High-tech gear is now bedside in some hotels
Hotels and motels are beginning to look at high-tech accouterments to attract more guests - and revenue. What scented soap and free shoeshines were to the past, bedside computer terminals, video games, and other information-age services may be to the 1990s.
High-tech hotel wars haven't yet begun in earnest, but a few initial salvos are being fired:
* Computers. The Midland Hotel in downtown Chicago last week became the first in the country to put terminals in hotel rooms. One-third of the hotel's 300 rooms are equipped with keypads and terminals linked to a central computer in Maryland. For a fee ($3 for the first few minutes), guests can call up on the screen such video-text information as airline schedules, local restaurant menus, weather data, and news reports. They also can play computer games on TV screens in the rooms.
Other hotels may follow suit. Travelhost Inc., the Dallas-based firm that is behind the service, says it has orders to put units in 30,000 rooms at some 60 American hotels. By year-end, it predicts, it will install 100,000 hotel terminals - intended primarily for the business traveler.
* Video games. For those who don't get their fill of coin-operated Pac-Man in the lobby, a number of hotels are plunking them down bedside. A California firm, Inn-Room Video Games Inc., contends it has put video-game consoles and cartridges in rooms in 15 hotels across the country in the past few months. The firm leases the systems to hotels, which, in turn, rent game cartridges to guests, usually for about $5 a day.
* Teleconferencing. It allows people in different cities to talk to and often see one another on large screens; it's being added by some hotels and pitched harder by those that already have it.
By year's end, estimates Chervenak, Keane & Co., a New York consulting firm, some 1,000 hotels should be equipped with these systems - 5 percent of the country's larger hotels. The hotels' profits come from renting conference rooms , selling food, and some lodging.
Will all this fill rooms and coffers? There's disagreement. Some hotels maintain teleconferencing, for instance, has brought in customers and revenues. But others see it attracting a limited number of visitors to the video meetings and too few overnight guests.
Even some hotels with video-conference systems are unsure of the results. ''We are providing teleconferencing and watching where it's going, but we don't know if we're excited or not,'' says Robert Stoutenburgh of the Sheraton Corporation.
More dubious to most in the industry, at least for now, are the in-room computers and video games. Few are ready to buy or rent computer equipment, and they don't believe people are yet willing to pay for services most aren't accustomed to in their homes. And some foresee the systems causing billing and equipment problems.
Most think widespread use of in-room computers and electronic information is years away. ,''I don't know that somebody wants to pay $5 to $7'' to play video games in a hotel room, says Marlene Wanda, manager of operations support for Ramada Inns Inc.
Particularly skeptical is Larry Chervenak, president of Chervenak, Keane & Company: ''The video games may be just a flash in the pan.''