Hotels Check In

New Tech Services Coming Soon: Wi-Fi, plasma displays, and videophones.

Illustration by Rachell Sumpter

A few years from now, your vacation might take you to a room much like number 267 at the Hilton Garden Inn at LAX/El Segundo. As you enter, motion sensors automatically turn on the lights. You touch the biometric safe with your thumb, and the door opens to store your valuables. You flop on the bed, and its system of slats and air pockets molds to your body’s weight and contours. Your remote dims the lights, opens the drapes, checks your e-mail on plasma television, and changes the digital artwork on the walls to suit your tastes. A videophone lets you see that it’s room service knocking at the door with a chilled bottle of champagne. Not a bad way to start your vacation.

Room 267 is Hilton’s test lab, but it won’t be long before at least some of these innovations become standard fare for large hotel chains. “In 10 years, hotel rooms will look nothing like they do today,” says Dennis Koci, senior vice president of operations support at Hilton Hotels. “For instance, walls will be entertainment portals, where any mood or multimedia experience is possible.”

Why the hotel tech frenzy? Well, primarily because demand is growing and tech is becoming more affordable. Take Wi-Fi, for example-it costs less to install than fiber optic cable, which entails running thousands of yards of wire. Since December Marriott International has Wi-Fi-enabled close to 400 of its Marriott, Rennaissance and other properties. Both Starwood and Hilton are racing to provide wireless service too. The Hotel Valencia in Silicon Valley, with help from Hewlett Packard and Cisco, now offers wireless access and Internet-capable Cisco phones in the guestrooms. Travelers can expect to pay $10 to 20 per day for the hookup, which hoteliers hope will appeal to both business people and families. If you are going
to browse the Web, you might as well be poolside.

TECH TRAVEL TIPS

Inflight IM

For $5.99 per flight, Verizon Airfone’s JetConnect (on Continental Airlines) hooks to a laptop or PDA to offer Instant Messaging, news, stock quotes, local listings and games.

World in Your Palm

MobiMate‘s WorldMate PDA software ($24.95) checks the time in five cities in a flash, calls up the weather forecast for each city, and converts nearly 100 world currencies. If your PDA is wireless, WorldMate can update itself on the road.

Disposable Cells

Hop-On‘s new disposable, recyclable, prepaid mobile phone (with coast-to-coast coverage) offers 60 prepaid minutes for $40.

Compact Co-Pilot

Mapopolis‘ Clear Route package ($349.99) uses a GPS transmitter with your Pocket PC to determine your car’s position and speed, and suggests alternate routes to avoid traffic.