Business travel took me to Helsinki, Finland last month. While searching for a hotel, I came across a new chain: Omena Hotel. Finland's first self-service hotel chain, Omena opened in April 2007. It has four properties in Finland and plans to open 15 by the end of the year. I decided to give it a try.
I started my experience by visiting Omena's multi-lingual website (www.omena.com), which was very easy to navigate. The rate was 65 euros per night. According to the website, room rates start at 35 euros per night -- significantly less than other Helsinki hotels. In fact, the average daily room rate in Helsinki is more than 120 euros. The hotel also offered a business package, which includes high-speed Internet access and two pay-per-view movies for an additional 15 euros per day. I added this to the reservation. At the last step of my reservation the website provided a unique five-digit code which is used as a key lock entry code to gain access the hotel building and guestrooms (guests also have the option of providing their own five digit code for easier recall).
I arrived at the property and was greeted by an oversized, dull steel door softened only by its logo -- a small apple. (I later learned that Omena means "apple" in Finnish.)
Upon entering my code, the door unlocked and I let myself into a lobby of no more than 10-square-feet. It contained a telephone, self-service kiosk with Internet access and an elevator. I proceeded to the fourth floor and again entered my code into a door lock that provided access to the guestroom hallway. Finally, I entered the same code into the electronic key lock at my guestroom door. When I entered the room, it was not that different from any other small, limited service hotel room.
Being an Internet-aholic, I wanted to check my e-mail right away. I inserted the provided Ethernet cable into the wall and into my laptop only to find that it wasn't long enough to reach from the desk to the Ethernet outlet. Being an individual of great resourcefulness, I moved the desk closer to the plug. I plugged it in. The Internet didn't work.
After a little searching through materials provided on the desk, I located instructions on how to operate the Internet service, which I learned is activated via the television set. When I tried to turn on the TV there was an error message on the screen. I applied age-old wisdom to correct the problem and turned the television off and on again, followed by the more complicated approach of pressing several buttons on the TV and on the digital receiver box. Having no luck, I reached for a telephone to call the operator for help. Of course, being a self-service hotel, not only is there no operator at the hotel, but also no telephone in the room. I went to the lobby floor and called the help desk from the only telephone in the hotel.
The help desk operator informed me that I had to turn off the TV, unplug the Ethernet cable from the TV receiver box and insert it again after waiting one minute. After doing as instructed, the system worked and I activated my Internet connection.
Technology is a definitely a huge part of Hotel Omena. Its website, electronic key locking system, television over IP, high speed Internet access, and e-lobby are all part of the hotel's success. And yet despite its technological prowess, this was quite a different experience from a standard hotel stay. There was no one at the hotel to call upon for help, no alarm clock in the room, and no way to set a wake-up call. But then again, I paid only 65 euros per night.
Omena executives believe that self-service hotels will be quite popular and proliferate in the near future. What do you think? Will self-service hotels create a market all their own? How will they compete with limited or even full service properties? I encourage you to e-mail me your thoughts.
Cihan Cobanoglu, Ph.D., CHTP, is assistant professor of hospitality information technology at the University of Delaware. Share your questions and comments with Dr. Cobanoglu online at htmagazine.com or e-mail him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.