Hotel Online Special Report

High Wired: 
The Hotel Room of the Future
This article is from the Spring 2004 issue of Hospitality Upgrade magazine.To view more articles covering technology for the hospitality industry please visit the Hospitality Upgrade Web site or to request a free publication please call (678) 802-5303 or e-mail.
by Kelly Stanford, March 2004

All too often travelers find themselves crawling around on their hotel room floor looking for telephone jacks, waiting ages for room service, stumbling in the dark during late-night trips to the bathroom or puzzling for hours over setting the alarm on the clock radio. Such inconveniences, however minor, may soon be a thing of the past as hotels move quickly to keep up with these high-tech times, bringing the age of Jetson’s-like technology to a hotel room near you.

It’s not all about high-speed Internet service anymore, which has been the industry’s key passion in recent years. Hotels are now using technology to streamline every aspect of their operations, testing and installing new tools and software: handheld computers for curbside check-in; minibars that know your likes and dislikes; thermostats that adjust the temperature according to when you are in the room; digital movies on demand; biometric scanners for tighter security; and electronics that alter everything from the firmness of the mattress to the art on the walls based on your preferences. In other words hotels may soon be delivering a highly personalized experience using highly impersonal machines.

Today, every room is identical which hotel companies believe is more efficient, but why give everyone ESPN when only some people watch it? What if a room was able to change to suit your needs?

One product making it easy to accommodate guests’ personal preferences is the Bartech e-fridge™. Currently e-fridges are installed in 18,000 hotel rooms in 25 hotels throughout the United States. The Maryland company’s minibar has sensors that detect when a beverage has been removed. The front desk is alerted, your bill is updated and room service knows what to replace in the morning. The e-fridge can also be programmed to change drink prices throughout the day, lowering them during happy hour. In the future, hotel guests could find their minibars stocked only with their favorite drinks and preferences gleaned from past selections.

No need to read up on smartcards, either. Smartcards are key cards that can do a great deal more than simply open the door. NTRU Cryptosystems Inc., an encryption company based in Burlington, Mass., has created the security feature for a chip-equipped key card that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to send information. Simply flash it in front of your door to enter or just keep it in your pocket and aim. The same key could also be linked to your credit card and used to pay for dinner, similar to what ExxonMobil has done with its Speedpass™. There is no need to sign anything. Eventually the smartcard may even assist with luggage transfer. Place the card in your bag and when the luggage comes off the conveyor belt the airline can retrieve it, scan it and send it straight to your hotel.

Ultimately, the card might also contain a biometric record of your face, a feature that is already being used in other industries. Virginia-based EyeTicket has implemented iris-recognition technology at London’s Heathrow Airport that lets frequent travelers on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic bypass long immigration lines. In seconds, the machine can verify your identity. Hotels could possibly use the same technology for security and to make guests’ lives easier. In time you could unlock your door by simply looking at it.

Another way to get in your hotel room might be by beaming your PDA at the lock, which would be pre-coded for your arrival. Remote check in via PDA is now being implemented at a handful of hotels, including the Bryant Park Hotel in New York. Upon arrival at the Bryant Park PDA-toting staffers check you in curbside and issue you a key card on your way upstairs, then check you out the same way. In the future you could check yourself in using your own handheld, or even order room service from your taxi en route to the hotel.

Motion detectors might soon become commonplace as well, meaning no more annoying mid-shower knocks at the door. The same infrared sensor that tells housekeeping whether you’re in your room can also tell the digital thermostat—accurate to within half a degree—to turn on and off.  In 2001, Connecticut-based INNCOM introduced its Ethernet INNweb™ system, which not only controls a room’s climate but also provides high-speed Internet access and digital movies on demand.

London’s Dorchester Hotel is undergoing a year-long renovation during which every room will be equipped with a digital library of 60 films that can be started and stopped on a whim. DVD players and flat-screen plasma televisions are already finding their way into top suites worldwide. The Four Seasons New York unveiled its $9,500-a-night Royal Suite, with flat-screen televisions in each of the three bedrooms and three bathrooms. These are the same flat screens that industry insiders say could one day make bad hotel art obsolete—when you’re not watching television, you’ll simply choose your favorite masterpiece for the screen to display, anything from Dali to Degas. In the Royal Suite, if you get up to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night, a bedside switch illuminates a pathway. Wires are virtually invisible, hidden in the hollowed legs of tables.

And although a variety of new technologies are being tested, it may be a while before they are in general use. Some technology companies have fallen off the map altogether, leaving hotels with the infrastructure but without the necessary maintenance or support. And the lumbering economy has forced many hotels to rein in their spending. Still, as the economy rebounds and travelers become more familiar with, and dependent on, advanced technology, it’s likely that hotels will continue to innovate, delivering an even more seamless guest experience. When the clock strikes five, who could argue with $2 happy-hour drinks from the minibar and your favorite DVD on the plasma screen television?

Kelly Stanford is a senior manager for a business consulting and systems integration firm. If you would like to reach her for comment please e-mail


Also See: We're Not In Kansas Anymore; Differentiating your hotel through technology / Mark Haley / January 2004
Understanding the Power of Customer Relationship Management / Neil Holm / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / November 2003
The Case for Self Service in Hospitality / Marvin Erdly and Amitava Chatterjee / Hospitality Upgrade
Magazine / October 2003
Five Questions to Ask Online Distributors / Michelle Peluso / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / October 2003
Surf's Up - Internet Marketing for Destination Properties / Marvin Erdly and Amitava Chatterjee / Debra Kristopson / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / October 2003
Wireless Changes Everything; So, do ya want a latte with that or what? / Jocelyn Valley / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / June 2003
Customer Awareness or Customer Beware? Data Security in a CRM-Obsessed Industry / Elizabeth Ivey / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / June 2003
Your Magnificent Selling Machine Would you Prefer Your Hotel to Get: the Web Hit or the Phone Call? / Robert Camastro / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / June 2003
Tradeshows & Economic Soldiers / Dan Phillips / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / April 2003
Hotel Telecommunications in the 21st Century / Geoff Griswold / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / March 2003
The ABCs of CRM  / Mark Haley & Bill Watson / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / March 2003
Getting the Most out of Your IT Investment / By: Clay B. Dickinson / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2002
The Role of Paper in a Digital World / By: Bill Fitzpatrick / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2002
The Rotten Pineapple (international symbol of hospitality) / By: Steve D'Erasmo / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall  2002
Focusing on Labor Can Improve More Than Just Cost / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Summer 2002
Attention Hotels - An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure / Elizabeth Lauer Ivey / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / May 2002 
HOSTEC - EURHOTEC 2002 - Room for Improvement / Christel Dietzsch / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Feb 2002 
Technology and the Human Touch / Dan Phillips / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Spring 2002
Wireless Technology:  Where We Have Been, Where Are we Going? / Geneva Rinehart / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Spring 2002
Effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Implementations / John Schweisberger and Amitava Chatterjee, CHTP / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2001 
What's Up With Call Accounting Systems (CAS) / Dan Phillips / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2001 
Technology Dilemmas: What have IT investments done for you lately? / Elizabeth Lauer / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Summer 2001
Full Circle from Centralized to ASP - The Resurrection of Old Themes and a Payment Solution / Gary Eng / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Summer 2001 
A High Roller in the Game of System Integration / Elizabeth Lauer / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Spring 2001 
CAVEAT EMPTOR! Simple Steps to Selecting an E-procurement Solution / Mark Haley / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Spring 2001 
Your Bartender is Jessie James and He Needs to Pay for College / Beverly McCay / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2000 
Choosing a Reservation Representation Company / John Burns / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Spring 2001 
Understanding and Maximizing a Hotel’s Electronic Distribution Options / by John Burns / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2000 
The Future of Electronic Payments - From Paper to Plastic and Beyond / J. David Oder /  Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Summer 2000
Timeshare Technology Steps Up / by Elizabeth Lauer / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / July 2000 
Biometric Payment: The New Age of Currency / by Geneva Rinehart / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Mar 2000 


Geneva Rinehart
Associate Editor
Hospitality Upgrade magazine 
and the Hospitality website

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