Perhaps it was inevitable: Smartphones now control about 35% of the US market, and in response to that growth, hotels are creating dedicated apps for their guests.

But I’m not referring to apps by broad-based chains, like a Starwood or a Hilton app. No, individual hotels are contracting with programmers to create single-property apps.

I don’t see the point.

I’m generally in favor of making things available online, and I, too, have embraced the mobile web. I like the idea of, say, ordering room service using my phone or laptop. (Though I also see room for abuse by pranksters, or worse, if the web-based application doesn’t have some way of sorting out who the real guest is. Knock knock… “You ordered 20 lobster dinners, sir?”)

So I’m all for going mobile. But why would I want to bother downloading an app that’s limited in its functionality to a single hotel?

Maybe if I lived at that hotel for months of the year, but if I’m just staying for a few nights, then I don’t want to clutter my phone with an app I might use once or twice and then never use again?

Apparently hotels think so. In the last month, I’ve gotten several hotels’ PR pitches, proudly announcing their new mobile services online. And each breathless press release has proudly touted an app. I just keep thinking the hotel is wasting its time and money.

If hotels want to make their services accessible to guests online, great. But just make the website mobile-browser-friendly. Skip the app.

Categorized in: hotels

hotel ukraina moscow Upgrades and Downgrades: Moscow hotels, Tokyo flights, $5 rental cars, and hot cheese
Downgraded: Moscow
For the sixth year in a row, Moscow has the most expensive hotel rates in the world for business travelers. The average Moscow rate fell 12 percent to 13,250 rubles ($452). Fell.

Upgraded: Flights from NYC to Tokyo
American Airlines is launching flights from New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda Airport. Haneda, which is closer to downtown Tokyo, not Narita, the primary international airport.

Downgraded, then Upgraded: United grounds, then fixes, its 757s
United grounded all 96 of its Boeing 757s yesterday, to perform required emergency updates to all the planes’ air data computers. A day later, the airline reported that only 15 flights were nixed, and that all planes were back online.

Upgraded: One-way rentals out of Florida
If you’re in Florida and looking to leave the state between April and June, Hertz is serving up one-way out-of-Florida rentals for merely $5 a day. Rates are good for a limited range of destination states, and for a max of 14 days, but $5 is cheap. No one-way drop-off fees, either. Snowbirds bring the car in, you bring it out. This isn’t necessarily something for everyone, but if it meets your needs, go for it. (via)

Downgraded: Hot cheese
Beware of hot cheese when you travel. Seriously. The headline: “Disney in Hot Cheese Lawsuit.” It’s quite sad, actually, for the kid who got hurt. Poor child, but wow, what a sentence: “[Walt Disney Parks and Resorts] has just received the lawsuit from a Californian couple who say their four-year-old Isaiah Harris was injured at Cosmic Ray’s Starlite Café [at Orlando's Magic Kingdom] when he toppled into a scalding hot cup of cheese that had been prepared for pouring over nachos.”


northwest 787 Upgrades and Downgrades: Delta 787s, crocodiles on planes, cruises, Expedia, more
Downgraded: 787s on Delta
For those who thought that Delta would soon by flying the Boeing 787, thanks to their takeover of Northwest, prepare for a decade of disappointment. Northwest was an early buyer (in May 2005) of the 787 and was originally scheduled to take delivery between 2008 and 2010. Thanks to delays, that delivery timetable is over two years out of whack. But now Delta has pushed the delivery back even further: Now, Delta will receive the planes between 2020 and 2022. That’s a long deferment.

Upgraded: Ideas for bad Hollywood movies
Downgraded: Congolese carry-on inspections

Headline: “Crocodile on plane kills 19 passengers“… I immediately had visions of a crocodile biting its way through the passenger list. But the truth is more unfortunate. A crocodile hidden in a carry-on bag gets loose, people panic, plane goes out of balance, aircraft crashes. Very sad. And preventable.

Downgraded: Cruise ship pricing
The cruise ship lines are taking a page from the airlines and going a la carte with their services, slowly but surely whittling away at the “all-inclusive” pricing plans that were the hallmark of cruising. Sure, there have been upcharges for shore excursions, but now you have to pay up for certain meals, services, and options. Looks like easyCruise‘s fully-a-la-carte model may not be so farfetched after all. (Thanks, Bill!)

Upgraded: Cross-selling of Hotwire inventory on Expedia
Expedia is now widely selling Hotwire’s hotel inventory as “unpublished rates.” Like on Hotwire, the hotels won’t be listed by name, just by star-level and city zone. Since Expedia and Hotwire are part of the same parent company, I’m surprised it’s taken this long.

Upgraded: The last frontier of domestic inflight wifi
Aircell’s Gogo service has launched inflight wifi within the state of Alaska, for those traveling on Alaska Airlines. For now, the service only exists between Anchorage and Fairbanks, and Alaska Airlines is giving it away for free. It’s slated to be complimentary until the entire state is blanketed with signal availability.

Upgraded: Traveler seat-selection stereotypes
The folks at Hunch have found significant personality and life-experience differences between those who prefer aisle seats vs. window seats. It’s based on poll data. ME, I prefer the window seat, not just because it makes napping easier, because I never tire of looking out the window and staring down from 35,000 feet. And yet, my vita reads much more like the aisle passenger’s. Call me an outlier.

datel phone car Upgrades and Downgrades: Phonecall screening, Hilton spas, SkyTeam, Tonga Room
Downgraded: Hotel call screening
An ESPN reporter was cruelly phone-pranked into believing her hotel was on fire during a recent stay at a Hilton Garden Inn in Florida. The source of the prank was apparently an online community of jackasses who target hotel guests for prankings, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars of damage to properties. And today I learned that Hilton Garden Inns are favorite targets, because of their “lax call screening procedures.” I don’t have a good solution to propose, except unplugging the phone.

Upgraded: Hilton spas
Hilton is relaunching their hotel spas globally under a new name: “eforea.” Hilton guests will be able to find a common menu of spa services at about 80 spas around the world, beginning with the first property in Short Hills, New Jersey. (All that mall-walking is very taxing, apparently.) With its titular riff off the word “euphoria,” I hope the experience lives up to the name.

Upgraded: SkyTeam
SkyTeam will get a South American member if the planned accession of Aerolineas Argentinas goes through. South America has been a gap in the alliance’s route map, so this is a plus.

Upgraded: Life chances of the Tonga Room
Back in May, I posted about San Francisco’s storied Tonga Room lounge, which faced closure. It may be rescued, but it won’t be in the same place. The hotel has a letter of intent “with a local successful restaurateur who will buy the Tonga Room and move it to a new, as-yet-undetermined site,” said Sam Lauter, a consultant for the Fairmont San Francisco. That’s not exactly preservation, but the ur-kitsch of the place will live on, I suppose.

(image of the Datel Communications Car (and guy))

Categorized in: Hilton, hotels
Posted by: Mark Ashley

new sheraton room Sheraton and Westin to get a facelift
Sheraton and Westin, both within the Starwood stable of brands, are redesigning their guest rooms. But not every hotel will see the new rooms: The designs will roll out to their new constructions and rehabs starting in 2011.

Each chain will offer two options, each rich in interior design verbiage:

Newly-updated Sheratons will be either “Revival” (“inspired by the Regency Revival of the early 20th century… furniture profiles have curved corners and textiles have curved interlocking patterns – all of which are complemented by the design’s rich color palette of camel and tan with accents of plum and black”) or “Heritage” (“inspired by the historic Regency period of the late 18th and early 19th century, when Thomas Sheraton created timeless furniture designs that are still used in interiors today… Notched arch details are featured in most furnishings and complemented by geometric patterns in the room’s textiles and carpets”). The photo above is an example of a Sheraton room. I can’t really discern whether it’s “Revival” or “Heritage.” Place your wagers.

The Westin design will similarly come in two flavors: “Classic” (“…takes inspiration from forms of Art Deco. The visual vocabulary is grounded in classicism but modernized through the selection of furniture pieces and color palette… Materials featured in the new room reference those found in natural settings including open grained walnut stained a dark chocolate brown with a satin finish and soft tones inspired by the outdoors…”) and “Modern” (“…contemporary, timeless sensibility without being trendy. Concise, linear qualities give the modern scheme an architectural feel. The guestroom is softened with organic textures that have subtle patterns and sustainable materials that are neutral in color.”)

That’s a lot of words. I still strain to make these descriptions tangible.

At the end of the day, it’s still nice to see the hotels refreshing their designs and incorporating some helpful efficiencies into the mix.

The neatest feature in the Westin room is a pull-out laptop table that doubles as a room service tray. Modularity!

The Sheraton rooms also have a modular theme: The ottomans slide underneath the armchairs to save space when you’re not stretching out your legs.

LED lighting (including night lights and reading lights) are part of the designs, too.

So where can you expect to see these designs? The first Westin hotels with new room designs will be the Westin Phoenix (opening February 2011) and the Westin Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego (undergoing renovation in early 2011). The first Sheraton hotels to be updated are the Sheraton Red Deer in Alberta (opening early 2011) and the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel & Conference Center (to be renovated in early 2011).

Categorized in: hotels, Sheraton, Starwood, Westin

The bedbug scare must be sinking in: Two colleagues were telling me stories of their recent hotel visits — upon checking into their rooms, they tore apart the bed, looking for bedbugs. And sure enough, jackpot. The little buggers were crawling around in there. Two completely different hotels, two bedbug infestations. It made me realize that I’ve really been careless and slack: I haven’t changed my behavior. I have been checking into rooms as always. But maybe it’s time to take some different steps.

What are the steps the careful traveler should take?

  • Unmake the bed
    Check the bed for the nasty critters by pulling the sheets back. Look for tiny bugs, especially near the seams. Lift the mattress and look for bugs between in the space between the boxspring and the mattress.
  • Inspect the furniture
    Once you’ve checked the bed, lift the cushions in the furniture and look for bugs. Again, special attention on the seams.
  • Drawers, too
    Open the drawers. Look for scurrying.
  • Quarantine the bags
    When you walk into the room, leave your bags near the door for starters. Once you’ve given the all-clear to the bed and furniture, bring the bags in, but use the foldable luggage rack. Pull it away from the wall. Keep the luggage zipped, if you can.

If you do find a bug, alert the front desk and — it goes without saying — demand a different room. If you feel the urge for revenge, there are websites that allow travelers to name hotels where guests allegedly were bitten — BedBugRegistry and BedBugReports — but I am frankly skeptical of their utility. Much like TripAdvisor reviews can be gamed by competitors, these submissions on these sites aren’t entirely free from ulterior motives.

Anyway, have you changed your behavior? Do you tear the sheets off the bed and conduct room inspections? Or do you let it ride? Vote in the poll below, and hit the comments with your stories.

Have bedbugs changed the way you check in to a hotel room?

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Once you’ve voted, please enjoy this short film by the venerable Isabella Rosselini on the subject of bedbugs, and their lifecycle. Note: Once seen, it cannot be unseen.

Categorized in: advice, hotels