Today's travelers are a demanding lot. We want all the conveniences of home and more when on the road and hotels are racing to keep up with us. Hospitality industry experts say in the next ten years, in-room computers will be as common as television sets and windows will be replaced by virtual screens capable of depicting any number of landscapes. Stuck in downtown Miami, but longing for the Denver mountains? Dial up snow-capped peaks on your virtual window. These gizmos are still being tested, but just what's already out there on the market? To answer that we called up the luxury Portofino Bay Hotel at Orlando's Universal Studios Escape and arranged a visit.
At the Portofino, troops of front door employees are armed with small, gray hand-held devices that look a lot like those trackers used by UPS. They can handle almost every duty of the typical registration desk right there at the curb or car side.
Inside, PR-man Rick Gregory explains how they've souped up those little plastic card keys we're all used to by now. You can charge your meals or trinkets from the gift shop. Parents can even set up a separate room key account for the kids.
Rick: "They can give them a preloaded, separate key that you can say, 'We will give you $20 to spend for the day.' That way, they don't take your card and run you up a big debt."
Tanya: "You're a really generous guy. Twenty dollars... that will cover their bottled water for the day, right?"
Rick: "Yeah, exactly."
Head upstairs to your room and there's a bit of technology that you won't see or hear but you're sure to appreciate.
Rick: "You know, you're laying in bed. It's 8 o'clock, 9 o'clock in the morning, you didn't hang the tag that says 'Do Not Disturb' and all of a sudden you get 'knock, knock, knock, knock' on the door and it's housekeeping. You gotta get up, throw your robe on and say 'I'll be in the room for a little while longer', and go back to bed. Well, that won't happen here because we have smart room technology so that the housekeeper will know if you are in your room from outside. They can point this little device at the room and they can tell if you're in there. It's a motion detector."
The housekeeping staff says you'd have to be comatose for the motion detector not to register. Now maybe you're not the type to sleep in late. The early bird gets the worm and all that. Well, here you can get a head start on the day by reading your newspaper and watching CNN poolside in your own, private cabana.
Rick: "You get the color television. You get a fax machine for those who just have to do business while they're on pleasure. You get a portable phone and you get the mini-bar."
Portofino is just one of many hotels that are jumping on the high-tech express. A few miles down the road in Orlando, the Holiday Inn offers special cinema suites: standard hotel rooms equipped with a 60-inch television, stereo sound system and a pair of plush recliners. Further down the road the Radisson has inked a deal that will put a computer in each room. And that's just the beginning. At the University of Houston, where they're studying that virtual window idea, researchers are also developing a system to use guest's fingerprints and retinal scans instead of door keys, and they've invented an alarm clock that uses gradually increasing light to wake up guests instead of sound. All of this sounds great, but what if you're a low-tech Joe in a high-tech world? Enter the newest staff member at some wired hotels: the Technology Butler. He can tell you where to plug in what and how to make it work. But can he decipher those strange error messages that keep popping up on your laptop?
I'm Tanya Ott for The Savvy Traveler.
|American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen|