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Tue 1 May 2007 10:47 AM

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High-tech hideaways

How technology will help hotels achieve contradictory goals: making guests feel at home and simultaneously aware of the hotel's brand.

The future of technology in hotel rooms is set to create an environment where guests feel simultaneously at home but aware of the brand of their hotel, industry experts predict.

Locatel president Alexis Delb, whose company supplies interactive multimedia systems to more than 2500 hotels globally, said the vision of technology companies and hotels was the same.

"People today enjoy increased mobility, but we find that when they are away they still want to feel like they are at home," he said.

"What they don't want is their room, the place where they are eating and sleeping, to create a barrier and remind them they are away from home. They want the same leisure, they want to see the same pictures, the same movies, they want to play the same games, and they want to connect to the internet the same way they do at home."

Guests could even be given an opportunity to design their own home away from home: Delb said the company has developed systems for northern-European hotels where guests choose an "atmosphere" for their room booking over the internet, including the temperature, colour of the walls, and soon even the smell may be selected.

"People are living in rooms where they have 80% light levels, 20

C temperature and green walls - there is no reason why we should not be able to do the same thing when we travel," he said.

interTouch chief executive Charles Reed said hotel technology played a role in three main areas of guests' experiences: in their ability to communicate for business or personal reasons, to enjoy multimedia such as video on demand, and to experience wireless services.

But in some areas guest expectations were lagging behind available technology, he said.

"We have found [from studying guest behaviour] that if you have the option of wireless or wired services, 80% of guests still opt for wired," Reed said.

"It's a perception of security, and also people are tactile. As the next generation comes through on wireless, that will change."

Reed and Delb agreed that protecting a hotel's brand value was crucial to selecting in-room technology.

For example, Locatel multimedia system interfaces in different hotels all carry subtle differences such as different coloured screens, and branding of on-screen menus.

"There are more and more questions from the major chains about how you make sure guests are staying in a Jumeirah room, or an Accor room," Delb said.

"Branding is the key: everyone knows about the brand and the quality of the service."

The ability to provide a global service, for example allowing a French guest to be offered movies and news services in French language no matter where they were in the world, was also a future capability, Delb said.

Technology should only be used to "support and project a hotel's brand", according to Reed.

"It's the look and feel. When you walk in you should feel the technology is consistent with the look of the room," he said.

"The whole look - that the lines are all crisp and sleek and clean - [is very important]."

Reed cited the example of waiters with wireless readers transmitting orders back to the kitchen: it might be expensive, but it could also project the image the hotel is looking for.

"If you are a modern contemporary hotel, it gives the right look and feel if you are trying to project that black and steel look," he said.

"Look at your brand first, and if the technology supports and projects it, then use it."

Reed predicted that future technology would also affect guest consumption of movies in-room.

He said studies had shown romantic comedies were the most popular selections of video-on-demand, because they were lighthearted and guests could walk away from them rather than devote large portions of time to watching a movie.

With the move towards IP services, where hotels could offer 2000 programmes instead of 20 movies, guests would be more likely to select shorter programmes and mini-documentaries instead, he said.

Reed said this would have important implications for hotels upgrading their technology to ensure their systems were "future-proof" - for example if cabling could cope with increased bandwidth demands and servers could be expanded.

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