No longer happy with just clean sheets and heavy curtains, hotel guests are demanding more from their rooms.
And hotels, looking for a way to woo customers, are happy to comply. From plasma-screen TVs to iPods, Wi-Fi in every nook and cranny of the hotel properties to VoIP-ready phones, hotels are jumping on the high-tech bandwagon in an effort to lure guests and boost revenue.
Right now, Marriott Hotels is testing its rooms of the future at the brand's Baltimore Waterfront hotel.
Select guests are offered the option to stay in a test room equipped with the hotelier's new 32-inch LG HDTV and a proprietary connectivity panel that can be used to connect audio, video, DVD, digital cameras and more.
Plug in your MP3, and you can listen through the TV's speakers and use the remote to adjust volume. Connect your laptop, and you can watch a movie and check your e-mail with the system's split-screen capability.
The system's smart technology does most of the work setting up the applications. Plug in a digital camera, and in a few seconds, up pop the kids at the Inner Harbor and all the day's pictures, ready for viewing. The connectivity panel also has four outlets, ending the search behind the dresser. "The whole point is for guests not to have to worry about how this all works," says Barry Shuler, chief technology officer for Marriott.
Wi-Fi and high-speed Internet are almost commonplace, with most mid-to-high-range hotels offering in-room Web connections that leave dial-up in the dust. While many hotels still charge a daily flat fee for high-speed or Wi-Fi in the room, it's becoming common to find wireless access for free in public areas such as bars and lobbies. In-room computers with Internet access are available at a few hotels, such as the Gaylord Palms in Orlando.
The Langham Place in Hong Kong lets guests send an e-mail containing an icon that when clicked by the recipient can be used to dial into the guest's room for free from anywhere in the world using a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone in each room.
Kimpton Hotels has specialty suites built around technological themes. The Hotel Rouge in Washington offers the Chill room and the Chat room. The Chill has two Sony Wega TVs, a PlayStation 2 with access to a game library, a CD player, plus chairs or chaise to make game playing more comfortable. The Chat room has a flat-screen computer monitor and unlimited Wi-Fi, perfect for those long messaging sessions.
Kor Hotel Group, a boutique chain out of California, offers PlayStation 2 or PlayStation Portable to guests at four of its Golden State locations.
Fairmont Hotels launched its PlayStation offerings in June but currently only in the chain's Canadian locations.
Both Hilton and Kimpton Hotels offer in-room Nintendo systems at various locations. The Wow suite at the W hotel in New York's Times Square has its own control panel, but this one gives guests control of curtains, plasma TVs, a Bose stereo system and CD/DVD players with one touch of the access panel. You can also design your own lighting scheme.
W also offers in-room Sirius Satellite Radio in some locations, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Silicon Valley, giving guests who stay in the chain's suites 120 commercial-free channels.
Apple's iPod, the must-have MP3 player, is showing up in rooms around the world. The Dream in Manhattan offers the devices preloaded with 2,000 songs, while each of the 40 rooms at The Crescent in Beverly Hills, Calif., has an iPod music minibar, complete with speakers for a full-room sound experience.
Other hotels offering complimentary iPods for guests include the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago; Las Ventanas al Paraiso resort in Los Cabos, Mexico; Le Meridien Cyberport in Hong Kong; and the One&Only Ocean Club in the Bahamas.
Some hotels believe guests will bring their own.
San Francisco's Hotel Triton and Hotel Vitale supply iPod docking stations, as do select suites in W Hotels nationwide.
The Tribeca Grand Hotel in New York has created an entire suite around Apple's technology. The iSuite comes with a computer loaded with video-, audio- and photo-editing software, wireless keyboard, mouse and the iPod docking station.
As travelers continue to employ new gadgets and technology, hotels are striving to anticipate their needs. Marriott's Shuler points to a future where road warriors won't even have to bring their laptops.
They could just carry any portable memory device, plug it into a connectivity panel, and with an in-room wireless keyboard, monitor and peripheral devices, find all the functionality of an office, with room service to boot.
Megg Mueller Schulte writes the weekly Hotel Hotsheet column for USATODAY.com