Image: HOT room
Kevin Richards  /  Autodesk
This conceptual image shows what a hotel room of the future might look like.
By Travel writer contributor
updated 11/28/2006 3:13:07 PM ET 2006-11-28T20:13:07

Travel enough and even the latest and greatest amenity will eventually go from hip to humdrum. In-room iPod dock? Yawn. Wall-to-wall WiFi? I should hope so. Flat-screen TV? Yeah, been there, watched that.

No, real innovation comes from imagining amenities that haven’t been invented yet. At least that’s the idea behind the Hotel of Tomorrow (HOT) project, an industry-spanning initiative put together by Hospitality Design (HD) magazine and Gettys, a Chicago-based design firm. Unveiling their ideas earlier this fall, the group effort offered intriguing ideas on everything from checking in to conking out.

A touch-screen unit that lets you pick hotel rooms the way you choose airline seats. Nano-painted walls that provide on-demand electricity without cords or cables. Biometric monitors that adjust lighting, temperature, and humidity based on your health needs and personal preferences. Given the rate of technological change these days — dial-up, anyone? — they’re not as far-fetched as they sound.

In fact, the project participants based their ideas on developments already underway. Looking at both the latest macrotrends (nanotechnology, connectivity, etc.) and guest demographics (neo-greens to Gen Y teens), they came up with an array of amenities designed to boost consumer choice and a more personalized experience.

That’s a great thing, although I can see a potential problem, i.e., living through the learning curve that always comes with new technology. As a guy who can get flummoxed by the extra buttons on his new TV remote, I’m not exactly a technophobe, but I can sure be technofeeble at times, and I suspect there may be a few bumps along the way to this brave new world.

Check it out
Anyone who has used a touch screen to pre-select an airline seat will appreciate a similar service for choosing hotel rooms. Bring up an image of a hotel (online or in the lobby), touch a particular room, and voilà, you can see a picture, list of amenities, perhaps even the view out the window.

Imagine the detail, the flexibility, the mind-boggling potential to be completely paralyzed by the wealth of choices. If you’ve ever circled a parking lot bypassing empty spots in pursuit of a better one, you know exactly what I mean. I can already hear my wife muttering, “Just…pick…one…wouldja?

Or, how about a handheld unit that works as a room key, mobile phone, and control unit for lights, window blinds, and air conditioning? Pretty cool, huh? Add in a video screen and more software, and suddenly, you’ve got a combination PDA, GPS unit, and direct link to the hotel concierge.

Then again, given the abuse that hotel appliances are subject to, I can foresee some issues when the unit goes on the fritz. (“Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”) Likewise, I’m pretty sure it’s going to cost you more than five bucks if you lose it.

Settling in
Considering most of us book hotel rooms to avoid sleeping outdoors, it’s not surprising that bedding received a lot of attention among the HOT Project participants. Forget designer sheets and pillow menus; we’re talking self-cleaning, nano-fiber linens and light-emitting pillows for late-night reading.

My favorite, though, would have to be the bed/bath unit in which the sleep surface can be retracted to create a bathtub and shower. It would save space, it would save time, and the benefits could extend far beyond the hotel business. Start putting them in college dorms and you’ve got the ideal all-in-one unit for those who overdo it at the Friday-night kegger.

Other envisioned amenities get downright personal. One such idea would use a floor pad to monitor guests’ health through their feet and a mirror to display the data and something called “elective physical modifications.” I’m not sure what that means exactly — a new hairdo? different lipstick? nose job and facelift? — but I’d like to make a request should the concept ever become reality. Do me a favor, disable the weight function, okay?

Equally problematic, perhaps, would be the proposed fashion consulting system, which would take your plans (work, exercise, a night on the town) and personal preferences into account and then display appropriate clothing from local retailers. In my case, I just know the unit would roll its digital eyes, heave a synthesized sigh, and flash a message saying, “I’m sorry, the system needs to shut down. A fatal error has occurred.”

And yet, despite that, I think the people involved in the Hotel of Tomorrow project are onto something. By bringing together a diverse group of designers, hoteliers, and manufacturers, they’ve not only come up with some interesting ideas; they’ve also put together a dream team that stands the best chance of turning those ideas into reality. Sure, it’ll mean I’ll be scratching my head or tearing my hair out again, but I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

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