At the 185-suite grand luxe Riverparc in Miami (opened, as was the Sheraton Grande, last September), guests get three keys: one to the elevator leading to their floor, one to the suite itself, and one to the suite’s combined bar and refrigerator. Touch-sensitive keyboards are connected to the suites’ televisions; they are in turn connected to a satellite-transmitted national computer network offering a variety of services including a “travel club” (listing travel and tour bargains for members); restaurant listings (displayed by name, city, cuisine and proximity to the hotel); in-room shopping through an electronic “catalogue”; airline listings through the electronic version of the Official Airline Guide; electronic mail (allowing, for example, the home office to send its salesmen messages even if it does not know exactly what hotel they are staying in, or salesmen to send in daily sales reports)f video games and special entertainment programming; news and stock reports; and even job listings.
These three examples are typical of the explosion of hotel technology that has taken place since the beginning of the ‘eighties. A recently published survey conducted by Chervenak, Keane & Company on behalf of the american Hotel & Motel Association (AH&MA) found, for example, that, of 2,800 U.S. hotels responding, the number of hotels equipped with smoke/fire detectors has increased four-fold since 1980 (about 70 percent of the hotels have them installed or on order); that more than 800 have installed satellite earth stations (compared to one as of late 1979); that there has been more than a 50 percent increase since 1980 in the number of properties using data processing; and that, since that time, there has been a four-fold increase in the availability of such entertainment amenities as in-room movies. Significant recent advances have also occurred in security and energy management systems. The micro-processor chip has made inroads everywhere, and the lines between each of these separate technologies have become increasingly blurred as hotels move towards what are referred to in hotel circles as “multiple discipline” technologies. In the current overbuilt marketplace, nobody checks into a hotel expecting just a bed for the night. Guest expectations are high, as they come to expect services they are used to at home or in the office (e.g., in-room computer terminals); the stakes–and costs-for the operators are high, too: as the saying goes, there is nothing so perishable as an unsold room-night.
The in-room computer firms now beginning to make inroads in the lodging market may, like the system at Miami’s Riverparc, offer a large grab bag of services at a price, or, like a system now installed in 450 guest rooms at the Amfac Hotel & Resort at the Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport, offer some services (restaurant listings, emergency safety instruction) free, with the remainder of the services with a similar “sign-on” fee and per-minute (or hour) cost. The latter services may include word processing (not offered elsewhere); software for the system has been designed to be extremely “user-friendly: guests desiring information about local events, for example, touch any key on the touch-sensitive board to move on the next video “page” of the “menu.”
An in-room video system recently installed at the Doubletree In at Scottsdale Mall, Arizona, offers informational services–one per television channel–accessed via remote channel selector. These services include city information; interactive video games allowing guests to play with one another from room to room nand including the “joysticks” to manipulate them); video music on a “juke-box”-style channel; and an “express check-out” system, by which guests may call up their billing on the screen and approve payment through a major credit card–at no service charge.
Similar in-room information and entertainment systems are scheduled to be introduced in the “Quality Choice Suite” concept recently announced by Quality Inns. The suites (really large rooms with extra amenities like in-room oversize bathtubs) are to be incorporated in standardized 120-room hotels built using modular construction techniques, at a cost exclusive of land estimated at $24,500 per room, plus $4,000 for furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E)–comparing very favorably with luxury hotel construction tags of $100,000 per room and up.
Other computerized check-in and check-out systems have been developed by a number of firms for lobby locations. The terminals are similar to an automated bank teller: when the arriving guest inserts his credit card, the system checks it against lost or stolen cards, asks if the name and address given are correct, requests the desired bed size, and assigns a room. The guest receives a reservation card, which he takes to another counter where a room key is ready. The system was installed last August at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago; Hyatt has announced plans to install the system at other of its 70 U.S. and 41 foreign properties.
Still other systems now on the market combine the lobby “express check-out” function with the capability to generate hard-copy printouts for restaurant and local event information–even maps, if desired. Simpler lobby installations provide informational functions only, using a touch-sensitive television monitor screen (with no keyboard commands for the uninitiated to master).
The Safety Equipment
General levels of fire and life safety equipment in hotels are dictated by local codes and standards set by the parent hotel corporation. Many of these standards have been tightened in the wake of the loss of life sustained in a number of major hotels over the last two to three years. Smoke/fire detectors have quickly become ubiquitous in new construction and in order buildings via hardwire retrofits; often these are supplemented by mandatory sprinkler systems, both in guest rooms and public spaces (these can be recessed and covered for aesthetic reasons, but the consensus among architects and hoteliers is to purposely let them show, as a reassurance to guests). The Atlanta Ramada Renaissance, for example, is typical of the better-equipped new properties, incorporating as it does both sprinkler and smoke detector systems and sensors in some areas detecting rapid changes in room temperature (more dependable than smoke detectors in areas that than smoke detectors in areas that may be smoky anyway, such as bars), as well as pressurized stairwells to keep smoke out of escape routes. There is a two-way speaker on the wall of each guest room, allowing fire-fighters or other emergency cres to speak to guestroom occupants and get responses independently–a sort of belt and suspenders approach. Speakers are camouflaged with fabric screens to avoid giving guests the uneasy sensation that someone is listening in on them.
Warning systems in use in other hotels range from a phone system that can ring individual rooms or floors in case of emergency, avoiding the need for blaring general alarms, and giving management a fix on which rooms to check if a room known to be occupied gives no answer; “talking” exit signs that direct guests through what may be smoke-filled corridors (often supplemented by the simple placement of emergency signage at base-board level, where it may be seen by those at crawling height). Centralized systems are controlled from one or more “annunciator panels”; at Four Seasons Hotels these are supplemented by firefighters’ phone jacks in the elevator lobbies and stairwells for instant direct communication with the fire chief.
Further advances in hotel technology will see the progressive blurring of the separate telecommunications, security, fire and life safety, information, entertainment and energy management functions with that of a centralized computer control system at each hotel. Just as this system will take care of the guest after he arrives, the reservation system will take care of him before. What has happened, however, is that the reservation system has now come to be used for other functions as well. Holiday Inns uses its Holidex II reservations system for electronic funds transfer for the company-owned hotels; Holidex II terminals may also be used by hotel employees to train themselves at their own pace.
Service has always been a major factor in determining hotel quality, but service has now begun to take on advanced technological overtones, with new opportunities for guests and with new demands for the designers who must accommodate the equipment. We’ve come a long way from the tourist cabin.