10 high-tech innovations invading the hotel world

Earlier this month, Melanie listed a couple of hotels that are investing in new technology to keep their guests pampered. As Melanie so correctly points out, guests are no longer content with an iPod dock. In this list, you’ll find ten ways hotels are adding new technology to their rooms, and how it can help make your stay more enjoyable (or more complicated.)

Whether the new technology makes it easier to book a room, stay entertained in your room, or make you more comfortable, all investments made by hotels should be applauded, especially when so many chains do the opposite and cheapen out.Mobile apps

Making the move into the online application world makes sense for hotels – they make their money off selling rooms, and the easier it is to book a room, the more money they’ll make. Many of the large hotel chains already offer mobile versions of their web site, but some have commissioned their own mobile application.

Being able to open a mobile app, locate the closest hotel and book it right on your device saves the hotel the cost of phone agents, and makes for happier guests.

Self service check-in kiosk

I’m in love with these new self-service check-in terminals. Thanks to these, I walk into the lobby, swipe my card, and get a room key. All without having to wait in line for the front desk. I’m not entirely sure how I can get a key with four taps on a screen, when the front desk staff seem to require five minutes staring at their screen to perform the same task, but I secretly hope more hotels introduce these new terminals as soon as they can.

Internet phones and feature phones

VOIP and feature phones take the boring hotel phone way beyond its original purpose. At some properties, these phones also offer the news and weather, assist with in-room dining choices and let you read email.

With all this information at your fingertips, you also no longer need the in-room hotel guide, which obviously saves the hotel a ton of money (and countless trees). Of course, as with all new technology, there will be people who’d rather keep things the old fashioned way, but the geek in me loves large screens and more buttons.

Loaner ipad and ebook readers

Sure, a lot of what goes into the “loaner iPad” is just marketing, and it does look good when publications mention your hotel chain and show people how hip you are, but there is also a convenience aspect involved.

I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to book a hotel that has free loaner iPads or Amazon Kindles, but I’d certainly not say no if one were offered for the duration of my stay.

Other hotels are using the iPad as a way to provide their concierge service with more up to date information, mobile maps and other mobile resources.

Faster internet

Lets ignore the pains of paying for Internet for a moment, even when you get free Internet, the speeds are often horrid. Many hotels installed their Internet infrastructure in the early 2000’s, and haven’t changed anything since. The problem with this is that Internet usage has changed in the past decade. In 2001, most people just wanted to grab some email and write a document. Nowadays, we are getting on a VPN, watching streaming video and checking out stupid Youtube clips sent by coworkers.

Bottom line is that the infrastructure in many hotels is not up to the task. Thankfully, some hotels understand this, and replace or upgrade their systems. In the photo above, you’ll see what a great hotel Internet service looks like. This example was made at the Hotel Arista in Naperville.

Online check-in

Surprisingly, the hospitality industry is playing catch-up with the aviation industry, and this in a world where the aviation industry is usually years behind the rest of the world. Online check-in is slowly appearing at some hotel chains. The advantage of this is that you can make sure the hotel keeps your room booked, even if you don’t show up till midnight. Some chains are even experimenting with online room selection charts, just like airlines let you pick your own seat. So, next time you had a bad experience with a specific room, you can avoid it well in advance.

Room access innovations

Hands up if you have ever walked to your room, luggage dragging behind you, only to discover that the damn room key doesn’t work…

Without exaggerating, I’d say that I experience this in one in ten stays. So, I’m happy to see that some hotels are innovating in room access technologies.

The Hotel On Rivington in New York installed RFID card readers on their doors, which means you no longer need to fiddle with your keycard – just wave the carde in front of the door, and it’ll unlock. No risk of wiping it with your mobile phone, or putting it in the wrong way.

Starting this year, several Holiday Inn properties will start a trial with smartphone operated door keys. With this system, your room key will be sent directly to your mobile phone, and you’ll be able to unlock your door without the need for a key.

HDTV and plug panels

I love connecting my own device to the hotel TV – it gives me a way to escape the mediocre programming and dreadful hotel promotional channels, and watch whatever I want. Thankfully, some chains understand this, and make it easier than ever to connect my own gadgetry to the TV. Hilton’s Homewood Suites and Hyatt Place properties are good examples of hotels that have innovated here.

Thankfully, not all hotels put HDTV’s in their rooms without adding HD content – many properties are investing in HD programming, and even offer HD video on demand. Some chains even offer interactive hotel guides on the TV, once again replacing the old hotel guide binder.

Social media initiatives

Hotels are in love with social media – and who can blame them? They follow their customers and offer them what they want.

Now, not all chains are as active as they should be, and some limit their activities to mentioning their latest press releases. Others have dedicated social media staff members who monitor all the various outlets, put together promotions and communicate with their guests. Examples of hotel chains that understand social media are Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Affinia, The Charles and Kimpton hotels.

Many of these companies also have dedicated Twitter and Facebook pages for individual properties. Following their pages won’t just keep you up to date on the latest press releases – many chains also post “secret” deals to their social media followers.

Media panels

I first came across these new media panels at a Courtyard by Marriott, and most recently also noticed them at Aloft by W. The panels are touch sensitive TV’s that offer news, weather, travel information and local information. They are perfect if you need to locate a quick bite to eat, without having to dig up your laptop. Even if you don’t really need the information, they are just fun to play around with.

When hotel high-tech goes bad – where is the user manual?

Several weeks ago, I wrote about technology being added to hotels that simply does not work. A different problem is when technology does work, but is too complicated for most guests to understand.

As an example – I recently stayed at a very nice $400/night boutique hotel. This place had it all; iPod alarm clocks, remote controlled curtains and 10 different light “zones”. All these things sound really good on paper, but in reality they were a major pain in the backside.

Remote controlled curtains are awesome – if you can find the button to control them. An iPod compatible alarm clock is only going to wake you up if you can figure out how to program it, and dimmable light zones are useless if you are confronted with 10 switches and need to fiddle around with them just to find the right one.

Of course, all this technology also meant that the hotel used up all the outlets by the desk, so I had to unplug a light just to be able to charge my laptop.

Don’t get me wrong – I love technology, and if I am spending $400 a night for a hotel, I expect a certain level of amenities that include more than just top notch toiletries. But if I arrive in my room at 11pm, I’d like to be able to set the alarm without having to get online to download the user guide. I’m sure anyone who has spent the night in a good hotel has spent several minutes trying to get the shower working.

My top annoyances with hotel high-tech are:

  • Overly complicated shower controls
  • Alarm clocks
  • WiFi that requires a password (that is not always provided at check-in)
  • Light switches without labels
  • TV without a channel guide lineup

If hotels plan to add more technology to their rooms, they need to design them with their guests in mind – simply adding more stuff isn’t going to make anyone happy if the amenities go unused because nobody can operate them.

A steam generator in your bathroom is awesome, but if you are confronted with a panel with 9 buttons and no markings or instructions, you’ll tend to be too afraid to be burned to try it out. So, if anyone from the hospitality world is reading this, how about printing a user manual for all those cool new toys?