Security and entertainment systems ensure guest satisfaction.
It is difficult to recall a time when room keys were actually keys and televisions were unsightly boxes sitting in the corner, but as travel and technology have become more accessible, increased demand for integrated technology has changed the interior of hotels.
Hospitality designers face a continual dilemma when specifying hi-tech products for their guest suites. Play it safe and the item can be dated by the time their designs move from a drawing board to the finished product, but launching into the unknown and opting for a futuristic product in the hope that it will be on the right side of cutting-edge by a project's completion is equally as risky.
The experts all agree that technology is not just a trend; it is an essential aspect of hotel design. Des Williamson, manager of hospitality markets at Bose says: "Travellers and guests today have great entertainment systems in their homes and cars. They experience a quality sound when they go to the movies or a live performance and they always carry a mobile device with them. These travellers expect a hotel room to provide the same experience in a seamless and simple way."
Lars Klixbull, international account manager for Bang & Olufsen (B&O) agrees: "Trends in hotels are very much focused on integrating third party products such as ipods, laptops and music phones." Considering that most of the guests will travel with an ipod, Tivoli Audio has launched the iYiYi, which is a universal ipod docking station, compatible with all ipod units. Tom DeVesto, chairman and CEO of Tivoli Audio (which is represented by Dubai Audio Centre) says: "Once inserted in the docking station, the iYiYi recharges the iPod and the system's credit card-sized remote control operates the ipod functions it also comes complete with a state of the art AM/FM radio, built in alarm and digital clock."
With trends evolving what technology should interior designers be looking to provide for hotel guests?
B&O have installed LCD televisions with integrated DVD and CD players in both the Shangri-La and Emirates Towers. Klixbull said: "Both hotels had a large amount of input into what technology they wanted installed as do most hotels we work with." While most companies offer an interior designer a full range of their products, Loewe go a little further with the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Individual LCD' television set. Distributed through Dubai Audio Centre, this television comes in a total of seven different colours which can be combined with any of nine side insets in different woods or metals to match the interiors.
The key is making the guest feel as though their needs are being met without realising what their needs are. Roomwithnet Systems has launched The Virtual Concierge, a fully digital in room service, which will be installed at the Diamond Hotel, Dubai Sports City.
This device offers 24-hour room service, high speed internet access, movies on demand and a range of other features. Carol Prince, director of Roomwithnet Systems explains that: "Each hotel can self brand the numerous features this system has to offer and each system is tailor-made."
Designers need to remember that the system needs to function after they have left and moved onto their next project. Klixbull, B&O, says: "All systems that we install in a hotel are customised according to cost and demand. The most disappointing thing for a guest is to not be able to use all of the features on a control because the hotel has decided to not to install them or it is too complicated to use. Williamson agrees: "Training hotel personnel in the operation of in-room technology is key to simplifying the complexity." Designers need to ensure that the hotel operator has installed a trained facility manager in the hotel that can cope with the ongoing maintenance of whatever hi-tech system they have specified, from the TV to the automated rainshower.
For a truly hi-tech hotel experience, guests should be impressed before they even enter the hotel room. Leire Iriberri, marketing EMEA of Onity, an American security company who have just signed a landmark deal with hotel chain Marriott International, believes security is just as important as the interior design: "When it comes to security, the demand is for a minimalist, electronic lock that blends seamlessly with any hotel decor whilst maintaining the same features and functions as current systems. The 'intelligent room' concept is also popular with integration of all security and control systems of the hotel in one, such as building automation, energy management and automatic check in." The latest security systems also integrate a host of other bedroom facilities such as lights, air conditioning and curtains. They have the added benefit of saving energy. Jung has supplied energy saving systems at the Radisson SAS, Internet City and other hotel projects including the Fairmont and Capitol Hotel Bur Dubai. Rabih Kassir, division manager, Al Mazroui ICAS says: "The most important feature in a hotel at the moment is lighting, curtain, air conditioning all of which are controlled by one digital unit which should be in-keeping with the interior and be easy to use. This technology does not take long to install, saves space and saves energy." The Hotelcard is such a credit card size card which controls the electricity supply in a hotel room. When the card is taken out of the master switch all of the electricity is then switched off including entertainment systems on stand-by.
As with any form of technology, it is important to maintain a close working partnership with suppliers of the entertainment systems. Bowers & Wilkins and Rotel, represented by Archimedia, offer an in-house expert for interior designers and hotels. Omar Hikal, chief operating officer, Archimedia says: "Our process is totally customer-centred, focusing solely on those technologies that will enhance a specific lifestyle. We work with the client to optimise the viewing, listening and control experience, resulting in a system that delivers precisely what you would expect. Wiring for future upgrades or additions should always be done to avoid future electrical works."
As the latest products indicate, technology is an important factor in all hotel rooms and is something guests have come to expect. Guest satisfaction is key and with hotels rising in the Middle East daily, in-room technology remains as important as the choice of carpet and wallpaper.