Hotels Crown Guitar Heroes With Wii, Xbox Action

Check into a hotel and be a guitar hero, boxing champ or tennis ace.

Popular interactive virtual-reality games played via consoles hooked up to TVs in rooms, lounges or activity centers are scoring points with guests of all ages.

The Westin chain is in groundbreaking talks with Nintendo to offer customized Wii (pronounced "we") systems in its more than 150 hotels and resorts, says Nadeen Ayala, a Westin spokeswoman. Details haven't been announced yet.

The fitness center at Manhattan's Le Parker Meridien has a customized Nintendo Wii console (games are preloaded and can't be pirated). Guests and non-guests work out with a trainer on Wii tennis or boxing projected on a racquetball court wall ($120 an hour) or rent the console to play solo or with pals ($50 an hour).

Other lodgings offer trendy action video games free. New York City's Hotel Gansevoort delivers to guestrooms Wii consoles that allow players to work up a sweat serving a tennis ball (watch out for that lamp!) or bowling a strike.

Some hotels use action electronics to encourage mingling. Guitar Hero— instrumental karaoke in which participants cradle fake guitars and play along with a rock soundtrack via color-coded notes that appear on a TV screen — is striking a chord at the Hotel Monaco Seattle. The Friday playoffs during the hotel's complimentary social hour, using Microsoft's Xbox 360 game system, are so popular that general manager Sandy Burkett is thinking of hosting Hero Saturdays, too.

Guests love being "virtual rock stars — even older ones who may never have played video games," she says. Corporate groups unwind with Hero after meetings.

The Conrad Chicago will offer competitive "Wii Meeting Breaks" for a fee starting in May. Virtual rockers needn't play Eric Clapton in a boring meeting room: The hotel will set up a mock rock stage with fog and flashing lights.

In Scottsdale, Ariz., The Phoenician's new Family Activity Center has a 60-inch plasma TV with a Wii system.

"The idea was to contemporize the resort," says resort spokeswoman Denise Seomin.

Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort offers Microsoft Xbox 360 games, Dance Dance Revolution and the ubiquitous Guitar Hero in its game room. The Florida resort is hosting spring break teen games on the beach, using a 10-foot screen. The Westin Resort St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands offers free Wii tournaments.

The new Hotel Sax Chicago has a creative collaboration with Microsoft on an Xbox Live online game network that lets guests play free with those in other rooms (it's not in all rooms yet), plus "The Studio" technology lounge. There, guests play Hero, Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution and other games free.

"Anything you can do to encourage interaction between guests is a good thing," says Rich Siegel, publisher of Hospitality Upgrade, a hotel technology trade magazine. "People also like to be exposed to things they've never done before."

Now that lodgings have poured money into room upgrades, they're seeking other ways to enhance guests' experience.

"Hotels know (virtual action games) are a trend (that crosses age lines)," says publicist Michelle Abril, whose clients include the Chicago Conrad, Marco Island Marriott and Westin St. John.

"From an amenity standpoint, (buying a basic Wii system for $250-$300) isn't as expensive" as installing flat-screen TVs or other frills, says Robert Mandelbaum, director of hotel research and information services for PKF Consulting. "This is a way for hotels to keep up with the times."

Gaming is just plain fun, Siegel says. "If I was traveling (and saw fellow guests playing), I'd try it, too."

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