For years, hotels have prided themselves — and marketed themselves — for their creature comforts and special services, their geographic locations and rooms with a view, all in an attempt to attract, keep and grow their market share. But now, a number of them have come to a new realization about their guests — that we don't really change our lifestyle when we change our location.
As a result, many hotels have embraced the notion of connectivity. No, it's not just providing Wi Fi access in each room. It's going way beyond that. Welcome to the totally geeked out hotels, where technology rules.
In Seattle, the Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton property, now hosts Guitar Hero III tournaments, where geeks and wannabes can rock out every Friday night during the hotel’s hosted wine hour from 5PM to 6PM. It has proven to be quite popular among guests. The staff has a list of songs — and their difficulty — on a clipboard and guests take turns trying to beat their best score — or at least try to get through a heavy metal guitar solo.
At the Nine Zero hotel (also a a Kimpton property) in Boston, hotel executives have equipped one room — the Cloud Nine Penthouse suite with special iris scan technology. No metal key. No plastic key card. You — and only you — can open your door by walking up to the scanner embedded in the door — which then recognizes you by scanning your eye... and you're in.
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Another hotel in Seattle has geeked-out stuff. The Hotel 1000 has no dead zones when it comes to wireless — which means the system works literally everywhere in the hotel. But it doesn't stop there.
• Digital thermometers with infrared signals scan each guest room for motion, and it will alert the system to activate the guests’ desired temperature, if it detects movement. For those guests who frequent the hotel, their guestroom will be preset to their preferred temperature
• Electronic doorbell with silent staff button offers guests high-tech privacy. All the hotel staff has to do is push a silent button above the guestroom’s doorbell, which will let the staff know if the room is occupied. An infrared signal scans the room to detect movement and notes “do not disturb” if the room is occupied. The guestroom will be serviced once the room is not occupied
• Just by pushing a button, guests can let housekeeping know if they prefer privacy or are ready for housekeeping to service their room to be serviced. An indicator immediately notifies the service team if guests want their room serviced
• It is one of the first hotels in the country to offer guests High Definition televisions and surround sound for movies, TV channels and Sirius music
• Guests can choose from eight different art genre collections for their guestroom, which will appear on the HD TVs; a description of the art, including the artist’s name, date and gallery where it is housed
• Guests receive complimentary local and long distance domestic phone calls on VOIP phones. The phone’s color display shows guests their airline flight details, stock quotes, local restaurants and activity information, text messaging, weather, and the ability for the guest to retrieve their car from valet by entering their ticket number
• Guests can enjoy a real golf experience in a virtual setting by using the hotel’s infrared tracking system, which creates two planes each with over 680 independent sensors calculating the velocity, spin and trajectory of the ball. Guests can choose from 50 courses, such as The Old Course at St Andrews, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst or Valderrama.
A number of hotels are now partnering with companies like Microsoft and Nintendo to create a ramped up geeked out experience. In Chicago, the Hotel Sax has launched “The Studio: An Experience by Microsoft.” Hotel Sax is the first hotel ever to partner with Microsoft to offer state-of-the-art Microsoft technology.
“The Studio – A Microsoft Experience” is a entertainment lounge that lets guests experience the newest entertainment and guest service technologies from Microsoft. In The Studio, guests can play Xbox games, connect with other gamers around the world via Xbox live service, work in a social setting on provided Hewlett Packard laptops, download and listen to music from the hotel’s music library via Microsoft’s Zune music player or watch HDTV and select movies in the home theater environment. And for the serious gamer, there's Madden ’08, Rock Band, Scene It and Dance Dance Revolution.
In-room automation allows guests to access Xbox 360s. Some rooms even are customized with improved sound systems. Each room has access to instant Messaging. Guests directly can contact the concierge with Instant Messaging; therefore the concierge can be more proactive with guests, especially for those guests who frequent the hotel.
For guests with Windows Mobile Smartphones, or Windows-enabled technology, guests can stay in touch with the concierge. Guests can use the IM application to ask the concierge a question while strolling about the city. The concierge even can overlay discount coupons. For guests who don’t have Windows Mobile Smartphones, or Windows-enabled technology, they still can stay in touch with the concierge through text messaging.
At the Hotel Avante, in Mountain View California, proximity to geekdom has its benefits. It's a stone's throw from Silicon Valley, headquarters of Google. And the interior of the guest rooms reflects that proximity. Guestroom desks with glass-topped drawers are divided into right-brain (creativity) and left-brain (logic) categories. Guests will find a yo-yo, Etch-a-Sketch, Slinky and Rubik's cube in drawers on the right side. The left side of the desk has tape, scissors, stapler, staple remover, pencils, post-it notes (the “work” part of work/play)
The furniture located in guestrooms are on wheels, so if you’re itching to redecorate your room, go right ahead. And of course downstairs is — the Wi-Fi lounge. Yes, bring your laptop.
Then there's a hotel that is geeked out to get you outside the hotel. In Denver, the Hotel Teatro offers an Adventure Package — a high-tech way for guests to experience the outdoors. The package lets guests borrow a preprogrammed GPS unit, which has directions to local biking, climbing, fishing, hiking, running and local outdoor retailers.
In New York, the Pod Hotel isn't known for large rooms. In fact, the current joke is that the rooms are so small that you need to walk outside the room in order to change — your mind! (With apologies to Henny Youngman). The hotel has been nicknamed the "Facebook Hotel" and it even has its own online community, called the Pod Community Blog, so guests can network with each other and make plans for sightseeing, drinks or a night on the town. The site has four categories: “drink with me,” “eat with me,” “shop with me,” and “go out with me.” It’s a customized message board also doubles as a resource guide for guests.
Their recently-launched blog community has a concierge who prints out daily “Survival Guides” that have useful travel tips and information on free events and activities in the city, and the guides are updated daily.
If you're looking for “geek chic”, then check into the Hotel Gansevoort in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. When guests check-in to the hotel, they can request Nintendo’s Wii gaming system in their rooms. And, that's coupled with iPod docs, Sony home theater systems, and 42” flat-screen TVs.
And, last but not least, taking the Wii gaming system up a notch or two, the Parker Meridien Hotel in New York has a special licensing deal with Nintendo. The hotel has converted a former squash court in its health club into a specially programmed Wii exercise program. You don't just play the WII — you work with the hotel's trainers in a high-energy workout — tennis, and of course... boxing. And I can attest by personal experience that this isn't an exercise program for couch potatoes — after an hour of extreme wide screen tennis or boxing, you are sweating, winded — and entertained.
Peter Greenberg is TODAY’s Travel editor. His column appears weekly on TODAYshow.com. Visit his Web site at PeterGreenberg.com.
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