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A Room with a Wii?

The ritual for a lot of international road warriors after a long transoceanic flight is to check into their hotels, turn on a hot shower and let the steam fill the air to ease the sinuses. “After a 12-hour flight you’re dried out,” says frequent traveler John B. Rowsell, the CEO of Chicago-based Glenwood Capital …

The ritual for a lot of international road warriors after a long transoceanic flight is to check into their hotels, turn on a hot shower and let the steam fill the air to ease the sinuses. “After a 12-hour flight you’re dried out,” says frequent traveler John B. Rowsell, the CEO of Chicago-based Glenwood Capital Investments. But there’s no need for that when he stays at the Peninsula Hotel in Tokyo—the most technologically advanced hotel in the world. Instead of wasting water, he cranks up the inroom humidity control.

Faxes arrive on his private combined fax machine, printer, copier and scanner, and a display showing the outside air temperature and wind speed enables him check the weather without looking out the window. A portable phone lets him enjoy a workout in the hotel’s gym or a meal in one of its restaurants while making and receiving calls as if he never left his room. A “mood” setting lets him adjust window shades and lighting, and an in-room Lavazza espresso machine provides coffee or tea. Rowsell can hook up an iPod, plug in a video recorder, access free highspeed Wi-Fi, watch DVDs, play CDs or tune the satellite radio to listen to his home station—some 805 of them from the U.S. and others from as far away as Romania or Bulgaria. He can crank up the audio loud enough to rattle the glasses in the mini-bar.

 

And then there’s the state-of-the-art heated toilet, equipped with a motion detector that lifts the lid, automatically flushes and has all sorts of bidet features that are better left unmentioned. “In terms of customization, the temperature, the lights, it’s fantastic,” Rowsell says. “It’s a step above anything I see anywhere else. I can’t say I’ve seen anything better.”

In an increasingly competitive environment for business travelers who are cutting back on travel due to the recession, that’s exactly what Peninsula is aiming for. “I think we can very clearly state that we are the most advanced in the world,” says Ingvar Herland, who heads a technology team of 19 hardware and software engineers working for Peninsula out of Hong Kong. “We are the only hotel group in the world that has its own design team creating everything from scratch.”

A survey of other hotel brands proves him correct, with nothing comparable or so comprehensive. Four Seasons hotels, for example, also have flat screen TVs in the bathroom and drapes that open with the touch of a button— but not Peninsula’s other features. Westin Hotels is planning to introduce Nintendo Wii consoles in some of its fitness centers. Sheraton is installing public computers for guests in its lobbies. And the Gansevoort South Hotel in Miami’s South Beach plans to turn its business center into a “media lounge,” with PlayStation3 consoles, digital book readers and cameras.

Mandarin Oriental, which currently boasts of only high-speed Internet, plans to include an automated “welcome” system that opens curtains and displays guests’ names on the TV screen when they enter rooms at its newest hotel opening in Las Vegas next year.

But Peninsula has plans to beat them all again when it opens its newest property in Shanghai in September 2009, incorporating even more technology based on customer feedback from Tokyo.

Not that Peninsula has to do much more. “The room just blew me away,” says Chuck Palmore, a Toyota dealership owner from Memphis, Tenn., who was traveling to Japan to visit Toyota headquarters. As he was having a pre-dinner drink at the bar, the waiter delivered the bill in a leather case that opened to reveal a lighted LED screen, custom made for Peninsula’s bar and restaurant, which illuminated the check like the brightest of moonbeams.“ For an old guy like me who can’t see the check, that is really awesome,” Palmore marveled. In a recession, when fighting for every business customer matters, it’s meant to be.

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