New Hospitality Technology ProfiledBy Justin Wastnage
When the Peachtree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia replaced the keys to all its rooms with electronic cards in 1978, its goal was to increase security in the crime-ridden city. The Ving Card system, invented by Norwegian electronics whiz Tor Sørnes, looked impossibly futuristic at the time with one reviewer calling it a "Star Trek entry system".
Key cards are now, to use the industry jargon, ubiquitous, as hotels found the cost savings so dramatic over oft-lost keys and mortice locks. Consumer technology firms all want the same ubiquity as the key card for their new hotel products, many of which were on display at the hotel refurbishment fair, Hotel Hospitality + Design Expo (HHD), which took place in Sydney this month. Hospitality technology consultant Ted Horner reckons hoteliers will increasingly look to technology to retain guests, not least since "economic conditions mean that refurbishment will be the norm over the next five years", he said.
Most there agreed that in the future, mobile phones will be the way to open doors. Text message entry codes, trialled today, will be superseded by infrared or wireless access to rooms. Tom Conophy, chief information officer of the InterContinental Hotels Group feels "there's got to be a better way to get a guest into a room than having to wait in a queue, talk to a human and transact before you get your key".
Despite smartphones already well on their way to being ubiquitous, not everyone sees human interaction as an inconvenience. Neil Roodyn, director of software developers NSquared, was showing off hotel-specific programs designed for the Microsoft Surface computer tables. He predicts people will sit around the touch-sensitive tabletop computers in hotel lobbies to research nearby attractions and make restaurant reservations. "Four people sitting around a table is collaborative. Whether it's a family checking out what to do nearby or businessmen sharing a presentation, the social engagement cannot be replicated," he said.
Royal Philips Electronics, which already has the in-room television market cornered, showed off its Hotel Room of the Future mock-up, which had a 145 cm high-definition television called Cinema 21:9 as its centrepiece. The software now does more than serve up video-on-demand and program a wake-up: it controls blinds, air conditioning and room service from the remote control.