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More Hotels Going Hi-Tech

© Courtesy of The Plaza Hotel

Innovations from iPads to QR codes enhance your hotel experience.

Next time you’re staying at a hotel and thinking of ordering a Cobb salad or extreme fajita shooters from room service, there’s a good chance you won’t have to go fumbling about in the desk for the “in-room dining” menu. Instead, you might just pick up the suite’s dedicated iPad, which you’ll also use to check your bill, call down to the front desk (via video, if you’d like), book a table for dinner at the restaurant or even change the channels on the TV.

Spurred by mobile products like tablet computers, technology is making a great migration into the upscale hotels of today. And while just about everyone is doing it in a slightly different way, one thing is certain: The era of being even partially disconnected while you’re holed up in a hotel is coming to an end.

iPad as the tool of choice

New York’s iconic Plaza is leading the charge: As of January it outfitted all of its rooms and suites with iPads loaded to the gills with apps designed for the well-heeled traveler. Everything you’d normally have to seek out via an icon on the telephone is represented here—and more: room service, reservations, concierge access, wake-up calls, maps of Manhattan and even airline schedules and boarding pass printouts. Naturally guests can also use the iPads for web browsing, email and just about anything else the iPad can do, and if the iPad happens to end up in your suitcase, well, The Plaza is happy to bill you for the tablet at cost.

Plaza general manager Shane Krige says so far the program has been a hit. “The personal touch and ability to communicate visually is truly fantastic,” says Krige. “For us the iPad is not about reducing the personal guest interactions you would expect in a five-star hotel but about improving our guest experience and service by providing more options. The iPads have been a huge success with our guests in all aspects.”

QR codes for extras and online engagement

New technology isn’t just revolving around the lodging portion of a trip. Radisson Edwardian Hotels in London are now using the newfangled Quick Response code—or QR code—in their restaurant properties. The pixilated codes appear on the restaurants’ menus, and diners who scan them get extras like videos of the dish of the day, showing how the dish is prepared, a list of ingredients and more. This doesn’t just give you something to talk about at the table as you wait for the basil-crusted lemon meringue pie to come out of the kitchen, it also helps out diners who have allergies and other food restrictions in picking their way through the entrées.

Says Radisson e-commerce manager Amy Clarke, “We decided to add QR codes to our menus to give customers a ‘behind the scenes’ experience when they visit the restaurant. The codes allow us to bring the offline experience online, so that customers are more engaged and inclined to visit our website again in future. Feedback from guests has been positive as the QR code delivers a ‘nice surprise’ and a talking point for the service staff.”

Tech helps hotels get green

You’ll find sophisticated tech goodies being unwrapped in Dallas at the Grand Hyatt DFW, a luxury hotel located in Terminal D of the DFW airport in Dallas: When the renovation is complete, air-conditioning, lighting and shades will all be controlled via touch screen, and shades will automatically open upon entry and close when a guest departs, all designed to keep the blazing Texas sun from frying rooms while guests are out. Lighting—all LED or fluorescent—shuts off automatically 10 minutes after a guest leaves.

All of this sounds fine and good, but it does make one wonder if the personal touch that so many hotels rely on is being made obsolete by this new reliance on technology. Your in-room iPad may be able to get you theater tickets…but can it turn down the sheets and put a mint on the pillow?

Christopher Null has been a technology journalist for 20 years. He was the founding editor of Mobile PC magazine and has written about technology for outlets such as Yahoo!, Wired and PC World. No slouch under the hood of a PC, he assembled a computer in seven minutes when competing in the TigerDirect Charity PC Race at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. He can be reached at editor@executivetravelmag.com.

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