Checking In at the Hotel of Tomorrow

The hotel industry looks to the future, with far-out ideas from robot bellhops to rooms that monitor your health.

By Susanna Hamner, Business 2.0 Magazine writer-reporter

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- How can hoteliers best serve the road warrior of 2025? What technology will future tourists expect in their Travelodge? Those are the questions that led Chicago-based design firm Gettys and the Hospitality Design Group earlier this year to gather 100 industry experts, drawn from companies such as Starwood Hotels (Charts), Whirlpool (Charts), and strategy firm Phillips & Co.

The result: 1,000 game-changing ideas, many of which were unveiled at the Global Exposition and Conference for Hospitality Design in Miami in September. "No other project has brought together so many people from different industries and recognizable companies for a single cause," says Ron Swidler, Gettys's senior vice president. "The hotel industry has historically been slow to change, but it has embraced this project."

So while robot bellhops and health-monitoring bathrooms may seem far-fetched, you'd better believe hotels are eyeing them for the long term. One of this year's top ideas - turning hotels into retail showrooms where guests can try out and then buy any of the items on display - has already been implemented by chains such as Hyatt and Kimpton.

Next up, experts say, are "lifestyle" hotels built around themes and co-branded with large companies: say, an athletic-themed Nike (Charts) hotel brought to you by Starwood. In the meantime, check out the industry's best ideas for the future of checking in.

LOBBY

Choose-Your-Own Check-In Tired of rooms that are not as advertised? Now you can pick your own, based on 3-D photos and room reviews from previous guests. And the hotel can upsell an executive to the penthouse suite by showing him that plasma TV in the living room.

The "Botler" Did It Bellhops are so 20th century. This robotic butler not only carries your bags but lives in your room for the duration of your stay. It can be programmed to fetch room service and take away trash and dirty dishes. Best of all, it won't glare at you while you fish in your wallet for a tip.

Kinetic Corridor It isn't just the lobby and rooms that cater to your needs. When the corridor detects human CO2 emissions, LCD panels on the ceiling become a blanket of stars, and illuminated signs point guests to their rooms, with large numbers for tired eyes. The carpet's nanofibers fight static and stains.

A Key to Everything No longer are your room key, hotel phone, and concierge separate entities. After scanning your fingerprint, this voice- and touch-controlled wireless gizmo lets you read e-mail, book theater tickets, and order room service - while you're still in the elevator.

ROOM

Bath and Beyond The nanotech revolution means spotless antibacterial bathroom tiles, not to mention intelligent bathtubs that mold to the shape of your body. It's gentler on the environment too. Water from the sink and shower is filtered into the toilet reservoir, rather than going down the drain. And all toiletry bottles are biodegradable.

Remaking the Bed Since it takes up so much of a room's real estate, a bed ought to be multipurpose. This one flips over into a work surface or rises all the way up to become a ceiling panel. The bed's base lights up in each configuration, thanks to built-in light-emitting capacitors (LECs).

A More Comfortable Comforter The sheets are made of special nanofabric that keeps itself clean and can be adjusted for firmness and heat. Biosensors measure your body temperature and instruct the fabric to adjust accordingly.

Fashion Police Can't decide what to wear to the big meeting? A reader scans the ubiquitous RFID tags in your clothes, and the room's software suggests the best combination - or points you to local clothing boutiques.

Home Cooking Guests are offered room-service menus, TV shows, radio stations, and news printouts from their home state or country.

The Hot Seat This multitask chair is equipped with reading lights, fold-up tablet tray tables, and integrated speakers near the ears. The nanofabric is flexible, breathable, antimicrobial, and even self-repairing. The vertical antenna on the right tablet functions as a videocamera. When it's active, the tablet screen below becomes a viewing screen. The muscle stimulation switch provides a relaxing massage. Can your Aeron do all that?

Power Up Don't worry about bringing charger cables. Electricity is transmitted magnetically via a mesh power grid stationed under floors and behind walls.

Happy Feet Pads on the bathroom floor read your vital signs while you're barefoot at the sink and figure out what nutrients you're lacking; they're then mixed in a gel and available in a dispenser next to the faucet.

KITCHEN

Porta-Gallery Taking a cue from Airstream trailers, this all-in-one prefabricated kitchen can be dropped into a modular hotel suite, then removed for the next guest. Everything is made from bioengineered cornstarch materials. The dishwasher doubles as a storage area for dishes, which get blasted with antimicrobial cleaning solutions to ensure that they're always clean. The stove and oven function as a single unit. The storage unit on the right is a pantry, fridge, and minibar, which can be loaded from the hotel corridor through a trapdoor in the wall. Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.