Extravagant room gadgets, discounts for eco-conscious guests and Smart Cars for shopping are among some of the coolest new ideas at luxury hotels.
Extravagance at your fingertips
Peninsula Hotels is introducing nail-dryers into rooms. The Storrier in Potts Point already has them.
One&Only Resorts has commissioned Parisian pedicurist Bastien Gonzalez to create a nail polish for the group, only available at the upmarket resorts. It's red, of course.
The resort voted number one in Hawaii by readers of Conde Nast Traveller, the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, is about to introduce iPod docks, plasma-screen televisions, wired internet, fridges and ceiling fans into its poolside cabanas.
Many hotels have their own scents and candles but Le Bristol in Paris went one step further and employed notable "nose" Jean Michel Duriez, the head perfumer at La Maison Jean Patou Paris, for theirs.
Connections on the house
Free internet is everywhere. More hotels are offering it but the recalcitrants are holding out. Fast wi-fi is one of life's little essentials; it is not a luxury item. Charging for the internet is now akin to charging for the plumbing.
Sheraton Hotels research shows that 70 per cent of Australians travelling for pleasure feel compelled to check emails while on the move.
To that end, Sheraton has introduced Link@Sheraton, 24-hour, lobby-based communication centres with fixed terminals and wi-fi for laptops. The centres also have widescreen plasma televisions, international newspapers and round-the-clock refreshments, just like in the executive lounges. And it's free. Should be more of it.
But wait, there's more
The world's financial woes will bring big changes to the hotel industry but the news is not all negative. Luxury brands are not about to risk reputations with fire-sale discounting but they will be offering value for money like never before.
The upshot is that you, the guest, will be offered lots of lovely extras to make you feel you got value for money when you paid the bill.
It might be a welcoming bottle of wine and a basket of fruit, the kind of thing usually reserved for VIPs, in your room on arrival. Or even access to the executive lounge and all that entails, like cocktails and free breakfasts.
A warmer welcome
The days of wandering around the lobby or lining up at the reception desk to check in are numbered. Which is why the Windsor Hotel's $45 million renovation will see the reception desk moved out of the lobby into an office on the first floor.
"Modern communication means that registration can be completed anywhere," chief executive and general manager of the Melbourne hotel David Perry says. Such a prominent space is best used as a bar and lounge, he says, which is what the lobby will be when the Windsor makeover is complete in two years.
The Opposite House, a cutting-edge boutique hotel that opened in Beijing in August, has done away with reception entirely. "Not necessary," general manager Anthony Ross says. "It slows the process of getting to your room or where you want to go."
The Langham Hotel group - with hotels in Melbourne, London, Boston, Pasadena, Auckland and Hong Kong - has introduced what it is calling service stylists into its public areas. In layman's terms, the service stylists are customer-service staff with the people skills and wherewithal to resolve difficulties.
Their brief is twofold: make guests feel welcome and solve any problems they might have. It could be as simple as showing a new chum the way to the spa or telling a family where to buy the best ice-cream in town. Or it might be sorting and then printing out a new flight booking for a harassed business traveller.
Greener with envy
The hotel industry has gone far beyond recycling towels. The next stage will be offering a discount to those who choose to reuse. The Langham Auckland is doing it already, the argument being that if the hotel saves money on laundry costs, why shouldn't you?
Big and small, the industry will make the rest of the world green with envy. We particularly like the initiative from Le Bristol, long regarded as one of the top-six elite hotels in Paris, which introduced a Smart Car for its guests to go shopping. A sensible move, given traffic conditions in Paris, and one that gladdens both the hearts and minds of its guests.
We're not so certain, however, about the idea from The Betsy in Florida, which is going to replace the complimentary chocolate on turn-down with something greener. Now, that is taking a good idea too far.
Hotels are moving beyond the spa. Of course, no self-respecting hotel architect would dare plan a new hotel without one but the industry is adopting a more holistic approach to health.
Westin is now offering healthy foods under the name of SuperFoods, a brand from the US known for its use of grains, fruit and vegetables. Check into any Westin and there will be a SuperFoods breakfast selection on the menu. The company also added SuperFoods to its room-service menu through the Asia Pacific properties.
Art for art's sake
Art is no longer mere decoration but a selling point. Consider The Storrier in Potts Point. Since it opened last year, the hotel, which is named after and exhibits the work of Tim Storrier, has found a strong following among the stylish and arty crowds.
A Hotels Group, the creators of The Storrier, are planning a series of hotels using the names and works of some of Australia's most famous artists including Brett Whiteley, David Larwill, Jasper Knight, John Olsen and Jeffrey Smart.
The group is owned by the Deague family, well-known patrons of the arts from Melbourne. David Deague has previously sponsored Olsen, Storrier and Larwill on a painting trip to William Creek on the edge of Lake Eyre.
Further afield, the Le Meridien chain of hotels has appointed a full-time cultural curator in Jerome Sans. Sans, a former director of the contemporary art museum Palais de Tokyo in Paris, is the director at Ullens, China's largest private contemporary art institution. Sans has brought together the work of 15 emerging and established artists to hang in Le Meridien's hotels. The hotels are also partnering with art institutions in their cities to offer guests complimentary access via their hotel key.
And at Le Meridien Ra, 40 minutes outside Barcelona, Moroccan artist Younes Rahmoun has turned the hotel's facade into an art installation with a glass composition of 77 flowers.
Note: As of December 1, 2008, The Storrier is no longer operating and has been taken over by Quest Potts Point. The look and feel of the hotel, along with all amenities have remained the same.