I've been on the road for 20 of the last 21 days, staying in seven different hotels. Along the way, I believe I may have stumbled across a vision of the hotel of the future.
Each property I stayed in was a different brand. Each used a variety of amenities and services to appeal to its target customer; each calibrated service, design and attitude accordingly.
The evidence of what hoteliers call "amenity creep" was everywhere. Room inventory I saw included a small espresso machine (Movenpick Resort and Spa Dead Sea, in Jordan), room safes with plugs to recharge securely stored laptops (InterContinental Los Angeles Century City Hotel) and clock radios with inputs to accommodate MP3 players (the InterContinental and THEHotel at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas).
There were special service touches. Complimentary, black truffle-infused popcorn was sent up with DVDs from the hotel's library at the Beverly Hills Peninsula. A children's treasure hunt through the public spaces at the Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey ended at a chest full of small toys to reward young guests.
Among the more unusual things I came across was an on-site Turkish bath at the Taybet Zaman near Petra in Jordan. A truly old-school spa, it offered only one package: sit in steam, get scrubbed down with a soapy loofa and then recover on cushions while sipping a glass of hot mint tea. Preferred parking spots for alternative-fuel vehicles at the Ambrose in Santa Monica, Calif., also caught my eye.
Given all these options, I was sometimes surprised at what wasn't available. Where, for instance, was the coffee maker at the Peninsula? "One could easily clutter up the available space with amenities," responded the property's new marketing director, Spencer Yao. "If one of our guests wants a coffee maker, they need only ask."
That hotel is certainly regarded as a contender in a competitive set that includes both the Beverly Wilshire and the Beverly Hills Hotel. Could it be that a less-is-more approach is a sign of things to come?
I doubt it. In this case, it's likely more a reflection of the Peninsula's "classic" (and consciously anti-trendy) approach to hospitality.
Then there's that preferential parking for those arriving in alternative-fuel vehicles. The Ambrose, according to its director of sales and marketing, Shannon Colburt, was green before green was cool, built in 2003 as both environment-friendly and "organic." (Breakfasts and room service provide food made only with organic ingredients.)
Interestingly, you'd need to read the wrapping on the toilet paper (100% recycled) or the stickers on the fruit to know you're staying in a green and organic environment. I asked three different guests if they chose the Ambrose because of its green positioning; none even knew about it. One liked the bedding, another the location, the third the combination of free parking, free breakfast and free Wi-Fi. The last of these guests had noticed the recycle bin in the bathroom but hadn't given it much thought.
Is this the hotel of the future? The owner hopes to clone the concept (presumably without genetically modifying it) and create a chain of Ambroses. I don't doubt it represents a very real trend, but it's not what I have in mind.
As it turns out, I didn't stay at the property that I believe foreshadows where hospitality is headed. But while in the Los Angeles area, I was given a tour of the Disneyland Dream Suite. A complimentary night in this small apartment in Disneyland (there are similar ones in other Disney parks) is arguably the biggest reward handed out randomly to visitors during Disney's Year of a Million Dreams campaign.
The decor and amenities of the Dream Suite are certainly exceptional, but they have their match, and then some, at top-tier luxury properties like the Mansion at MGM Grand or the Burj al-Arab in Dubai.
What Disney has added in measures never before seen, however, are surprise and entertainment.
Each room offers a limited number of what are called "Good Night Kisses." An example: When a guest pushes a button, the face of a grandfather clock changes to Geppetto, the tune "When You Wish Upon a Star" fills the room and fireworks seem to sparkle in the fireplace.
In an adjacent bedroom, if a button is pushed a train that appears to be in a glass case on a whatnot shelf begins circumnavigating the room, setting in motion a small sound-and-light show.
It's one thing to have a DVD brought to your room. It's quite another to feel that you're suddenly in a movie.
The future of hotels? For leisure properties, it'll be the removal of the lines separating hospitality, entertainment and fantasy. And, appropriately, the prototype may already exist in the general vicinity of Tomorrowland.
To contact Arnie Weissmann, send comments to [email protected].