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  1. Wealth
November 1, 2007

Big and Clever

By Spear's

Forget thread counts: tech counts in the latest luxury hotels. Ian Belcher checks in

Forget thread counts: tech counts in the latest luxury hotels. Ian Belcher checks in

You’ve padded across the lush carpet with motifs picked out in 22-carat gold thread. You’ve brushed the hand-lacquered walls inlaid with mother-of-pearl and lapis lazuli.

You might – this is a hotel after all – have climbed into your 3,600-spring Dux bed and dozed off under a splatter of Dufy and Picasso originals. What you have probably not done, however, is notice the state-of-the-art technology woven subtly into your penthouse suite.

Silicon, software and scientific nous have become an integral part of desirable – and sumptuous – accommodation. Entertaining Ban Ki-moon? Flattering Mark Zuckerberg? Throwing a rooftop wrap party for your Italian film studio? Then your suite’s sound and lighting are as important as your precisely chilled Château d’Yquem 1967, 24-hour butler and Joël Robuchon room service.

Some of the most sophisticated technology is wizardry you might not see at all – but you’ll be glad to know it’s there. The Royal Penthouse at Geneva’s President Wilson – the world’s most expensive suite at more than £17,000 a night – drips with Art Deco crystal, Persian silk rugs and offers uninterrupted views of Mont Blanc.

It also has the latest armoured glass, computerised surveillance cameras linked to a bespoke alarm system, panic buttons and ‘isolation’ doors to create separate, sealed safety zones.

You should sleep even more soundly at Berlin’s Adlon Kempinski Hotel. The £14,400-a-night Security Suite, a favourite of Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern businessmen flush with petro-dollars, fuses Asian and European style with high-end antiques and formidable defences, including bullet-proof walls and windows, video monitoring linked to a dedicated security hub, and an armoured entrance with private lifts to an underground car park to facilitate instant escape.

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It even has its own independent power supply and intricate telecommunications system. ‘The Berlin and state police have helped us to harness the latest technology for guest safety,’ explains the Adlon’s manager, Sabina Held.

Boston’s acclaimed boutique hotel, Nine Zero, is the first in the world to use LG iris scanning technology for access to its Cloud Nine penthouse. Each guest’s iris is photographed and coded for instant recognition. The suite is a heady mix of sex and power.

The sex comes from the contemporary design of limestone, stainless steel and glass, favoured by actresses, such as Hilary Duff. The power comes from the political big hitters, including Bill Clinton, who used Cloud Nine during the last Democratic Convention.

‘Business and celebrity guests welcome the technology,’ says the hotel’s general manager, Jimmy Hord. ‘They don’t have to be inconvenienced by hotel cards or check-in.’

Of course, intelligent design can be far more entertaining than mere security. At Villa La Cupola, the £7,250-a-night suite at Rome’s Westin Excelsior, history and modernity combine to startling effect. The two-storey, 1,100 square-metre penthouse is drizzled with Bang & Olufsen’s finest, alongside renaissance, baroque and neo-classical influenced frescoes, Murano glass and gold chandeliers.

Directly beneath its 11-metre high cupola, is a rotating 42-inch screen with home theatre system. The private cinema boasts video conferencing, surround sound and LED lighting.

There’s also a computer-controlled wine cellar with room for 200 vintages, a hi-tech gym and outdoor terrace for 50 guests with views to St Peter’s, and CCTV controlled by the suite’s residents.

With its popularity growing every year – one guest recently booked 23 days in a row – Excelsior’s GM, Paolo Lorenzoni, says Villa La Cupola works for ‘those looking for a luxurious, beautiful, secure serviced apartment.’

But it’s little surprise to find it’s also a favourite of producers throwing parties to celebrate film deals at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios. ‘You get 70 actors, crew and directors up there,’ says Lorenzoni. ‘With such a powerful sound system, we ensure the suite below is empty.’

Switch six time zones, stay on top and you can throw an equally vibrant bash. The Penthouse at Miami’s Setai Hotel – the £14,500-a-night hideaway of Madonna and Heidi Klum – is one of the best suites for sundowners or for a fun family escape.

Its sprawling rooftop terrace includes a pool, jacuzzi and views over Miami Beach and harbour, while its Bose sound system allows different music to be played on the deck, in the living rooms and bedrooms – which might just be the recipe for domestic harmony.

The suite’s ‘intelligence’ extends to its service. It is remarkably accommodating, providing a 24-hour butler with Buckingham Palace experience. He quickly obliged the recent guest who demanded the fourth bedroom be converted into a gym with all clothing and equipment colour co-ordinated – including medicine balls.

Less diva-ish requests include transforming amateur holiday footage into a family version of Miami Vice. ‘We can make that happen for guests of the Penthouse,’ says Manvinder Puri, vice president of the Americas for the Setai’s owners, GHM. ‘We have the contacts at the studios.’

When it comes to true innovation, one familiar name is ahead of the techno-curve. The Peninsula Hotel group has a unique R&D division that spawns bespoke guest technology. The 20-strong engineering team may have the anodyne title of Electronic Services Department, but its expertise has earned the group’s latest opening in Tokyo the title of the most hi-tech hotel in history.

There are no grandstanding features. That’s not in keeping with the Peninsula’s old colonial-style charm. Instead, small but perfectly formed innovations make your stay that little bit more effortlessly pleasant.

Think of a bathroom with three phones that automatically mute the TV or radio for the duration of the call, while simultaneously filtering out the sound of running water. Or a hands-free phone that mutates from hotel landline to local mobile when you leave the building.

There are the multi-pin sockets that never need an adaptor, the bathroom ‘spa’ button that instantly dims the lights, ushers in soothing music and cuts out the phone and doorbell. A display tells you the temperature and humidity outside the hermetically-sealed world of the hotel.

It’s not only useful when it comes to choosing whether to wear the linen Zegna or the cool wool Brioni, but it’s also valuable conversational fodder for business in humidity-obsessed South-East Asia.

‘This is discreet, subtle technology,’ stresses the Peninsula’s resident man, Fraser Hickox. ‘Peninsula guests would not like it if it screamed “Look at me.” It’s designed to complement your stay.’

Low key it may be, but it’s also tested to within an inch of its life. The hotel group’s boffins built a mock suite at their Aberdeen workshop on Hong Kong Island, wired into the Peninsula’s telecommunications and room service.

Then Peninsula chairman, Sir Michael Kadoorie, and his wife, CEO Clement Kwok, along with other senior figures, check in for experimental nights in the laboratory, providing crucial feedback. ‘We have nerdy conversations,’ admits Hickox. ‘But no one else spends this much time on small issues. It’s what makes the difference.’

And what you experience first at the Peninsula, will sooner or later emerge in other luxury hotels from London to New York. Hickox pioneered internet radio in hotels and steam-free TVs in bathrooms as well as his high-speed nail varnish dryer.

‘Visitors stay in our hotels just to learn how we do it,’ he admits. ‘One guest once asked for a screwdriver on room service. We gave it to him. Copying us is, after all, a form of flattery.’

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