News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Julio Ojeda-Zapata, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, Minn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 8, 2003 - The smallish rooms in the new Le Meridien Minneapolis hotel might seem a bit claustrophobic for all their soothing European-style design touches such as backlit pictures and etched-glass headboards.
But guests may be too entranced by the 42-inch -screen TVs to notice their cramped quarters. The flat-panel displays, mounted on walls so they're visible almost anywhere in the rooms, will help put the soon-to-open inn on the cutting edge of hotel technology services.
Le Meridien Minneapolis, built atop the downtown Block E entertainment and dining complex, does have plenty of high-tech competition.
Top-tier hotels around the world are rushing to install such amenities as high-speed Internet access -- wired and wireless -- in-room gaming consoles and the latest in color monitors for TV viewing, as well as Web surfing.
At Twin Cities hotels, such features as in-room Ethernet ports and public-area wireless Internet are becoming increasingly common.
The 255-room Le Meridien Minneapolis, due to open May 1, is bound to cause a stir among its Minnesota peers, though, due to a breadth of high-tech services other area hotels may be unable to promptly duplicate.
The flat-panels, for one, put Le Meridien Minneapolis in world-class company because they are among the latest and greatest. They not only work as TVs but also as letterbox-proportioned DVD displays, video-game terminals, laptop external monitors and, with a wireless keyboard, Web-surfing stations.
Plasma screens are bound to be a big draw for free-spending guests who want more than old-style picture-tube TVs. And a trip to the bathroom won't deprive them of CNN or Dr. Phil, either, because Le Meridien Minneapolis' bathrooms will be equipped with 10-inch wall-mounted LCD displays.
Laptop users will be able to plug into either phone or Ethernet jacks built into the rooms' desks. Larger multi-room suites will boast data jacks at multiple locations.
Those craving wireless Internet access on their laptops will find it in public areas -- though not in their own rooms.
Le Meridien Minneapolis, part of the London-based Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts chain with 140 properties in 55 countries, is the first to fully implement a new "Art + Tech" strategy that fuses chic decor with whiz-bang tech.
Design elements include closet clothing rods that incorporate tiny light bulbs, backlit wall-hung paintings and photographs, and edge-lit glass headboards depicting any of four Minnesota landscapes.
Such aesthetic touches, along with the high-tech features, could make Le Meridien Minneapolis a favorite among corporate travelers, celebrities and others who seek top-quality local accommodations.
The hotel has a tech edge over such top local rivals as the downtown Hilton Minneapolis and the St. Paul Hotel in downtown St. Paul in that those properties don't offer Ethernet jacks in every room.
And while a number of local hotels offer wireless Internet access, one top property -- the Radisson Plaza in downtown Minneapolis -- recently yanked its wireless access when it realized its bandwidth was leaking beyond its property borders, according to the general manager.
Le Meridien Minneapolis lags behind hotels elsewhere in the world that have made wireless available everywhere on-site -- either as a bragging point or out of necessity when hard-wiring older buildings is logistically prohibitive.
Wireless-everywhere hotels range from the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello in Quebec, billed as the world's largest log cabin, to the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, a Hawaiian luxury hotel with a wireless network that extends as far as the sand dunes overlooking the beach.
Robert Bormes, Le Meridien Minneapolis' general manager, says he doesn't see a need for in-room wireless access with data ports readily available. The hotel will supply Ethernet cables to those who forget theirs, he says.
But hotel wireless access makes the most sense for hotel guests in their own rooms and not public areas, said David Sjolander, vice-president of hotel systems for Carlson Hotels Worldwide. That has been overlooked by tech firms amid their push to create Wi-Fi "hot spots" in coffee shops, restaurants and other public gathering areas, he says.
Le Meridien Minneapolis has stiff high-tech competition such as the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and its cadre of "compcierges" who are trained to serve occupants of the hotel's "executive tech suites."
And though its plasma screens are video-game-ready, it isn't emulating hotels such as Massachusetts' Hotel@MIT that put a PlayStation 2 console in every room.
But Bormes says his hotel is enough of a leader that other hotels "will follow suit as soon as they can."
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