In-room technology has undoubtedly come on leaps and bounds in recent years. From high speed wifi access to flatscreen televisions, no other aspect of the hotel stay has changed so quickly.
In the November 2009 issue of Business Traveller, we looked at the current state of play, particularly with regards to the provision of free internet access, but for a glimpse of the future, you could do worse than tour the rooms at the new Peninsula Shanghai.
The city is a suitable place for looking to the future, not least because in a few months it will play host to the 2010 World Expo, and because a quick way of getting into town from the astonishing Pudong International Airport is by the world-beating Maglev train which travels at a maximum normal operating speed of 268mph, albeit only to Metro station Longyang Lu on Line 2.
It is on Shanghai’s Bund, however, that the big changes are taking place. Not only is the flyover that once blighted this area now a thing of the past, demolished and replaced by a soon-to-open tunnel along the Bund, but a new hotel - the first to be unveiled in over 80 years - has just come on line.
The style of the hotel is described as “a homage to Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s”, and the exterior has art deco detailing, but really is only attractive at night, courtesy of some lovely golden horizontal strip lighting. The interior, however, is much more impressive, the result of a collaboration between New York-based architect David Beer, formerly of BBG/Architects, and Paris-based interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon of PYR.
There are a total of 235 rooms (including 44 suites), and with a typical Deluxe Guestroom measuring 55 sqm they are the among the largest in the city. Exotic woods, imported stones, black lacquer, carved glass and colour schemes in either celadon (pale green) or cerulean blue and ivory make the rooms not only great to look at, but convey an unmistakeable sense of luxury.
Business travellers aren’t averse to luxury, especially if the company travel policy allows it, but what they will be particularly impressed with is the technology in the rooms. There is complimentary high speed wifi, something you might expect in a five-star hotel, but which more often than not is an added extra, and there is a three-in-one fax/printer/photocopier machine allowing you to print out valuable documents, or just your boarding pass for the journey home.
As well as dual voltage outlets (110V/220V), by the side of the large lacquer working desk is an international internet radio, weather panel, iPod docking station, a USB slot enabling guests to use the large 46 inch LCD television for viewing documents, pictures or movies from your laptop or other compatible device, and an IP phone allowing you to make free international phone calls.
Assuming you ever make it over to the bed, on the side table is a bedside technology panel which as well as operating everything from the temperature, the TV and the CD and DVD player, allows you to lower the blackout curtains to cover the triple-glazed windows which no noise from the traffic on the Bund will penetrate. The bedside panel dims when not in use, but is motion sensitive, so if you wake in the night simply moving your hand close to it will illuminate the panel allowing you to see all the different buttons.
Each room has a dressing room and walk-in closet including a seated dressing table, and the signature Peninsula valet box (which allows you to place your shoes in the box so they can be picked up for polishing without any disturbance) has now been enlarged so you can add laundry and dry-cleaning, all with a six-hour minimum guarantee of being returned. There is a large electronic safe (with plug inside for continued charging), a luggage rack for two suitcases, controls for the internet radio with its own weather display panel and a “nail dryer” built into the wall.
The technology continues in the bathroom, which has a hands-free telephone function allowing you to simply answer incoming calls by pressing either “Line 1” or “Line 2" on a panel by the bath, with the microphone embedded in the ceiling. The moment you do this, any music or audio you were listening to is immediately silenced. The panel also allows you to create a spa-like atmosphere at the push of a single button, with the lights dimmed, relaxing music playing and the “Do not disturb” button being illuminated outside.
All of this technology has been devised by Pensinsula’s 26-strong in-house team of technology experts, which is impressive considering the chain only has nine hotels, and so presumably doesn’t enjoy many economies of scale. Ingvar Herland , the General Manager for Research and Technology at Peninsula says that they regularly receive inquiries from other hotel groups for access to the technology, but there are refused because “the technology is one of the differentiators for the group.” But Herland also points out that buying in outside systems is also very expensive, and they frequently have faults or are expensive to maintain.
Herland stays in the hotel rooms and travels widely, and says “Like everyone else I get annoyed when the bedside panel allows you to turn off half of the lights in the room, but then for the other half you have to walk around turning them off individually.”
“We make things that work well, and are tested, and if there is a problem then we have trained staff in each hotel who have been involved in every aspect of the development of the in-room technology, and who can help sort out any potential problem.”
This feedback also comes from senior management at Peninsula, and the Chairman of the Peninsula’s holding company, Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Sir Michael Kadoorie. Herland says that Sir Michael “can call me on a Saturday morning and start discussing technology. He is very sharp on the details and makes a big contribution.”
Since Sir Michael is in his late sixties, there’s clearly no excuse for the rest of us in getting confused with the new technology in hotel rooms. If in Shanghai, it would be a good time to take a look at the rooms at the Peninsula, particularly since the hotel is currently going through a “soft” opening period, and the rates are considerably lower than they will be next year, when Shanghai is host city for the World Expo.”
For more information visit peninsula.com.
Report by Tom Otley