Hotels are looking for integrators. Is high-tech hospitality a good gamble?
By Audrey Gray
Thirty-five floors above the clamorous roundabout that is Columbus Circle, the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel floats over Manhattan with the serenity of a Kowtow temple. Walls of glass provide guests a bird's eye view of Central Park and its marbled frame of proper penthouses.
But on an average afternoon, the lobby's visitors are eschewing the cityscape in favor of their own windows to the world—the LCD screens of their laptops. With room rates of $800 a night at the Mandarin, business-minded guests value a Wi-Fi hotspot at least as highly as a froufrou view.
One floor up, in the hotel's ballroom, a multi-camera recording system is turning a wedding reception into an international event via live web streaming. In the 251 guest rooms that reach up 19 floors, Samsung LCD TVs with Dolby surround sound speakers are as de-rigueur as a fresh orchid on the pillow. Better still, the in-room entertainment/information systems offer as many docks and ethernet ports as a sophisticated home office, without the chord spaghetti. A weekend with a wireless keyboard and a touchscreen telephone that orders martinis from room service is a sweet rendezvous indeed, and the hotel's IT staff says advanced room technology is playing "a critical component" in the Mandarin's marketing strategy.
The Mandarin Hotel Group, a luxury chain with properties from Bangkok to Bermuda, is so committed to staying on the forefront of electronic experiences that it has devoted an executive exclusively to that mission: Chief Technology Officer Nick Price.
"2006 will be the year that opens the Pandora's box of possibilities for in-room entertainment and technology," says Price. "Portability is a key trend. We will also see the first devices emerge that stream content across the internet from remote locations—even guests' home audio or video systems. We'll be ready to...meet those expectations."