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Hotels plugging in to the trends

In trying to meet customer demands, hotels have done the comfortable bed and bedding bit. They've added healthy menu items. And now they are picking up on social media traffic.

Lobby makeovers feature open spaces, plug-in places, comfortable seating and attractive design that encourage work on iPads and laptops and chatting in person or by text. And you don't have to go up to your hotel room for it. Older hotels are updating as newer ones are tech savvy to start. Here are some examples in Chicago:

Marriott Hotels: "In the past, hotel guests were 'siloed.' They would return from a meeting or event and take the elevator up to the room. Now they can meet and stay in the lobby. There is space to relax, eat, drink," said Peggy Fang Roe, Marriott International's vice president of global operations, based in Bethesda, Md.

"About 18 months ago, we researched the next generation of travelers' mindset. They have a mobile, social and more cellular mindset," Roe said.

Marriott has translated that into an app that allows online check-in, similar to the airlines' digital procedure. When guests arrive, they give name and ID to an agent, who goes to a pod where the key is waiting. The app was rolled out at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile this fall.

Guest room updates include convenient placement for charging electronics and connections next to a chair or bed. "A lot of people don't sit at a desk," Roe said. "Our philosophy is to enable you to use the technology you bring."

Hyatt Regency Chicago: Airport-style self-check-in came to the Hyatt Regency Chicago in a multimillion-dollar makeover unveiled in April.

A guest goes to a touch-screen iPad kiosk, punches in a name and confirmation number and scans a credit card to have the kiosk spit out the key. Face-to-face registration is still available, however.

Public area work spaces dot the ground floor and second levels. Movable stations where guests can plug in mobile devices are tucked under the escalator, and plug-in outlets are strategically spaced along windows near the Wacker Drive entrance. Up a level, the sky bridge connecting the east and west towers has become popular to plug in or kick back.

In addition, American Craft Restaurant and Bar and the Market reflect the locally sourced food trend.

"Several elements were incorporated as a direct result of our guest feedback," general manager Patrick Donelly said.

Radisson Blu Aqua: Pierre-Louis Giacotto, Radisson Blu Aqua's general manager, added another element in the hotel trend mix: the environment. Located in architect Jeanne Gang's Aqua Tower, whose undulating exterior made it an instant landmark, the hotel boasts operations and construction certified as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), as determined by the Green Building Certification Institute.

Guest rooms have light sensors that turn lights on upon entry and off after leaving. Instead of printed information, Intelity ICE (Interactive Customer Experience), an electronic hotel management system that operates on the room's TV and hotel iPads, assists guests with room service, wake-up calls, hotel facilities and area attractions.

"The trend is technology and design, but it is also green," Giacotto said. "People are more concerned now about the environment."

The Langham: Blend landmark building with fine design, bump it up to the luxury category, and you have The Langham Chicago. Owned by Hong-Kong-based Great Eagle Holdings, The Langham opened this year in the former IBM Building, designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Dirk Lohan, van der Rohe's grandson, designed the clean-looking ground-level lobby. Dangling glass pebbles that reflect color and light set the luxury tone in the second-level lobby.

But technology isn't forgotten. Watch what you want by connecting your iPhone or iPad to the TV to see movies or something from iTunes.

"If you can do it on your own at home, why not make it easy to do here using the technology available," said Langham spokeswoman Rebecca Werner.

"People have greater access to information now," said hotel manager Joe Aguilera. "We make it easier for them to access this technology, from more outlets throughout the hotel to an in-room 'jack pack' that allows guests to easily connect their electronic devices to our 55-inch television that also acts as monitor." So, no need to buy hotel movies anymore.

All the comforts of home, only better!

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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