A rendering of what guestrooms at the new MGM Grand at Foxwoods will feature.

New rooms and suites are being stuffed with luxury appointments and high-tech gadgetry in an effort to achieve a level of sophistication that provides the ultimate guest room experience. In-room technologies are intended to give guests and hotel staff access to new services that will generate revenue, build loyalty, optimize every aspect of the environment and have a positive impact on the bottom line.

Bellagio’s new $60 million suite redesign, for instance, combines high style with high-tech amenities. In-suite conveniences include high-speed Internet access, iHome clock radios, DVD players, multiline phones, fax machines and flat-screen, high-definition televisions. Additional amenities include laptop safes, fully stocked minibars, automatic draperies, plush slippers and robes as well as twice-daily housekeeping visits.

“The new suite décor envisioned by the MGM Mirage Design Group will impress even the most discerning customer,” said Bellagio President Randy Morton. “From the comfort of lavish furnishings to the ease of modern technology, no detail has been overlooked.”

The new standards

In Atlantic City, the just-opened Water Club, a signature hotel adjacent to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, is billing itself as the city’s first boutique-lifestyle hotel, offering a personalized guest experience within a distinctively cosmopolitan setting. “In crafting The Water Club experience, we drew inspiration from boutique hotels in cities like Miami and New York, while still affording guests the ability to enjoy entertainment, world-class restaurants, nightlife and gaming within their reach,” said Drew Schlesinger, Water Club’s vice president and general manager.

Each of the Water Club’s 800 guest rooms is outfitted with a 40-inch LCD Sony Flat Panel TV, iHome alarm clock with iPod docking station, wireless high-speed Internet access, and IP Phone. Woven, 400 thread count Egyptian cotton linens, and oversized, glass-enclosed showers with therapeutic showerheads provide an intimate, soothing atmosphere.

The Water Club’s Social Suites come equipped with a media-rich mini theater, 70-inch Sony LCD TV with surround sound, wet bar and panoramic views of the ocean and bay. Both the two-bedroom Viceroy and Social Suites and one-bedroom Harbor Suite offer designated spaces for in-room massage therapy treatments.

The Water Club’s Residence on 34 is a two-bedroom duplex with grand piano, fireplace and spa room, while the two-bedroom 4,500-square-foot duplex Residence on 36, offers a pool table, fireplace and entertainment center.

Newly created properties offer the biggest bang for the buck with in-room technology. “We’ve really upgraded the technology from our current properties, starting with the phone itself,” said Chris O’Connell, director of hotel operations at MGM Grand at Foxwoods, which is scheduled to open around mid-May. “It’s much easier to upgrade technology when building a new property because you have a window to build for the next wave of technology.” All of the phones have touch screens, so weather, stocks, sports and the reservations department are accessible. “That gives us a way to market the property,” he said.

Each guestroom has at least a 32-inch LCD flat-panel TV, with Comcast movie offerings, iHome docking stations for MP3 players or iPods, and in-drawer safes next to the bed with a unique design that can fit a laptop. “We are moving to an interactive reservation system where guests can book reservations and show tickets. All of that will be on the video on demand system,” O’Connell said. As there will no longer be printed guest directories, the hotel will be able to post new restaurant hours and other information electronically.

Harrah's Atlantic City Resort's new Waterfront Tower features 960 standard rooms and 109 junior and corner suites plus nine super-suites/penthouse suites “employing technologies and efficient flat screen TV, iPod docking stations - all the amenities of a high-end resort,” said R. Scott Barber, senior vice president and general manager. The tower is part of a transformation of the 26-year-old resort into a mecca for regional shopping, dining, and entertainment, he said.

Along the southernmost stretch of the Las Vegas Strip, the emphasis is on combining luxury and affordability for catering to a more localized clientele. The South Point Hotel & Casino is set to open its third tower, which will include 800 guest rooms and suites. Each of the tower’s rooms will include a plasma TV, iPod and MP3 connectivity and Wi-Fi. The décor, featuring specially-designed Thomasville furniture, is “not extremely trendy, but more like a room in your house,” said Felicia Brizuela, director of hotel operations. “The rooms are extremely affordable, with average room rates half of what you’ll find on the Strip.”

The Guestroom 2010 exhibit features the latest in-room technologies.

Next generation technology

In an effort to harness the evolution of in-room technology, the hospitality industry has formed a collaborative effort, the Guestroom 2010 Task Force. The 2008 version of Guestroom 2010, a model hotel room featuring some of the latest and near-future technologies, will be unveiled at this year’s Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference in Austin, Texas, June 17-19.

Previous versions of Guestroom 2010 have included technologies such as a recycled carpet made from corn-based polymers, a bed without a mattress and a window that’s an art gallery.

“Because of the proliferation of new technologies entering the marketplace and the time it takes to build or renovate hospitality enterprises, [keeping rooms up to date] has always been a challenge for our industry,” said Frank Wolfe, CEO of Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals, the organization which produces the trade show and popular exhibit.

Only a few of the technologies displayed in the exhibit are purely conceptual, while a majority are capable of installation within 90 days. “We expect Guestroom 2010 will serve as an important reference for the industry as hotel companies implement more technologies into their guestrooms of tomorrow,” Wolfe said.

As for the 2008 version, Wolfe said, “I think that you are going to see a number of energy-saving devices, technologies that will require large amounts of bandwidth working via the Internet and maybe even some robots entering into the industry.”

A key point of hotel room technology convergence is the telephone. The standard lists of telephony features on display in most guest room phones are being transformed into customized options that enable flexible environments to deliver a broad selection of services and revenue opportunities. Standard rooms can be equipped to handle meeting services by delivering voice or video conferencing through an IP phone. Hotel guests can receive faxes, e-mails or voicemail messages, browse the Internet, place a work request, control room temperature, get up-to-date billing information or order entertainment services over almost any device. Even when away from their rooms, guests can access these same services via a mobile phone or PDA, or standard Web browser.

New services, such as video conferencing, music on demand, and IT services are available to any room in the hotel that is equipped with a standard communications outlet. Voice, data and video content is delivered over an IP foundation, and accessed via a TV, IP phone or standard Web browser. These services can be charged to a guest, group or company, or offered as a value-added benefit to differentiate a property.

One of the Guestroom 2010 technologies is Nevotek’s V/IP Suite, a communications platform that combines voice, data and video over a single network that can be easily integrated with existing hotel solutions to support the needs of sophisticated guests. The software delivers flexible communications services to guests over multiple devices - from an IP phone to a TV screen, mobile phone to a PDA, or standard Web browser. Guests can access services, including e-mail, voicemail and fax, high-speed access, up-to-date billing, entertainment services and room controls. These services can be delivered as a value-added option, or on a pay-per-use basis, to generate new revenues. It also provides a unified IP platform for telecommunications, IT services, back office billing, property management, surveillance, security and maintenance.

The product enables operators to improve the guest experience through customized content and local information tailored for guests, based on a personalized profile. This allows operators to associate the guest name, preferences and a service class - business traveler, vacation guest or visitor - and create a tailored service menu for each guest that’s displayed on an IP phone based on the guest’s profile information.

It and others like it are prerequisites for attracting guests and getting them to come back.

“If the guest has a technology at home, then they don’t expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a luxury hotel room and have to tolerate technology purchased in 2001,” Wolfe said. “Just like the days when hotels advertised free cable TV and air conditioning, smart hoteliers have an opportunity to use cutting edge technology as a competitive advantage in their hotels.”