Technology is really a word of the past century - and to be more accurate, the past decade. Today the Internet, ISDN, modems and laptop computers are all part and parcel of our world. One hundred years ago the traveller was lucky to enter a hotel with a lift and central heating.
It is not just the technology the traveller sees that has changed. The same applies to the back office. No longer does money whizz round hotels in vacuum-powered tubes. Nor does the National Cash Register company supply the means of tallying the day's takings. Now it is electronic point of sales, property management systems, and yield management that are the buzzwords of the hotel world.
But to see the changes in technology, take a moment to look at a snapshot of the guest experience in three different time periods: 1910, 1963 and 2002. All are somewhat fictionalised, but the inventions are real, and the futuristic gadgets are all being tested out somewhere in the hotel industry today at the end of 1999.
Hotel visit circa 1910
Maxwell Green arrives at the Gustav hotel in a hansom (an enclosed horse-drawn cart for two passengers) on a cold, wet night in 1910. Here he is greeted by Charles, the doorman, who takes his bags into the lobby. The general manager himself is on hand to welcome Maxwell.
Would he like a table at 8pm? Very good sir, says the general manager. There are two telegrams awaiting him, and he is handed a copy of the evening paper. He books a long-distance call for the following morning at 9am to Paris to ensure a connection with his business associate. There is a telephone in his room, but it is only for use within the hotel. To make or receive external calls Maxwell must go to the end of the corridor where there is a telephone for this purpose.
Charles moves to the lift with Maxwell's bags. Inside, he hauls the rope to move the lift to the second floor. Maxwell is particularly grateful for his assistance in this department as during his previous visit the lift had malfunctioned and stopped short of the floor, leaving him to clamber up a foot with his luggage.
Inside the room, the electric lights are switched on and the valet enters to draw a bath for him - this is the only hotel in London where there is a bath in every room.
Maxwell leaves his shoes for the valet to clean and then dines alone in the restaurant - in full evening dress, naturally. He misses his wife particularly, and muses that 20 years ago she would not have been able to dine in public at all. He then retires to his room. Before sleeping he writes a letter to his wife with the paper on his desk, drying the fresh ink on the blotter. He leaves it outside his door to be picked up by the valet and mailed with the first post in the morning.
A knock on the door from his valet awakens Maxwell at 7.30am the next morning. He washes, and shaves, cutting himself slightly in the poor light and then proceeds to breakfast where he reads the morning paper. He negotiates the lift and goes down to make his pre-booked call to Paris and leave a telegram with the doorman. Then he is ready to check out. He is presented with a hand-written itemised bill, which charges 7s 6d for his single room. He asks for a room to be reserved in a month's time, when he shall return with his wife for their wedding anniversary which coincides with the start of the London Season. The general manager inquires which anniversary they are celebrating and once Maxwell has left, he makes a note in his diary to ensure appropriate flowers and Champagne are in the room.
Maxwell is seen off by Charles, who watches him disappear in the direction of Victoria railway station muttering something about catching the 9.50 to Brighton.
After Maxwell has left, head housekeeper Mrs Smythe instructs her girls to make haste with the cleaning. Hydraulically operated vacuum attachments suck up the dust and debris via hoses attached to copper piping outlets. The piping deposits the debris on the street.
(With thanks to the Goring hotel)
Hotel visit circa 1963
George Green arrives at the Hilton, Park Lane fresh from London Airport, to the west of the city. He is arriving at the tallest hotel in London, recently completed with 512 bedrooms and representing an £8m investment. This is the first new luxury hotel to be built in London in 30 years, and on finding that George would be passing through London his secretary made a reservation for him. In his briefcase he has the cable confirming his reservation.
He is met from the taxi by the doorman and then the porter who takes his luggage from him. Entering the main foyer, George heads for the check-in desk. Here he signs the necessary forms, receives his room key and heads for the lifts. The lift travels at 800ft per minute to his room on the 26th floor. In the background, music is playing.
Finding his room he inserts the key in the door, and enters. His suite is complete with a television, radio, telephone and a few minutes later the porter arrives with his luggage, and shows him around the room, pointing out the amenities and mentioning there is iced water on tap in the bathroom. The porter withdraws and George goes to the window. From here he can see Guildford Cathedral as it is a particularly clear day.
He goes to the telephone and checks in with his secretary, before heading for a shower.
Dressed smartly in his suit and tie, he has a strawberry/rum cocktail in Trader Vic's bar and then heads for dinner at the Roof Top restaurant where he takes in the view of London.
On returning from dinner, the red light on his telephone is illuminated to show he has a message. He calls the front desk to get it.
Then he decides to have a look at what is on television. Lying in bed George can turn the television off, via the remote control located in a panel by his bed head.
Checking out the following morning, George makes use of his new Carte Blanche credit card, which comes from Hilton Credit Corporation, to pay his bill. His suite cost £16 for the night and his Strawberry Puiwa at Trader Vic's bar, 12s 6d.
The housekeeping team is soon changing sheets, and hoovering his room.
The hotel visit of the future, circa 2002
Hannah Green enters the lobby of the Palace Hotel in London after flying in from New York. She goes to the self-check in kiosk and inserts her loyalty card. The computer allocates her pre-requested room 701, and the card also becomes her room key. Two labels with bar codes are printed out, which she attaches to her luggage. She then puts the suitcases on the nearby conveyor belt. As the bags enter the system, the bar codes will be scanned, read and the bags sorted by floor. They will arrive inside her room, via a modern dumbwaiter system, at the same time she does.
Hannah swipes her card in the lift and is taken to the correct floor. Her door opens once again with use of the card and her presence in the room activates the guest room systems such as heating and lighting.
She decides to take a bath after her journey, presets the water to soft, and at a temperature of 38.5ºC and leaves it to run. She does not worry about the bath overflowing, as it will shut off when it reaches a point just below the emergency drainage. She opens her minibar and removes a bottle of white wine and a packet of crisps. These are automatically charged to her account, as they are scanned by the refrigerator's infra-red system on removal. Her bedroom television set has a welcome message, and is displaying the headlines from the Times, the Wall Street Journal and El Pais - her loyalty card alerted the central data system that Hannah was bilingual in English and Spanish, so the appropriate newspapers were downloaded electronically. The television also alerts her to the fact there are messages waiting for her - one on her e-mail, which she has linked with the hotel's system and one on the voice-mail of her direct-dial line telephone. She deals with these messages, sending a copy of the voice-mail to her assistant in New York. In a New York hotel her mobile phone would directly link to the direct line in her room, but unfortunately there is still a difference between Europe and the USA, so this is not yet possible in London. In the bathroom, her entrance activates the air conditioning and fans. In the bathroom is another television and she decides to catch the local evening news. During the programme the phone rings. The television automatically mutes when she presses the answer button on the panel beside the bath. The telephone is hands free and uses digital processing to eliminate the cavernous effect that occurs in bathrooms. Once she is finished, she presses the hook button and the television sound returns. If her husband were with her, he would find shaving easy, owing to the heated mirrors which prevent steaming.
Once out of the bath, Hannah decides to order room service. Using an electronic point of sale console that is wired into her desk, she orders a club sandwich, a bottle of wine and a cheesecake. In the kitchen her order prints out and is dealt with by the room-service team. Her order is automatically billed to her account, as the EPoS system links with the hotel's accounting system.
Hannah sits down with her laptop at her ergonomically designed desk and on her ergonomically designed chair and connects to the communication node in the room. The node is the central connection point for laptops, mobile phones, faxes, and telephones. It accepts all types of power plugs and telephone adapters. This allows her access to the fastest bandwidth for data transferral - more than 10 times faster than the ISDN lines of the late 1990s.
Her television also has free Internet access, but she prefers working with her own systems already set up on her laptop. Her first stop on the Internet is the music library, and she downloads some rousing Rachmaninov that comes through on her laptop, which has brilliant fidelity.
Her dinner arrives via a modern dumb waiter, where it has travelled via a lift and conveyor belt system from the central kitchen.
To relax before bedtime, Hannah decides to catch her favourite television show, Friends, from New York. It is now possible to watch the programme of her choice irrespective of the geographic location of the origination of the programme. Video recorders make it possible for Hannah to dial up an independent video library in New York which has last night's programmes and choose to watch the Friends series currently running in New York, instead of being forced to watch the local television programming. She has the option of paying a small fee to watch a commercial-free version of the Friends episode, or watch for free and accept the ads.
Hannah settles down for an early night and the room's fax machine detects the lack of light, and stores all incoming faxes until the lights come on again, to avoid disturbing her sleep.
The temperature-sensitive duvet on the bed ensures she is neither too cold nor too hot. If her husband were with her, the duvet would adapt to each of them separately.
The next morning, a light alarm brightens the room, waking Hannah at 7.30am. Before leaving her room she checks her bill on her television, books her next visit for two weeks' time and requests that the concierge makes a reservation for her and three clients at a nearby restaurant.
Once she has left, the lights turn off and the heating reduces automatically. As her check-out details are processed, the central data system transfers the details of her room service and television habits to her personal preferences list. Meanwhile, the maintenance department is on its way up to room 701 because it has received a message from the central data system that the bedside lamp bulb has blown.
Hannah has not spoken to or interacted with a single member of the hotel's staff.