Room with a View . . . of Tomorrow

What's your vision of the hotel room of the future? Tiny nanobots scrubbing you as you sleep? An antigravity room? Don't laugh -- 54 percent of a hospitality-industry audience surveyed in 2000 believed a hotel on the moon would open in the next 50 years.

A survey of British business travelers found that 42 percent said the most useful item in a hotel room is an Internet connection, and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the number of rooms with high-speed Internet access will increase by 80 percent this year.

To gauge what else guests want, Hilton has created a "hotel room of the future" in the Hilton Garden Inn in El Segundo, CA, near L.A. International Airport. Its high-tech amenities include an electronic room safe that locks and opens by scanning your fingerprint. The safe also has a power outlet, so your laptop can charge while locked away. Room phones have video consoles, with cameras built into front doors to see who's knocking. A handheld controller lets guests monitor lighting, temperature, drape position, and television settings, all from the "air system" bed. There's a 42-inch plasma display TV, massage chair, steam shower, and Toto toilet with heated seat and bidet.

Some hotels are also launching body-heat-activated light and temperature controls that turn on and off when a guest enters or leaves a room. Energy savings should keep down prices. You won't freeze when sleeping, either, assures Mike Fahner, VP for ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, which uses motion detectors at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, VA. "Sleeping people do roll, so detectors stay on."

High-quality, individualized videoconferencing may finally become commonplace by 2005, as bandwidth costs drop. In the real world, though, it will probably be confined to meeting rooms. Unless they're Internet exhibitionists, many guests will reject a camera's unblinking eye in their hotel room.

But the hotel room of the future isn't just about technology. "If hotel rooms looked the same everywhere, why would you travel?" says noted hotel architect Adam Tihany. He selected 10 designers for 2002's Grand Hotel Salone project, assigning each to create a 347-square-foot room for a different international city. Interestingly, designer Toyo Ito changed the design of his New York room after the September 11 attacks, creating a quiet retreat for travelers to pray and meditate.

Perhaps this is the room of the future, where guests can refresh themselves by turning off technology. At Aramark's university conference centers, PCs with business software, printers, and Internet access are commonplace -- not in guest rooms, but in hallway "conferencing alcoves." Fahner says, "Here, meetings are serious business. When it's time to decompress, our guests like a restful room environment. For us, it's an emerging trend to get technology out of the guest room."