One hotel has a customized application that allows guests to request an early check-in, or order valet service. Another is offering exercise videos with virtual instructors in its fitness room.
David Stahl, president of CrowdMagnet, gets free Internet at the Westin O'Hare in Rosemont, Ill. Photo credit: Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times
Hotels may have come late to technology, but recently they have been jumping in as travelers, especially those on business trips, demand to be constantly connected and expect hotels to make that possible. Hotels now see technology as a way to stand out in the crowd of brands.
"The hotels are looking at a total strategy," said Lorraine Sileo, vice president of research for the travel market research firm PhoCusWright. "It's all about interacting with the customer at the right time, at the right place."
As their homes have become more technologically advanced, travelers want at least as much on the road, if not more. And different age groups and types of travelers expect different types of service from hotels.
"We're in a period of transition," said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. "Hotels are discovering not only how to be different, hotels are trying to figure out what people really want. They seem to want productivity - and the ‘wow factor.' They ask themselves, ‘Is what I get at the hotel at least as good as what I have at home?' "
Business travelers vary. "The younger traveler wants to know why they need to plug in," Mr. Hanson said. "‘Why not have Wi-Fi everywhere?' Their expectations are higher. Their work is affected more when current technology is not available. They want technology wherever they are, whenever they need it." For baby boomers, he added, a hotel can be a place to try technology that they have not yet purchased.
David Stahl, president of CrowdMagnet, a specialty marketing company based in Minneapolis, said he traveled 140 to 160 days on average a year. Like many frequent travelers, he carries a smartphone and a laptop, his "two portals to the world." He relies on various apps, including FlightAware and SeatGuru. Though he said he was "not a tech-driven guy," he ended up making a dinner reservation via an iPad he found in his room at the Plaza Hotel in New York recently.
"My first thought was somebody forgot it," Mr. Stahl said. But a staff member told him it was for concierge service. "It was pretty neat," Mr. Stahl said.
Almost two years ago, the Chancellor Hotel on Union Square in San Francisco collaborated with Amaratech, a Bay Area hotel technology company, to create its own app that guests can use before and during their stay to request an early check-in, a late checkout, search for a nearby restaurant or order valet service. "With technology, guests are doing everything by themselves," said Nathaniel Ramos, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.
At the Ocean House in Watch Hill, R.I., guests can use free iPads as well a "virtual fitness" machine in the OH! Spa. On a touch-screen machine the size of a bank's A.T.M., they can select fitness classes like spinning and Zumba at any hour of the day. Once they have made their choice, a large screen descends from the ceiling, and a virtual instructor appears.