'Smart rooms' help hotels compete

CHICAGO -- A hotel room tuned up to the perfect temperature when the guest opens the door? A touch-the-screen bedside terminal that opens and closes the drapes and tucks telephone calls in voice mail when the guest takes a nap?

CHICAGO -- A hotel room tuned up to the perfect temperature when the guest opens the door? A touch-the-screen bedside terminal that opens and closes the drapes and tucks telephone calls in voice mail when the guest takes a nap?

Those are some of the future-is-now fruits of technology showing up in the lodging industry as it competes for the business travel dollar.

Extensively rigged hotel
The new Fairmont Hotel at Vancouver International Airport in Canada is the latest and one of the most extensively equipped examples. According to INNCOM International Inc. of Old Lyme, Conn., which devised the technology system for the 392-room property, it has more of the company's fancy fittings than any hotel to date.

Among them, according to Sarah Geddes, communications manager for the property, is an in-room motion detection system that lets hotel employees know if the room is occupied -- even if the guest is doing nothing more physical than breathing.

Hotel employees wave a sensor in front of the door and if the room is occupied, a red light comes on, telling them not to bother knocking to find out if they can clean the room or check the in-room bar.

Geddes said surveys of business travelers found that most prefer privacy when in the room. They'd rather forgo having the beds turned down at night, for example, if they're bent over a laptop or on a conference call to the home office.

Hotel check in at the airport
The Fairmont Vancouver Airport has one feature which Geddes believes is unique to hotels in North America: Guests arriving at the airport can check in to the hotel at kiosks in the baggage claim area.

The guest is handed a key card for the room and is free to head off for appointments. Luggage is taken from the airport to the room.

Once registration is complete, the INNCOM system kicks in. It brings the room temperature back from what Geddes calls an "energy conserving mode" to a comfortable level, and the entryway light and a floor lamp are automatically lit. Where frequent, repeat guests are concerned, preferences can be programmed in and automatically triggered -- the temperature set to where it was when the guest last visited, and the light he or she used most frequently during that visit turned on.

Drapes can be opened or closed from a bedside terminal, which can also be used to divert incoming calls to voice mail. When the guest checks out, the system alerts housekeeping, turning off the lights and returning the room temperature to its standby level.

Get your boarding pass in your room
The Fairmont is also billing itself as the first hotel in the world that allows a guest to check in for a flight before leaving the guest room. Passengers on Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International who are staying on the hotel's "Entree Gold" level can have an airline employee come to the room, give them a boarding pass, and take their luggage to the terminal.

INNCOM says various of its controls systems are now installed in more than 30,000 hotel rooms. Among the properties are the St. Regis in New York, Grand Corso in Vienna, Hotel Nikko in Beverly Hills, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Opryland in Nashville, Alvear Palace in Buenos Aires, Renaissance in Sao Paulo, Ciragan Palace in Istanbul, Atlantis II in the Bahamas and the Taj Palace in New Delhi.

Rick Quirino, a spokesman for INNCOM, said the next advance in his company's technology will probably be to integrate it with Internet access, as a way of providing even more options for guests.

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