Hotel We Love: Thunderbird Lodge, Redding, CA
Just a few hours north of Sacramento and a couple hours south of Oregon, tucked away among protected parkland, volcanoes, redwoods, and more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at, northeastern California’s Shasta Cascade region is a veritable haven for outdoor enthusiasts. But you don’t need to be a card-carrying member of the REI Co-Op to appreciate the area’s natural beauty—there’s a ton here for all skill levels to explore. With clean, freshly appointed rooms, reasonable rates, and a convenient central location, the Thunderbird Lodge in Redding, California, makes a great base of operations, especially if you’re planning to spend most of your time on the go.
This classic roadside motel was originally part of the mid-century Thunderbird chain; today, there are only a few left in existence, and they’re all independently owned and operated. An immigrant couple from Zambia bought Redding’s Thunderbird Lodge nearly 20 years ago, and their sons and daughters-in-law took over operations in 2010. (Thankfully, the vintage sign remains the same.)
The property was completely remodeled in 2015, and its 58 guest rooms now feature contemporary dark-wood furniture, white linens with pops of color via accent pillows, throws, and bed skirts, and flat-screen TVs, refrigerators, and microwaves, all in various configurations. Book a king, queen, or double-queen room for a short stay; if you’re planning on sticking around a bit longer, consider a kitchenette room, which comes equipped with proper cooking facilities. The ground-floor accommodations are perfectly fine, but if you can handle the stairs, book a room one flight up, where the vaulted ceilings and exposed beams offer an airier, much more spacious feel.
Located right in the middle of downtown Redding, the Thunderbird is walking distance to landmarks like the Cascade Theatre, a circa 1935 nonprofit venue that hosts concerts, dance performances, and free summer kids’ movies; there’s also an array of independently owned restaurants, breweries, and shops within a few-block radius. The motel isn’t far from the freeway either, so it’s easy to get out of town to explore the region’s outdoor attractions—it’s a quick drive from downtown to Lake Shasta Caverns, Whiskeytown Lake, the immense, 602-foot-high Shasta Dam, and waterfalls upon waterfalls upon waterfalls.
There are a few vending machines on the property, and the motel offers a basic continental breakfast, but other than that, you’ll have to look elsewhere for sustenance. Luckily, there are some solid options nearby. For a no-frills, pre-hike diner meal, Corbett’s should do the trick—it’s right across the street and opens at 7:00 a.m., so you can fuel up and be on the trail nice and early. The motorcycle-themed Coffee Bar is a little further, but it’s worth the walk for the consciously sourced caffeine and tidy selection of pastries and small bites. (You’re in California, after all, so be sure to try the avocado toast.) Open only for lunch, Wilda’s Grill is infamous for its Buddha bowl, a heaping helping of beans, rice, and protein under a shower of avocado, cilantro, and shredded cabbage, a steal at $7.50. With a cheap lunch, you can treat yourself to a fancier dinner, and Moonstone Bistro serves pretty plates of seasonal, organic fare at the price point to match. Grab a table in the intimate, dimly lit dining room or take seat on the patio (the strip-mall view is terrible, but on a nice evening, the fresh air is worth the sacrifice), have a cocktail and a few appetizers, and don't pass on the bread plate. To keep things casual, beer-drinkers would do well to commandeer a spot at the bar at the family-owned Woody’s Brewing Co., order a round of tater tots—or, as my bartender more accurately described them, fried mashed-potato balls—loaded with blue cheese and bacon, and enjoy with a pint of microbrew. Final Draft Brewing Company is another local favorite within walking distance. Finally, awesomely, there’s a branch of Heavenly Donuts, a mini-chain with six locations in the western United States, just two doors down from the Thunderbird. The drive-thru window is open 24 hours, and they serve a ridiculously good strawberry-jelly donut. Consider yourself warned.
ALL THE REST
The Thunderbird is Fido-friendly, with a charge of $15 per pet per night. Parking is included with the room rate, but the space is tight and can be tough to navigate, especially on weekends. WiFi and continental breakfast are also free, and there’s a small pool on the premises that’s clean and well-maintained.
RATES & DEETS
Starting at $65.
1350 Pine Street
Hotel We Love: Jupiter Hotel, Portland, OR
Log cabins are to the Pacific Northwest what skyscrapers are to Manhattan and adobe houses are to Arizona, but if you think a hotel in the center of Portland, Oregon, is gonna offer classic log-cabin lodgings, think again. The city known for its creativity and eccentricity has accommodations that are true to form, and Jupiter Hotel is perhaps the most representative of Portland's originality and zany energy. THE STORY Originally opened in 1964 as a motor lodge, the building was bought in 2004 and spruced up in a style that hints at a log cabin motif but also flies in the face of it, thanks to rooms appointed with creative, modern furniture. With all the rooms' entrances lined up along outdoor corridors, it has a distinctive retro charm, but that's where the vintage element ends. The sweeping, airy window-lined lobby doubles as a 24-hour gallery, with works by local artists changing every two months. If your visit falls on a first Friday of the month, partake in the neighborhood's art walk-around, when the hotel and many other nearby venues offer free wine and bites. THE QUARTERS In standard Portland fashion, creativity reigns supreme. The rooms have an underlying Scandinavian minimalism about them, all clean lines and bright colors down to the turquoise remote control, but a Pop Art vibrancy ensures that a stay here is an engaging affair. For instance, giant chalkboards hang from the doors, with signs encouraging you scribble a masterpiece and post a shot of it on Instagram. Just don't forget to tag it: #jupiterhotel. Sleep options include one bed and two, and each of the 81 rooms is adorned with its own unique, colorful mural. And in a cute nod to Portland's all-inclusive attitude, there's a copy of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide To Personal Freedom, a treatise on creativity and happiness based on ancient wisdom, in the bedside nightstand's drawer. THE NEIGHBORHOOD The hotel is located in what's locally known as LoBu (shorthand for Lower Burnside) and more technically referred to as Central Eastside. It's something of a destination for foodie types, as it's home to the celebrated Le Pigeon, which offers French-minded fancy food in a decidedly informal setting. It's the flagship restaurant from two-time James Beard Award-winner Gabriel Rucker, who opened Canard, an equally French-inspired cafe-style eatery, right next door to Le Pigeon in April. The Jupiter's sister property, Jupiter NEXT, which opened in June, features Hey Love, a casual all-day/late-night restaurant/bar/lounge specializing in warm-weather-inspired food. And for quick convenience, Plaid Pantry is just three blocks away. Vintage shops and a handful of design-minded businesses also keep the neighborhood buzzing. THE FOOD The hotel doesn't have its own eatery, but it sits adjacent to Doug Fir Lounge, a bar/restaurant/music-venue hybrid that's open from 7:00 a.m. until "late," with a 3:00 p.m. happy hour in between and live music every night in the downstairs performance space. (Concerts are ticketed.) The restaurant dishes out elevated pub fare made with seasonal ingredients as well as craft beer and cocktails. Call in an order for takeout and relax in your room, or stick around and mingle with locals, as it's a popular hangout with a lively patio scene. It's worth noting that there's a delightfully stylish, slightly kitschy log-cabin-meets-lounge look to the place. Expansive logs make up the bar-top, the walls and even some of the furniture. ALL THE REST Of the hotel's 81 rooms situated in several sprawling buildings, 41 are located on the "chill side," out of earshot of Doug Fir's many patio revelers. Those rooms fetch a slightly higher rate than the bar-side rooms, so be sure to note your preference when making reservations. Also, to help you feel like a local during your stay, you can rent one of the hotel's bicycles and see the city on two wheels, alongside the many, many other urban bikers occupying the streets. Rates are $35 per day or $10 an hour. RATES & DEETS Starting at $139 for the bar-side rooms and $149 for the chill-side rooms. Jupiter Hotel500 E. Burnside Ave.Portland, OR 97214(503) 230-9200 / jupiterhotel.com
Hotel We Love: Hotel Zoe, San Francisco
San Francisco is the kind of city that offers such an overwhelming bounty of things to do, eat, drink, and see that you'd almost feel the FOMO start to set in if you spend too much time in your hotel. In the City by the Bay, location is a premium and Hotel Zoe, situated front and center in the Fisherman's Wharf district, delivers just that at a supremely excellent price. Go for the location, stay for the way this locally-minded hotel offers a distinctly local experience. THE STORY Given its waterside locale, It makes sense that the $17 million renovations that were completed in 2017 transformed what opened as a Best Western in the early 1990s into a nautical-themed haven. Its tasteful subtlety gives the space a luxurious yet casual feel. Browns, blues, and cream colors infuse the lobby with an oceanic feel, the couches, chairs and table resemble classic nautical furniture designs, and decorative touches evoke undulating waves. It's a conceptual extension of the mesmerizing bay just outside. THE QUARTERS That nautical theme extends to each of the 221 rooms, but still only subtly. The desk chairs, for instance, resemble captain's chair. Otherwise it's all stark minimalism, brown and grey tones, blonde wood, and rounded edges, calling to mind a yacht's cabins. Except for one thing: this being San Francisco, and all, there are delightful technological accents. The rooms, which range from single queen to double queen to single king, are equipped with Cubie radios, which can charge four gadgets at once, complimentary high-speed wifi, and streaming capabilities for Netflix and Hulu. All the rooms without a city view feature an interior courtyard. It's also worth noting that the hotel is right in sync with the eco-mindedness that pervades this city, opting for giant bottles that dispense shampoo and conditioner instead of small disposable sizes. The local love is also evident in the mini fridge, which features Sierra Nevada and San Francisco's own Anchor Steam beers and Simi Cabernet. THE NEIGHBORHOOD If central location is your top priority, this is your spot. Lombard Street, the notoriously steep and twisty road, is a quick walk away, as is the other waterfront attractions, like the Buena Vista, known the world round as the bar that created Irish coffee, Also in walking distance is the city's epic Chinatown, North Beach, which is chill during the day but livens up at night, and the Embarcadero, the scenic three-mile thoroughfare that runs along the water and ends at the famed circa-1898 Ferry Building. THE FOOD Pescatore is the hotel's restaurant, an Italian affair that's sophisticated yet laid-back, with huge windows overlooking the street, patio seating, and dark wood and tiled accents. The's a wood-fired oven, but the menu is far more than just gourmet pizzas. Charcuterie, local seafood, and homemade pastas are just a few other options. Breakfast and lunch are also offered here. The hotel's chill lobby becomes a bit more buzzy around 4PM each day, when Bar Zoe opens across from the front desk and the cocktails start flowing, imbuing the space with a lounge-y vibe. ALL THE REST There are quite a few added bonuses offered to guests, like a complimentary glass of wine upon arrival and free bike rentals. Helmets are available upon demand. An outdoor seating space off the lobby in an inner courtyard features firepits that invite extended sessions of loitering before hitting the town. RATES & DEETS Starting at $229 Hotel Zoe 425 North Point StreetSan Francisco, CA 94133(415) 561-1100 / hotelzoesf.com
Green & Gorgeous: 12 Environmentally Minded Hotels
Once upon a time, when you booked a hotel, the key things to look for were location, amenities, dining options, and wifi. These days, however, savvy travelers are increasingly attentive to how to plan a getaway without leaving a huge footprint on the local community, not to mention on the planet. Hotels are stepping up and investing money and time to upgrade their facilities so they're more energy efficient, and to work with local farms and organizations to make sure products are locally sourced and nothing goes to waste. Here are just a few of the many examples of hotels that are being as attentive to the earth as they are to guests. 1. TERRANEA RESORTRancho Palos Verdes, CA (Courtesy Terranea Resort) Terranea, a 102-acre resort on the coast of Southern California, diverts 80 percent of its waste from landfills through a thorough sustainability program that includes a strong emphasis on food waste recycling. That makes it one of the most comprehensive recycling programs in the vast Los Angeles area. Speaking of food, seasonal dining menus with local, organic products are the M.O., honey is harvested from the resorts garden, and the chef even harvests his own sea salt from an on-site sea salt conservatory. They’re equally attentive to water use, channeling waters from wet ponds and vegetated wetlands to irrigate its vast property. Those wetlands, moreover, are a habitat for native avian species. In addition to these systemic measures, there’s a serious attention to detail, from biodegradable golf tees to employee uniforms made of bamboo or organic materials.2. THE SAGE INNSanta Fe, NM (Courtesy Sage Inn) You could say that the green experience at the Sage Inn in Santa Fe, New Mexico starts before you even walk through the doors. The hotel is located across the street from the Santa Fe Farmers Market, which is widely recognized as one of the country’s best. The hotel itself is staffed by employees who regularly participate in trainings about sustainable practices. The facility follows stringent conservation practices, including use of high-impact water-saving systems and 100 percent energy efficient lighting, not to mention use of nontoxic cleaning products and recycled products. In 2016 they scored the Tier Two Silver Silver level of the Santa Fe Green Concierge Certification program, overseen by HospitalityGreen’s, and with new practices being implemented regularly, Tier Three Gold level could be in the stars.3. SHERATON PUERTO RICO HOTEL & CASINOSan Juan, PR (Courtesy Sheraton Puerto Rico) Few hotel brands are better known than Sheraton. That’s why it was a milestone when the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino became the first of all the Sheratons in the world to receive the prestigious LEED certification. Among the many measures to earn this prestigious accreditation are the property’s “cool roof,” which lowers the building’s temperature (a huge energy-saver given the tropical heat), a closed-loop system that converts food waste to fertilizer, which is used in the garden that supplies the hotel’s kitchens, and a water-filter system that traps sediment so it can run clean water into the sea. What’s more, if you happen to be on the beach and your phone runs out of battery before you take a selfie to send to your friends at home, call on the hotel’s so-called Energy Butler, which uses wireless chargers to refuel batteries to guests’ mobile devices on and off the property.4. ST. JULIEN HOTEL & SPABoulder, CO (Courtesy St. Julien Hotel & Spa) St. Julien Hotel & Spa in Boulder, Colorado, composts up to 20,000 pounds of materials a month. Also, thanks to its work with a Clean the World, local nonprofit, it’s donated more than 10,000 pounds of amenities and products—soaps, bedding, candles—to relevant local charities. Now, for context, consider that an African Bush Elephant weighs about 13,000 pounds. Yes, that’s a lot of recycling and reuse, and it accounts for close to 80% of the 201-room hotel’s would-be waste. Even the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has stepped up to recognize these and other environmental efforts. But that’s not where St. Julien’s community involvement ends. They regularly partner with other nonprofits to host community events. On America Recycles Day, they teamed up with local groups Blue Star Recyclers and PCs for People to collect more than 1,000 pounds of donated computers.5. THE SHIRE WOODSTOCKWoodstock, VT (Courtesy The Shire) Numbers don’t lie. When you break conservation efforts down to numbers, the sheer force of the green initiatives at The Shire in Woodstock, Vermont are overwhelming and well deserving of its recognition as a Green Hotel by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and the Vermont Small Business Development Center. For instance: 135 photovoltaic panels that generate over 42,000 kilowatt hours each year and a solar hot-water-generating system that generates over 32,000 BTUs of heating capacity annually, and several tons of of yard and landscaping waste get composted annually. And, of course, there’s a comprehensive recycling program, eco-friendly cleaning products, and rain water collection barrels that store irrigation water. After all, this is Vermont.6. LE BALUCHONQuebec, Canada (Le Baluchon) You know the old saying: One person’s trash is another’s….hand-woven reusable bag. Le Baluchon, a self-dubbed “eco resort” in Quebec’s Saint-Paulin neighborhood, is particularly creative with its recycling efforts: when an employee brings in a plastic bag, it goes to local artists who weave the would-be trash into nifty reusable bags that are sold at the Au bout du monde Eco-café, the resort’s rustic, organically-minded eatery. What’s more, a lot of hotels recycle, but Baluchon actually has its own recycling center. And thought it takes all materials, but guests often see the second life of paper, which is recycled into notepads. Its list of other green-minded measures is long and wide-ranging, from investing $1.2 million in a wastewater management system to developing a computerized energy management plan to sending used cooking oil offsite to be processed into biodiesel fuel. And speaking of fuel, in an effort to cut back emissions onsite, no motorized activities are allowed on the property. 7. HOTEL VINTAGE PORTLANDPortland, OR (Courtesy Hotel Vintage Portland) Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impact. Small things, like putting divided trash bins in each room so guests can separate trash from recycling and offering guests to turn down turndown services boosted the Hotel Vintage Portland, a Kimpton property in Oregon, from a 44 rating to 62 on the notable Energy Star Scorecard since 2008 to 2012. But the hotel didn’t just leave the responsibility to its visitors. In 2016, the hotel, which is retrofitting into an historic building, invested $16 million to upgrade its various mechanical system to improve efficiency, from installing efficient boilers, replacing heat pumps, and retrofitting HVACs. The result: it pushed up the score from 62 to 85 in just one year.8. HYATT REGENCY ATLANTAAtlanta, GA (Courtesy Hyatt Regency Atlanta) We’ve heard lots about the boom in urban gardens in the last few years. Usually it’s a reference to a plot of shared land close in a public park or plot of land in an inner city area. In Georgia, however, arguably the most spectacular urban garden is on the roof of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. It sits 25 stories above Peachtree Street, a bustling and historic thoroughfare in downtown, and it’s fertile ground for tomatoes, peppers, and a variety of other veggies and herbs that chefs in the hotel’s three restaurants—Polaris, Twenty-Two Storys, and Sway—use in their kitchens. There are also beehives, which the hotel upkeeps in partnership with the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, for honey used in the restaurants and sold in the Hyatt’s 24-hour market and coffee shop.9. HARRASEEKET INNPortland, ME (Courtesy Harraseeket Inn) Harraseeket Inn, right outside Portland in Freeport, Maine, is the ideal model of locavore culture. The family-owned luxury country inn does its part to help the community—and the planet—by buying almost entirely local for its restaurant and tavern. That means supporting local sustainable fisheries, baking with Maine flour, and buying hormone-free dairy as well as meat and poultry that’s mindfully raised. But it doesn’t end when the meal is over. They work with a local farm for composting and they use a biodiesel reactor to turn used fry oil into 40-gallons of biodiesel fuel each week. That’s what powers their John Deere tractor, Mercedes station wagon, and Chevrolet pick-up truck. 10. HILTON CHICAGOChicago, IL (Courtesy Hilton Chicago) Chicago is arguably one of the country’s most exciting culinary destinations, so it makes sense that the Hilton Chicago’s environmentally-minded, high-impact initiatives are largely focused on food and committed to community. To wit: in addition to partnering with sustainable hotels in the Midwest, the hotel teams with Windy City Harvest, a nonprofit that employs teens from low-income communities to teach them about urban agriculture. Those young people develop the rooftop farm and beekeeping facility that supplies the restaurants.11. GOLDEN ARROW LAKESIDE RESORTLake Placid, NY (Courtesy Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort) Lake Placid in upstate New York can get pretty frigid in the wintertime, especially on the shores of Mirror Lake. With its 3,400-square-foot green roof that serves as insulation for the building, Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort is well equipped to keep guests warm without much waste, while solar panels on an adjacent roof are the heat source for the laundry service and hotel pool. Situated within the sprawling 6 million acres of Adirondack Park, the family-owned hotel was the first of six American resorts to score the ultimate platinum designation in Audubon International’s hotel eco-rating program. The rooftop herb garden, reserved parking spots for Hybrids, and an in-room recycling program that helps sends an estimated 486 cubic yards of waste off to be recycled each year are just a few of the other factors that earned it that prestigious recognition.12. INN BY THE SEACape Elizabeth, ME (Courtesy Inn by the Sea) From solar panels to recycled cork floors to a salinated cleaning system for the pool, the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine (just outside Portland) boasts a variety of design features that demonstrate why the beachside resort earned its prestigious LEED Silver level certification as well as recognition from the state’s environmental agencies. But more than that, it’s the things that guests do at the sprawling 61-room hotel that really drive home its owners’ commitment to the planet and community. In the warm weather, for instance, a local naturalist offers “beachecology” walks and the property’s head gardener leads classes about cultivating indigenous gardens that can create room and board (ie: habitat and food) for wildlife. Year-round, they work with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland to temporarily foster dogs at the hotel, each of which is ultimately adopted by guests. They’ve seen 73 dogs off to permanent homes so far.
A Sneak Peek at the High-Tech Hotel Room of the (Near) Future
The instruction was simple enough: there was a cute robot on a sticker on the mirror at the entrance of my hotel room. If I needed a wakeup call or anything else, I could text the phone number next to the 'bot, whose name is Botlr, and voila! Done. I sent the text, and it immediately confirmed it was set. "No problem!" it continued. Then came the rest: "I'm happy to help. FYI, breakfast is available at Re:fuel from 6am to 10am. My favorite is the English muffin, egg and bacon. Basically the best way to start your day." There was a frying pan in there, too. Noted, Botlr. I don't eat bacon, but thanks. ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME, ON THE ROAD Bottl is merely one example of how hotels are incorporating smart technology into their everyday guest experiences. The Aloft property’s efforts don’t end there. In a select rooms in their 130-room Boston property, which opened in 2016 in the city’s rapidly developing Seaport district, ten are equipped with voice-activated technology, making it the first room of its kind in the industry. Guests set up use a custom app so they can use their own voice to adjust lighting, play music, surf television channels, and explore options for local attractions. And regardless of what room you stay in, anyone with the Starwood Preferred Guest awards program has access to the keyless room, which allows you to use your smartphone to unlock your room as well as bypass the desk at check-in. Add to that the fact that the 100-plus hotels around the world have put a premium on its fast, free Wi-Fi and Aloft stands as a fine example of how hotels are using implementing digital services on a variety of scales, from the full-fledged Futurama intensity to the basic, but increasingly necessary, convenience-is-king level. “In this day and age, there are blurring lines between home and away. People who are away want to feel at home," said Christy Loy, Aloft's hotel manager. "Tech is so intrinsic in our lives, from the way we watch content to setting security and lighting at home. It's part of how guests expect to live life. So at a hotel, it helps guests feel connected to what’s important to them.” The future is now at hotels around the country. From high-end luxury palaces to budget-minded chains, companies are pulling out all the stops when it comes to technology. Some digital programs and amenities are designed as a matter of convenience, others are intended to ensure guests can feel like they’re in their home away from home when they’re on the road, complete with creature comforts like one’s personal Netflix account streaming right to the television. And other initiatives yet are created to astonish. This tends to involve robots, artificial intelligence, or some other ultra-high-tech wonder. Want to do yoga in your room? Program a smart mirror to instruct you. But for the most part, it’s just hotels doing their part to keep up with the rest of our everyday lives. Deanna Ting, hotels editor at Skift, a travel trade organization and publication, commends Starwood, calling out Aloft in particular, for it being an early adopter. She notes that Marriott’s approach is to work with Legrand, Samsung, and other electronic brands to incorporate voice activation and take personalization to the next level, but these early implementations are merely just a suggestion of where the technology can go. But she warns to not to be too swept away by Jetsonian elements. “If something sounds outlandish, it probably is. In terms of guest experience, the biggest tech trend to keep an eye on is deployment of smart hotel rooms," she told me. "Some chains are doing it to various degrees. Hilton’s idea of internet of things is to put control of rooms in guest hands.” YOUR SMARTPHONE: THE KEY TO THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE Indeed, to enhance guest experiences, Hilton’s services include choosing a room through the app, which is available to any Hilton Honors member. (The awards program is free to join.) Josh Weiss, Hilton's VP of Brand and Guest Technology, explains that the app lets you control the room before you even arrive. For instance, you can open the door, set the lighting and thermostat, which contributes to energy efficiency, as energy isn’t being wasted to heat or cool a room unnecessarily. Upon checking in, you can open the door, raise or lower the curtains, and sync the television to a personal Hulu and Netflix accounts. And as a clever thoughtful bonus, the app lets you select channels by icon instead of spending time figuring out what channels correspond to which network if you don’t feel like scrolling through the menu. And as an added convenience, the app alerts the hotel if any system isn’t working. Focusing on software, versus equipment, in the nearly million rooms of its 5000-plus hotels allows for aggressive flexibility. Weiss says Hilton is also tackling another tricky aspect of travel: exercise. Hilton’s recently implemented Five Feet To Fitness initiative lets you book a room with exercise space and equipment, even a bike. “Five Feet To Fitness transcends price-points. It’s a convenient, comfortable ways to stay fit,” he said, explaining guests can stream fitness instructions on their television. It won’t replace fitness centers, it just gives another option to guests who prefer privacy. Weiss also notes Hilton’s focus on sleep. "In terms of the Internet of Things, there are devices for white noise and sound isolation," he said. "We’re working on making them compact and scalable so guests everywhere can enjoy them.” FROM VIRTUAL REALITY TO THE REALITY OF A HOTEL STAY Best Western Hotels & Resorts, another mega-chain, uses virtual reality to allow guests to experience the hotel pre-arrival, allowing guests to see layout online and give a sense of what they’ll experience at the property. “It’s more than just a static picture, they can sense it,” said Ron Pohl, Best Western's Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Other initiatives include using the Echo Dot to ask about the weather or request extra towels be delivered. “We’re all connected 24/7, so how can we apply that to apps, to the phone, to make it feel more like home. Expectations are set at residence, and people want the same capability when traveling,” Pohl told me. “If you come into hotel, we want to identify who you are without you having to tell us. We’re always looking at how to inform before you ask, so we ask you. Then we can send things based on what we know, like notification of a seafood special in the restaurant, or something going on in the area.” He also noted that the hotel industry is merely following trends set by other industries. “Before hotels dictated how they communicated with customers. Today customers are driving that, they decide when they want to talk to the hotel. Automation caused that. People would rather do it themselves and not rely on other humans. It adds to ease of the customer experience. We call it 'frictionless,' from booking through departure.” ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE DELIVERS REAL SERVICE Speaking of note relying on other humans, Caesars Entertainment Las Vegas Resorts implemented a 24-hour virtual concierge that can, in typical Vegas fashion, perform some over-the-top feats. Michael Marino, Chief Experience Officer, describes it as a remote control—with artificial intelligence-- for stays at over 10,000 rooms across several Las Vegas resorts. (Plans are to roll it out to the rest of the properties later this year.) Her name is Ivy and she’ll greet you with a welcoming text upon arrival. After that, she’s capable of making reservations for restaurants and each hotel's spas, booking tickets for shows, ordering food that can be delivered anywhere on the premises, even the casino floor. It’s so efficient and engaged that people have been text it soliciting advice. (“Is this outfit right for tonight?”) TripAdvisor reviews suggest guests ask for Ivy, as if it’s a human concierge. But Marino is hardly resting on his laurels. "It's quickly becoming table stakes. People are starting to expect this kind of stuff," he says. "Even 18 months ago, it was a 'wow' factor, but there's not nearly as much reaction like "I've never seen anything like that in my life." There are cool things everywhere, but this isn't just a bell or whistle that’ll be stale soon. It’ll always be helpful to people.”