Meet George Jetson's Hotel

courtesy Omena Hotel

Self-service hotels in Finland.

It's no wonder companies love the idea of self-service--fewer employees means lower overhead. The travel industry, in particular, has jumped on the trend. Airlines encourage passengers to check themselves in at home or at the airport, and even car-rental companies have begun getting in on the action.

The Finnish hotel chain Omena is taking self-serve technology to the next level (011-358/20-7716-555, Inspired by low-fare carriers, CEO Bill Anckar created a business model with as few staffers as possible. These hotels don't have bellhops, front-desk clerks, or even front desks. As a result, prices are low: $72 for up to four guests. "We're kind of like McDonald's," Anckar says. "All of our locations will have the same product for more or less the same price."

When making a reservation--online, at a lobby kiosk, or over the phone ($8 extra)--you supply your passport number and cell-phone number and pay immediately. You pick a five-digit door code and receive a room number; the code works from 4 p.m. on arrival day to noon the day you check out. Early check-in (1:30 P.M.) can be arranged a day ahead for a $6.50 fee. Cancellations are allowed if made at least 24 hours ahead of scheduled arrival, though refunds incur a 10 percent fee (never more than $13). You can also change dates or request a voucher good at any Omena property, with no penalty.

Each room is equipped with a double bed, a convertible sofa, down quilts, a bathroom with a shower, and an interactive TV that can be used for ordering breakfast, if available, or Wi-Fi access ($8.50 and from $12, respectively), as well as for contacting the maintenance, housecleaning, and security staffs. For urgent needs, like a door code that won't work, there's a 24-hour help line. Rather than going so far as to send a human being to address the issue, Omena will most likely supply a code for a new room. Hotel security is limited to guards who are on call but not necessarily on the premises.

After a three-year pilot program in three smaller Finnish cities (Tampere, Turku, and Vaasa), Omena is opening two Helsinki hotels in 2007 and properties in Stockholm and Moscow in 2008. The company plans to operate 50 hotels throughout Europe by 2012. Perhaps by then they'll have robots delivering room service.

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