High-tech hotels a hit with geeky guests

By Tim Hume, for CNNPublished 25th April 2012
While technology has become inextricably fused into our daily lives in recent years, hotels have not always kept pace.
The paucity of hotel tech offerings, particularly when it comes to internet access, has become a common bugbear for guests -- with many objecting to paying a hefty surcharge for a service they'd get for the price of a latte in a local coffee shop.
But that looks to be changing, as a new generation of hotels embraces technology in all aspects from check-in to check-out in a deliberate strategy to appeal to tech-savvy clientele.
Should Wi-Fi be free for hotel guests? CNN's Ayesha Durgahee looks at the hidden cost of hotel Wi-Fi.
"Technology is increasingly becoming a brand differentiator for hotels and chains which want to identify with a certain market," says Katherine Doggrell, editor of Hotel Analyst Distribution & Technology.
The type of guest drawn to technology and smart design is an attractive demographic to target, "not least because they're equipped to spread the word," says Doggrell.
"The great leveler for the hotel sector has been social media," she adds. "Small, boutique hotels can afford to compete at the same level as the big, global operators, and without having what can be a stifling corporate structure in place, they can develop identities which are attractive to consumers and set themselves apart."
Hotels such as New York's Andaz Wall Street and Andaz 5th Avenue, and The Upper House in Hong Kong, have done away with the traditional check-in altogether. Instead, at the Andaz hotels, guests are greeted by a host bearing an iPad, which they can use to check in over a glass of wine in the lobby. If they're in a rush, the host -- who acts as a personal concierge on call via text message throughout the stay -- can accept payment and produce a room key via the iPad en route to the room.
"Being able to cater to your guests' needs during their stay through their own technology will become the norm, and is a great way to make sure they use the bar," says Doggrell.
At the Upper House, the high-tech experience begins at the airport, with internet connectivity in the hybrid vehicle that ferries guests to the hotel. The hotel's "paperless" approach allows it to not only "streamline guest arrival and departure experiences," but has environmental benefits as well, says Dean Winer, Swire Hotels' Hong Kong area general manager.
Room keys
Hotels such as the Las Vegas Aria at CityCenter provide RFID (radio frequency identification) keys that unlock the room door when flashed over a sensor. Once inside, the system recognizes if it is a guest's first time in the room, and "greets" them by lighting the room, parting the curtains to showcase the cityscape or mountain views, and turning on the television to display a list of controls for guests to personalize. The hotel makes a boast of its internet connectivity, promising download speeds up to eight times faster than other hotels -- all included in the room rate, of course.
In-room entertainment
"Increasingly, technology is less about what hotels provide and more about accommodating what consumers bring with them," says Doggrell. "They want to be able to connect their iPads to the existing TV, for example, and watch content they've bought with them, rather than use the pay-per-view."
The JW Marriott Seoul's offerings are an example, offering what it calls the remote Jack Pack in guest rooms. This single-source interface allows guests to control audio and video and play files from their MP3 players or laptops through the room's 40 inch flatscreen TV.
London's Ecclestone Square Hotel -- as well as featuring in-wall docking and charging points for guest's devices -- provides visitors with an in-room iPod2 to play with, and a library of 3D Blu-rays (and accompanying 3D eyewear) to watch on the room's 46-inch television. If that isn't a big enough screen, the hotel's bar and library areas are equipped with 103-inch 3D screens.
The wired approach does not have to be limited to the hotel grounds. The Peninsula Hotel in Tokyo was the first in the city to offer walking tours of the surrounding neighborhoods and the hotel's own art collection through a guided iPod commentary.
Guests can request complimentary use of an iPod to embark on a tour taking in the Imperial Gardens, a major shopping area and other sites along the way, or opt for a tour of the hotel's 1000-odd works of art.
Doggrell says that many larger hotel groups, such as Starwood Hotels and Resorts, are increasingly investing in apps for the mobile market, which allow users to find nearby hotels and check their room rates. Doing so allows them to "not only to capture more bookings, particularly in the growing last-minute market -- but also to remain in contact with their customers," she says.