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The hotel of the future: 'You will be the key'

InterContinental CIO Tom Conophy says his company plans to bring intelligence and smarts to 650,000 hotel rooms around the globe.

The world's top hotels aren't the most luxurious, or the most hermetically sealed, or even the most expensive.

The best places to hang your hat at night ascend to the top of the rankings by being the most in-touch with their surroundings -- veritable town centers where locals and visitors hang out together.

With some 650,000 rooms in more than 4,600 hotels in 100 nations, the InterContinental Hotels Group has the challenge of being something to everyone. But that large footprint means the company can try things smaller chains simply can't afford to do.

Last month, I spoke with IHG chief information officer Tom Conophy to discuss what's on the company's drawing board for the hotel of the future.

GOING MOBILE

"The future guest is going to expect something from the consumer electronics side of things. There's no doubt about it that mobile computing is the future, and no doubt about it that "small glass" is also the future. We've seen thumbable devices -- such as a BlackBerry -- and the iPad. Five years from now, we'll look back and say they were interesting. But you still have to deal with the human physiological issues of their hands and what they can see."

"[Guests] are re going to use these mobile devices to do transparent shopping. You don't want to take a hotel review from a 60-year-old if you're 20. You want to stay within your demographic band. That will be more commonplace."

"You might be able to utter a few sentences, and everything goes."

"You'll be notified of any changes to your booking plan, and we'll be notified that you're on your way here."

YOU ARE THE KEY

"Today, it's a pain in the ass [to get a room key]. You have to wait in a queue, talk to a human, transact, then get your key. We think that there's got to be a better way to get a guest into a room. In the future, your device that you're carrying will be your key, via infrared or 802.11. You will have the key, and the door itself will be smart."

"That's important because a lot of guests want fast check-in. Why not have no check-in? We know who you are already. If you really don't need to talk to anybody, you shouldn't have to. That changes your whole experience."

iCONCIERGE

"Your access to local content and entertainment will change. There will be a need for an electronic concierge. You should have the ability to set up profiles in advance, and based on that, data will be served to you during your stay -- via the TV, your high-speed Internet access connection, via that handheld device. People want data filtered based on their parameters, not somebody else."

"Your TV is now a monitor; a portal. It's addressing one of the human senses."

"I think the future's all about the guest and the technology they are managing. The hotel is there to enable that."

SMARTER BUILDINGS

"Some of our hotels today are LEED compliant. You will see more solar panels on the roofs. You will see more technologies where possibly the face of the hotel itself is consuming energy and spitting it out to batteries. During the day you can store energy and during the night run the boilers or something."

"You'll see collars put on the meters so they can emit usage. Smarter climate control in the rooms. Water reclamation."

The biggest draw of electricity is the air conditioner or heater. LCD versus plasma TVs. We're working with LG and Philips to ensure that TVs are completely off until you check-in, not just in standby mode.

"Same with lighting in hallways. We've gone to fluorescents, and we're also putting in sensors so that when the elevator arrives to a floor, it turns on the lights. There are subtle ways of clawing back those pennies, and those pennies matter when you're dealing with a 20-story building with hundreds of rooms."

"We can use our scale to negotiate down the price."

"New buildings are easier. With retrofits, we're making sure there are governors in the toilets, water restrictions on the faucets. If you have a 15- or 20-year-old building, there's not much you can do other than that."

"It's very commonplace in Europe for guests to ask the state of greenness."

BETTER BUSINESS

"Your meeting experience will be very different from today. For most meetings in hotels -- for 20 people or less -- you'll see technologies will be more sophisticated and you'll have connection with the staff. Having the ability to send messages without disrupting the meeting saying 'Look, we want to move lunch out.' "

"Telepresence will be a disruptive technology. The question is how it's applied and how feasible it is as costs come down."

"Why can't the rancher in Wyoming go to a room and connect using Skype on steroids? We believe our [large] physical footprint might give us an advantage, and help make our hotels the center of the community."

INTELLIGENT SERVICES

"If you go to the hotel restaurant, the person who serves you can know who you are. Even just to have technology at the table."

"Let's say you go down to the fitness room every morning. We can capture that and through other means offer promotions that might very well meet your needs. Have the hotel be the honest broker. I can see hotels making those connections in a way that's safe and sanitized."

"If you have a VoIP phone in your room with a display, data on that screen could be catered to your personality and profile. As long as it's within two or three clicks."

GLOBAL LOCAL

"The hotel of the future is smarter, connected and allow guests to form their own community while they're there so it's better than a good bed, bath and breakfast. There's a fourth 'B' now: bandwidth, which lets you connect to your social, home and work worlds."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com