more control, literally, from the touch of button.

While simplicity still rules, some hotels are taking technology to a new level, thanks in part to social media that's sweeping the travel space.

As more travelers are checking-in to hotels via FourSquare and tweeting photos and amenities from their hotel rooms, hotels are looking at ways to up their "cool" factor, giving guests (and their followers) some good eye candy and something to look forward to on their next visit.

Plugged-in travelers who can't live without their iPhones, iPads, smartphones, computers and gadgets are finding it a little easier to leave home thanks to the updated technology found in hotels today.

The debate over hotels offering complimentary WiFi in hotels has subsided and has been replaced with questions surrounding how high-tech hotels should go. Digital check-ins, loaded iPads with concierge service and local maps, touch-screen controls, TVs embedded into the mirrors in bathrooms and the ability to hook-up your computer or phone to the television for movies or music are the newest ways hotels are appealing to tech-savvy guests.

Starwood's Aloft Hotels was one of the first brands to start the tech trend with its automatic check-in at Aloft Hotels. The hotel's Smart Check-In allows guests to bypass the traditional check-in process by using a radio frequency identification chip (RFID) from their mobile device. Starwood Preferred Guest members are handed a RFID keycard that is automatically programmed to the guest's assigned room on the day of arrival. When you arrive the hotel, you go directly to your room, swipe your keycard and enter.

Of the most tech-savvy haunts are found in Hong Kong, where technology knows no limits and futuristic gadgets are part of everyday life. The Upper House set the bar with a desk-free check-in, thanks to a tablet PC, which also gives guests a glimpse of hotel offerings, room amenities and restaurant and bar events.

4Hoteliers Image LibraryWhen you check-in, make sure you get your iPod Touch, which comes games, music, local activities and hotel information.

In your room you'll find video-on-demand on both the main television and the one in the bathroom, so you can curl up in suds or under the duvet and watch movies.

Twitter aficionado and road-warrior Margalit Francus (@autiglobetrot) appreciates the JW Marriott Hong Kong's touch-screen control system (right), which are placed bedside on the phone and offer everything from local activities to maps of Hong Kong and festivals and events taking place during your stay.

At Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, guests can use the LCD touch panels or the TV in the room to access lighting controls, adjust room temperature and control the curtains throughout the room. Instead of the usual buzz of an alarm clock, you can pre-set your wake-up call via the curtains, which will open at your preferred time, lighting your room (and eliminating that horrible alarm clock buzz). The TV can also be pre-programmed to turn on at a specific time, so you can wake up to your favorite morning television program. With a touch of the button, the Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, allows guests to enable room privacy, request cleaning services, view current room charges, or survey the McCarran International Airport flight schedule.

To completely up the tech factor,  a Technology Kit, stocked with iPod connector, VGA cable, audio cable, Ethernet cable and an international power converter is placed in guest rooms, making it easy for hotel guests to connect their phones or laptop to the TV. My favorite is the private Valet Closet, which is located near the entrance of each hotel room. So that you aren't disturbed when your laundry is ready, all deliveries are placed in the Valet Closet, and the button will light-up on the touch-screen near your bed letting you know it's waiting for you.

Not all high-tech is limited to the guest rooms, though. The Le Parker Meridien in NYC takes high-tech to the gym, with a fully-enabled Wii exercise room. You can play tennis with virtual partners at any level, or go for a run along any one of the pre-programmed routes, complete with photos and simulated terrains.

The future of technology in hotels hold infinite possibilities, and there's only more high-tech to come. While technology scares some, the beauty of it all is simple: you can choose to use all the gadgets, gizmos and high-tech tools found in your hotel, or you can completely disconnect and keep travel simple. 

We want to hear from you: what's your favorite hotel high-tech amenity?

Melanie Nayer is a hotel reviewer and expert on luxury travel around the world. She has covered all aspects of hotels including corporate restructures, re-branding initiatives, historical aspects and the best of the best in luxury hotels around the world.

Melanie writes a weekly exclusive column for 4Hoteliers.com
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