CityKey, developed by U S West and Spectradyne, a leading provider of in-room entertainment and guest video services, offers a directory of restaurants, tourist attractions and shopping.
Tested in San Francisco since April 1993, the interactive service allows guests at 11 hotels to use their room's TV remote control to get information and electronic "tours" of the city's most popular districts.
CityKey this summer will open its first kiosk at the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau information center and will roll out to the nation's top 30 travel cities, starting with four to six cities by June 1995. Ad sales are going on now in Orlando and are expected to start soon in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The service combines text and photos in an easy-to-use format. Like thumbing through a city tour magazine, guests can decide to view specific information about specific locations.
They can flip from one section to another or go back and take another look at desired information. Maps and directions are provided on-screen for each location.
"When you get into selecting what you want, the advertising has full share of mind and the impact is truly significant," said Shannon Saviers, project director for U S West.
Seventy-five advertisers have signed on to the system, ranging from Macy's and Nordstrom department stores to local eateries.
Advertisers can enhance their listings with color photographs of popular dishes and voice-overs. Starting this fall, CityKey will be able to show TV spots.
A new feature allows guests to press a button on the remote to make a reservation at a restaurant. Within seconds, the guest's hotel room phone rings and the restaurant is on the line.
The CityKey project is just one of several interactive hotel information systems that will be vying for advertiser attention. Bell Atlantic Corp. and Fourth Network in April began testing a similar system in a single hotel in Santa Clara, Calif., while LodgeNet Entertainment Corp. offers Nintendo videogames and interactive information directories in 2,100 hotels.
CityKey is based on CD-Interactive technology, which uses compact disc players stored in a hotel's basement. Eventually, the services will be switched to other evolving U S West technologies, including PC-based platforms.
Fifty advertisers participated in the system for a free test that ended in December; about half of the original group have remained with the service, CityKey officials said. Ad prices range from $3,000 to $40,000 per year, depending on the complexity of the ad.
One of the dropouts, The Montgomery Gallery, a fine art gallery, hoped to draw tourists to its low-visibility second-story location.
"Absolutely no one responded that we can track," said a gallery spokeswoman. "And we thought our spot was lovely."
Another original advertiser, the Waterfront restaurant, decided to continue with CityKey, although owner Al Falchi said he was disappointed he did not receive any reports on the number of people viewing his restaurant's dishes over CityKey, as promised, nor did any customer ever announce they came to the restaurant because of CityKey.
Hotels have been satisfied with the service.
"People like it-it presents a quality image," said David Schweitzer, front office manager of the Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental Hotel on Nob Hill.
Vicki MacKie, sales promotions manager of the Hotel Nikko, signed up because she wanted to offer guests more than the conventional tour guide video loop. But she realized travelers would need time to become familiar with CityKey.
"It's so new and it's still not available in other cities, [so] guests are unfamiliar with it," she said.
During the course of the San Francisco test, CityKey found that hotel guests were unwilling to pay as little as $1 to use the system. Developers also found they needed to resort to providing an old-fashioned paper map in each guest room to complement the system.
Overall, CityKey found that half the guests staying at participating hotels used the service two or more times for an average of 14 minutes per session. While one-third recalled specific messages, only 5% actually went to the tourist location mentioned.
What have some of the advertisers learned from the CityKey experiment?
"It's not quite as interactive as you think it's going to be, imagine it is or hear it will be in the newspapers," said Beckie Barnier, manager of travel advertising for Marine World Africa USA. What she's wishing for is a device that will read a credit card and deliver an instant ticket to hotel rooms.