Imagine a wall that moves, that tells a story, that extends to ceilings and floors. Imagine being able to project images and sounds onto, from and through that wall. You might segment it so a conventional television image could beam to just one member of your family. Or you could keep it seamless, to view the latest movie in a panorama beyond your wildest dreams or to simulate sleeping under the stars.
These are within the grasp of modern technology, say various futurists engaged in guestroom entertainment. Now that flat-screen TVs are becoming more common, high-speed Internet access is a given and Wi-Fi is becoming a standard, what's the next buzz? Are flat-screen TV and Wi-Fi the end of the line?
Hardly, says Ron Swidler, senior vice president of Chicago interior design firm The Gettys Group. Swidler, who has been working on the Hotel of Tomorrow, a co-production of his company and the HD 2005 Expo & Conference, thinks flat-screen TV is by no means the be-all and end-all. But it is a clue to a new, provocative direction.
“Imagine if that flat screen was all the walls and the ceilings,” he says. “The mechanism for it could be fiber optics embedded in wall covering. If you could turn the entire room envelope into a projection surface, you would have the ability to sleep under the (virtual) stars or in the mountains. Take the notion of a monitor, which due to cost right now is limited to a certain scale. If the screen could be movie-screen size, you could turn the guestroom environment into a private viewing room. No reason why every hotel room couldn't have its own home theater.”
As for Wi-Fi, “if streaming video content can be provided wirelessly, whether Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, we open ourselves up to all kinds of possibilities.”
You could use the guestroom for conferences, a business function not available at home. And on a personal basis, technology should — and, Swidler indicates, will — make it possible for a hotel guest to sit at the desk “with your roomservice meal while your family sits at its kitchen table having dinner. With a phone call home to summarize your day and hear about their day it could be just like eating at home.”
Making video interactive for such family “conferences” could lead to other forms of socializing in hotels and new niche markets, Swidler says. “A hotel houses all kinds of strangers at the same time, but the way hotels are set up now, there are very few ways to interact with other guests. Some people want total autonomy, others might hang out in the bar in hopes of meeting someone. What if a hotel was designed to create match-making within the hotel using technology?”
He cites www.match.com, a dating facilitator he calls “a highly developed mechanism for selectively and safely sharing information about yourself.” If a similar mechanism was created — the Match.com Hotel by Starwood, say — imagine what premium you might pay to stay there, to know you would even have a mechanism for choosing whether to immediately meet a person or over a slower, more exploratory process.”
The gadgets matter less than their social applications. “It's all going to centralize around ubiquitous computing and whatever you have with you is going to interface with a smart system that surrounds you,” he says of guestroom technology. “As soon as it's easy to move information off a mainframe onto a handheld, the world's going to open up. As soon as devices talk to each other, the world changes.”
Some maintain that how devices communicate matters less than what they communicate.
“What matters is not the TV,” says Nick Price, CTO and CIO, Mandarin Hotel Group. “What matters is what's on the TV. The best TV is no TV if you don't have anything worth watching.”
Understanding your guests is critical, Price says. But it doesn't figure into most guestroom entertainment offerings, he suggests.
“One of the perversities of the entertainment (offerings) that have been the pervasive model for the last 15 years is the assumption that video on demand is important relative to other things,” he says. “What is important is television.”
There's a disconnect. “TV and a hotel are to some extent mutually exclusive,” Price says. “The television that you're putting on is for the mass market local community, but what you want to do is put television in place that speaks to the socioeconomic target audience you have and then shapes the content to the individual. The days when we had 10, 30 or 40 channels are gone. If you're going to put 500 in a hotel room, you have to find a way to shape them.”
Price predicts development of “virtualized channels” delivering desired content in a form of video on demand, somewhat analogous to the pay-per-track iTunes model Apple devised for the popular iPod.
“It's going to look like free TV but instead of coming off the air, it's going to come from systems in your basement,” Price says. “There will be companies that supply linear virtual channels of content that people want to watch and there will be revenue opportunities with that content.”
In an expansion of Swidler's remarks about devices “talking” to each other, Price says that “when things move from analog to digital, you're going to see a fundamentally different set of opportunities because you start addressing very large content stores in an intelligent way.
“The fundamental message here is it's all about content. The days are gone when you can spend $300 on a television and patch a cable into it. If you're going to spend $2,000 or $3,000 (on a high-definition TV), you're going to get $3,000 of value out of it. The value isn't that you've got the latest model. The value is you've got the latest episode of ‘Friends’ your guest missed last week.”
THE ENTERTAINING GUESTROOM
The 210-room Hotel@MIT, a Hilton-managed property in Cambridge, MA, is geared toward the traveler who “needs to be productive but comfortable,” says General Manager Cara Spalla. It's about to be equipped with Hilton's new clock-radio, which features connection cable for MP3 players and other portable music devices.
She is evaluating the hotel's in-room entertainment package “to see how we can customize to the Cambridge and high-end traveler.” Spalla seeks “a very interactive, flat-screen panel that allows guests to see major local destinations interactive to the hotel, like a map of the MIT campus.”
Customers “want personalized entertainment packages, satellite bundles delivered through the TV,” probably a plasma. “The days of armoires and bulky furniture are over,” she says. “People need desk space to spread out their work and a clear path to whatever white noise they desire.
“Guests express desire for more connectivity and broader entertainment options, she says. “When they turn off their work, they want to jump into Neverneverland.”
ENGAGING THE CUSTOMER
The day will come when “I'll tell the TV what movie I want to see or what actor or actress or movie type I want and it'll pull it up for me,” says Mark van Hartesvelt, partner in Gemstone Resorts. “I'll be able to pause it, just like a CD/DVD. And I'll be able to download it to my computer if I can't finish it in the hotel so I have it for the airplane ride home. It'll self-destruct, say, after 24 hours.”
Already, LodgeNet is working with LG Technologies and OnCommand is working with Samsung to “get rid of those boxes on top and integrate that functionality into the television.”
Technology is rapidly advancing, says Michael St.-Laurent, Gemstone Resorts' director of information technology. At present, there are four types of HDTVs: Plasma, LCD, DLP (or digital light processing) and “organic stuff.”
Organic Light Emitted Diode technology is starting to replace conventional LCD technology in PDAs and cell phones because it's brighter, thinner, faster and lighter, uses less power and costs less to make. In five to 10 years, we will see it in laptops or televisions, he says.
Van Hartesvelt is looking into TVs that have an extra function, like resembling a mirror when they're not on. And there's no reason the TV can't show a Monet when it's off.
The entertainment offering ultimately is about customer relationship management, or CRM, he says. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, he saw a room in a nursing home of the future with sensors in the closet so if your aged mother forgot to go to the closet to get her pill, the closet would “warn” management electronically. “We don't want to intrude on guests' privacy, but we want to learn about them,” van Hartesvelt says. “That's not entertainment, but it certainly is technology.”
As for content, “it all goes back to what we have in our home theater in our house,” St.-Laurent says. “We want to be able to have that same experience in our hotel guestrooms.”
“The interactive part comes with voice-over Internet-Protocol (VoIP) telephone,” van Hartesvelt says. “While I'm checking out of the hotel, I check into the airline, check the weather, check e-mails. That's all happening in the room.” He saw a test of VoIP wired into a FAO Schwartz toy store with a simulation of a “six-year-old assembling a toy to show whether it was appropriate for your child.” The viewer “directed” this through a remote. A similar application could be set for restaurants and menu items.
Technology and entertainment are joining to provide “a fuller experience,” van Hartesvelt says. “In this whole, boring mass commoditization world, where everything's an option, the more we can customize an experience, the better.”
THE BIG IDEAS
Put the guest first. The guestroom entertainment delivery system matters less than what you deliver. Think outside the box. That's a cliché, but technology will rapidly transform the traditional guest-room into a customizable environment. Anticipate customer needs by imagining a guestroom with multiple entertainment options and rich connectivity. Stretch your business model. Guests want to be productive but comfortable, so develop entertainment options that address individual needs. One size does not fit all.
IN-ROOM ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCTS
ADVERTISERS ARE PRINTED IN BLUE For company listings, see directory on page 33
|Basic TV programming||Folio review||High-speed Internet access (wired)||High-speed Internet access (wireless)||On-demand movies and programming||On-screen checkout||Premium TV programming||Televisions||Video games||Other|
|ComCast HospitalityONE||— Circle 66||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Connex Services||— Circle 67||•||•||•|
|DirecTV||— Circle 72||•|
|Fire2Wire||— Circle 77||•||•||•|
|Guest-Tek||— Circle 86||•||•||•|
|Home Box Office||— Circle 89||•|
|Hospitality Safe Corp.||— Circle 90||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Hotel Technologies||— Circle 92||•|
|iBAHN||— Circle 93||•||•|
|LG Electronics||— Circle 128||•|
|LodgeNet Entertainment Corp.||— Circle 101||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|nSTREAMS Technologies||— Circle 105||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|NXTV, Inc.||— Circle 106||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|Panasonic's Broadcast & Television Systems||— Circle 107||•||•|
|Road Runner Business Class||— Circle 109||•||•||•||•|
|RoomConX||— Circle 121||•|
|Scitec||— Circle 113||•||•|
|Showtime Networks||— Circle 124||•|
|Teledex||— Circle 118||•||•|
|Telkonet||— Circle 120||•|
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