Hotels Let You Work in Your Pajamas

They're turning guest rooms into virtual offices on the road

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Jim Fitzgerald spends two weeks out of every four on the road. The New York-based director of marketing for Sony's SW Networks travels with a laptop computer, and for him, a hotel room with good computer connectivity is no luxury.

"Every month I visit our affiliate radio stations around the country," he says. "If it wasn't for e-mail and easy access to the office computers, I couldn't be half as productive on the road. I depend on hotels that enable me to work effectively."

Connectivity is the vital link to productivity for most business travelers today, and hotels that don't provide the cyberservices services modern road warriors need can find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

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"Increasingly, my business travel customers are demanding in-room business services," reports Susan Holden, president of Gilner Travel in Beverly Hills, Calif. "A few years ago, the popular thing was for hotels to have business centers, separate rooms with computers and copy machines.

"Today, the trend is to have fax machines in the guest rooms, and, of course, modem ports on the telephones," she says. "These things allow business travelers to work efficiently. You don't have to get dressed and go to the business center to send a fax. It's the difference between convenience and inconvenience, and convenience translates into savings for business travelers."

In response to this demand, hotels around the world are fast turning guest rooms into virtual offices on the road.

New Business rooms

Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts, for instance, has recently inaugurated new business rooms at nine hotels in the United States and Canada. Each room has a work station with a printer combined with a fax machine and copier, surge-protected outlets, and such office supplies as note pads, scissors, paper clips, and a stapler. Rates for the business rooms vary in price, but are typically 20 to 40 percent above regular room rates, based on an informal survey of rates quoted by several hotels.

Last year, ITT Sheraton introduced Corporate Club Rooms on the premium business floors of some 20 Sheraton hotels throughout the US. Each room features a large desk, a printer/fax machine/ copier and high-intensity lamp with two electrical outlets to make it easy to plug in a laptop. No more searching under the bed for an outlet.

Rates for these rooms are $15 to $20 above the cost of a regular room and include coffeemakers, irons, and ironing boards. Local phone calls are free, and there are no telephone access charges for 800 numbers.

This year Sheraton Hotels in Europe began offering the Smart Room, with in-room fax machine, a dual-line speaker phone with modem jack, an ergonomically designed business chair, and easily accessible power outlets.

Power is important to Americans doing business in foreign countries. "When traveling overseas, my clients want to be sure they aren't going to blow up their laptops because of the electrical current," explains Ms. Holden. "Some of the major business hotels in London, such as the London Hilton and the Mayfair Inter-Continental, now have both US and European electrical sockets, so you don't even need to pack an adapter."

As important as the electrical outlets are the telephone connections. "I never make a reservation at a hotel without checking that the room has a dataport on the telephone," says Mr. Fitzgerald.

Personalized e-mail

Some hotels are doing even more to help guests stay connected. The Kowloon Hotel in Hong Kong offers free, personalized e-mail in every guest room. "It's very user-friendly," explains general manager Tim Marsden. "It's interfaced with your in-room fax machine. When you check in, the hotel accounting system automatically assigns you a personal fax number. That way you can send and receive faxes directly from your room. The last four digits of that fax number become your personalized e-mail address, which is at kowloonhotel.com. Our guests tell us this saves them on long distance phone calls, and they like the privacy it affords. No one else sees their fax or e-mail."

And what may be the world's most advanced computer system in any hotel is being installed in California's Silicon Valley. "Although this hotel was built nearly 40 years ago, we're turning it into a hotel of the future," says Manou Mobedshahi, owner of the Hyatt San Jose Airport hotel. "We've rewired the entire hotel with [high speed network] cabling, so we have enormous computer capacity. When the system is complete, every room in the hotel will have a multimedia .. computer with ... a 17-inch monitor. We have installed ... ultra high-speed Internet access from the hotel rooms. We've worked with Fourth Network, a communications company here in the Silicon Valley to develop the system. Chances are, it's many times faster than the computer in your home or office."

Rooms also come with ink jet printer/fax/copiers and a portable telephone, so you can receive calls wherever you are on the hotel property. So far, 256 of the hotel's 474 rooms have been updated with the computer system. Use of the system costs $15 a day.

"A few people are afraid to try the system at first, afraid they'll break it," says Mr. Mobedshahi.

"But once they try it, they love it. Children love it, too; they're often more proficient than their parents.

"In designing this system, we've tried to think, not just of today, but what will be important 10 years from now. For us, that future is now."

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