High-Tech Hotels Offer Convenience and Luxury

Are you finding it hard to travel without having your laptop, iPod and portable DVD player in tow? Wish you could pack your high-definition TV to travel along with you? Well, you're not the only one.

Theses days more and more hotels look to accommodate both the business traveler and gadget addict alike. High-speed Internet access and Wi-Fi connectivity have become standard in many hotels, and it's easy to see why.

Smith Travel Research, a Hendersonville, Tenn.-based research firm that focuses on the hotel industry, predicts more than $122 billion will be spent on lodging this year in the United States alone. With revenues like that, it's no surprise that companies will pull out all the stops to make sure they get your attention when making a reservation.

LodgeNet Entertainment Corp., an operator of interactive entertainment systems and services for the lodging industry, has designed several services to appeal to this fast-growing market.

The company's LaunchPad device is a connectivity panel that allows guests to connect their laptops and most portable media devices to high-definition displays located in their hotel rooms. The product has been so well received that Hyatt Hotels has designated it a brand standard, according to Ann Parker, director of corporate communications at LodgeNet.

"We can deliver brand-specific messages and usage instructions to help improve the brand bond and guest experience," said Parker.

Other products in the works are an iPod docking station that can be controlled with the room remote control, and a service called Entertainment 2Go that allows guests to download full-length movies legally to their laptops.

Stanford Hotels Corp., a company that owns and manages 13 properties that include Marriotts, Sheratons and Hiltons, has also created an interactive connectivity panel for its guests. The company's GuestLink system has already been installed in 155 guest rooms at the Hilton Washington Dulles Hotel, and plans are in the works to do the same at the Waikiki Prince Kuhio hotel in Oahu and the Hilton Charlotte Center City hotel in North Carolina.

Elizabeth Newman, spokeswoman for Stanford Hotels, explained that the company's investment -- about $6,000 for each renovated room -- was money well spent.

"Many business travelers are using the service to do presentations on the 42-inch plasma flat screen, and leisure guests are using it for multiple reasons," she said. "They are plugging in their iPods for music, connecting to their laptops to watch DVDs, plugging in digital cameras to watch slideshows. The benefit to guests is that it reduces frustration, saves time, entertains and makes the guest room feel like an entertainment center."

High-tech amenities at modern hotels aren't limited to guest rooms. The Four Points by Sheraton, in conjunction with Internet service provider AOL, is experimenting with a pilot program at its location in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

The hotel has designed what it calls a family room, an area located off the lobby where guests can get free access to news, music, movies, videos and more through computers that use a custom AOL CityGuide portal. Guests can also watch more than 40,000 videos using AOL Video's on-demand service shown on a 40-inch flat screen television connected to an Intel Viiv PC.

"This has been a big winner from our side," said Hoyt Harper, senior vice president of Four Points by Sheraton. "We found that most guests would prefer to not get to their rooms until it's time to sleep. … Our virtual concierge has helped us increase traffic in our public space, and we are proud to deliver a quantitative and enhanced experience to our guests."

Future plans include rolling out the service to all Four Points by Sheraton properties by the end of 2007.

Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, hoteliers make it easier for you to stay productive, stay in touch, and enjoy your room longer, and it's all at the touch of a button.