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January 25, 2009 4:53 pm

Las Vegas bets on future of hotel rooms

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Scot Campbell sounds more like an impresario than a chief information officer as he describes the high-tech hotel rooms being built by his company, MGM Mirage.

We are in Las Vegas, and MGM is trying to bring the sparkle of a show on the Strip to its guest rooms.

“As you put the key in the door, it knows this is the first time you have entered the room, and the room says – let’s put on the show, folks,” he says.

As the doors open a 42-inch flat-panel television warms up to play music as the curtains part.

The high level of automation and technical wizardry being introduced in MGM’s CityCenter development, due to open on the Strip later this year, gives an idea of the direction that business travellers may expect from hotels in the future.


There should be no more struggling with credit card-style room keys and flaky internet connections. CityCenter will be using RFID radio frequency technology so a door can be opened by just passing the key over a sensor. All rooms will have Gigabit Ethernet – a speed of wired networking and internet connectivity generally experienced only by large corporations.

The TV and a touch-sensitive screen by the bed will be the main control centres for the occupants. Guests can choose different lighting moods and wake-up calls. There will even be a kind of hangover-mode alarm where the guest can set a gentle level of daylight for the room, opt for the sound from the selected TV channel to rise very gradually and for the room temperature to reach a precise level.

The CIO believes customers expect more from hotel technology as services such as Wi-Fi, HDTVs and automation become more common in their homes.

The technology will feature in the CityCenter complex’s Aria resort, which will include buildings designed by architects such as Norman Foster, Daniel Libeskind and Cesar Pelli. The designs mark a departure for Las Vegas, whose constructions typically mimic Venetian, Manhattan and Parisian styles.

The on-site technology will monitor use to save energy and costs, for example by turning the power off in empty rooms. Such developments are catching the eyes of others in the sector.

“There’s a lot of interest in the hotel industry in what we’re doing and how we’re lowering our [energy] costs,” says Mr Campbell.

“I think this is a prototype for the rest of MGM’s hotels; we think we are going to want to put technology like this into all of our remodels in the end.”

CityCenter has worked with the home automation company Control4 to create the hotels’ networks – a mesh of wireless sensors that use Zigbee low-powered radio technology. This system overcomes the need to rewire old buildings, helping to reduce costs.

Jim Gist, vice-president of global hospitality for Control4, says a 500-room hotel can recoup its investment in Zigbee-powered thermostats and air-conditioning systems in seven to 11 months, thanks to the energy savings created.

Installations will become cheaper as the technology develops. Control4 has already announced a partnership with Korea’s LG Electronics, the home appliance maker, where its systems will be included on a board contained in TVs sold to the hospitality industry.

Hotel guests will be able to use them to control lighting, curtains and entertainment systems with one remote control.

Such technological innovations, says Jonathan Gaw, connected-home analyst with the IDC research firm, mean hotels are stealing a march over homeowners.

“You would have to be a good do-it-yourself person to set this up; it’s not user-friendly enough to be mainstream,” he says.

“In contrast, a hotel will have an electrician on staff who can look after this in hundreds of rooms at a time.”

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