Web-savvy hotels are expected to offer instant check-ins, wake-up calls and social-networking with fellow guests online.
Bed, bath, breakfast and soon bandwidth
ABU DHABI // Instant check-ins, wake-up calls from your favourite band and the chance to social-network with fellow guests online before arriving are just some of the features that hotels are expected to start offering in the not-too-distant future. Tom Conophy, the chief information officer for the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), predicts that guests will soon be able to use their mobile phones to unlock their hotel rooms, where they will also be able to connect their iPods, DVD players and computers to in-house docking stations.
"People carry a lot of content with them and they want to be connected with their social network, they want to be connected to their work network and they want to be connected to their home," he said, speaking on a visit to the InterContinental in Abu Dhabi. IHG has developed a multimedia dock, the SuitePoint HD, which it intends to roll out across its brands, including Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn. Guests will be able to plug their cameras and MP3 players into the room's television or sound system, cutting down the need for separate docks for different gadgets. It also means they can travel without cables and connectors.
"We built this ourselves and we think it is unique," said Mr Conophy. "If you can connect your laptop to the television it becomes a big display unit for the computer. And if you have a DVD or music files on your laptop you can listen to those through the speakers of the TV. Guests wants to connect their stuff to our stuff without ripping the room apart looking for cables." He said "the arrival experience" would also improve with internet check-ins. "Key acquisition may be different. In the future, will I need a key? I'm not saying guests will be carrying a chip inside us, but your phone may very well be something that opens the door."
IHG would like to develop a virtual community of people staying in their hotels so guests can communicate over the internet before their stays. This would enable guests who wish to go jogging or take a yoga class together to meet, for example. "We have to think about taking the concept of social networking and applying it to our systems," Mr Conophy said. "New guests would be able to network before they got there. The whole idea is to extend the experience of the hotel beyond the bed, breakfast and bath and what I would call the fourth essential - bandwidth. That is critical now.
"I think the big challenges for the industry will be around managing expectations of the guest, looking at consumer electronic trends, looking at what is happening with the concept of web 2.0. Next generation travellers are looking for lifestyle experiences." Guests wanting a wake-up call or reminders will be able to upload audio files such as a piece of music or a message from a partner "telling you to pick up milk on the way home", that will be downloaded to the hotel's computer.
IHG is also investing in better energy management at its hotels and recently released concept designs for a virtual ecologically friendly hotel which is solar-powered and includes a rainwater harvesting system to supply water to toilets. The company has 200 Holiday Inn prototypes open or under construction that use 30 per cent fewer materials to build and require 20 per cent less energy to run. Other features of the virtual hotel include the forwarding of all unused non-perishable food to charities or food banks, a roof garden rich in shrubbery to provide extra insulation, windpower to generate electricity and windows made of recycled glass.