HOTELS RACE TO MEET NEEDS OF HIGH-TECH TRAVELERS
by Edward I. Placidi
Business travelers’ technological expectations and needs while on the road are growing as fast as new technology is developed. Consequently, the demands business travelers place on hotels is on a sharp upswing, just as their companies place increasing demands on them.
There was a time when business travelers completed their meetings, usually during regular business hours, and then enjoyed themselves, having cocktails, dining and so forth. Employees off on a business trip or to a convention, moreover, could escape from their work back at the office. They weren’t expected to handle both while traveling; things stopped, and everything just piled up on their desks until their return.
But those days are long gone. The business world moves at a breakneck speed, new tools are constantly being developed to increase the velocity, and corporate executives have to strive for the front of the pack or at least keep pace.
The upshot for the hospitality industry of this vortex of changing technology, increasing speed and heightened needs and demands is that business travelers are going to patronize the hotels that give them the services and technology they require to be optimally efficient and productive. After all, it’s their jobs and careers that are on the line, and they can choose another hotel down the street that does provide what are becoming “necessities.”
To be competitive, hotels are responding with new levels of service, support and technology — and much more is on the way.
In-room jacks on the phone for fax and modem are on their way to becoming basic appointments, at least in hotels that cater predominantly to business travelers. Some hotels are setting up e-mail addresses for guests and providing a wide array of computer services. A growing number of properties have computers, copiers, fax machines, cellular phones, laptops and other equipment available for the guest — allowing them to they get work done as and when they need to, as well as keep in constant touch with the office at any time while traveling or attending a conference.
In most cases, special equipment needs to be ordered and set up in the room. Recently, however, in a breakthrough in support for the business traveler who needs more than a modem hook up and a larger desk, hotels are starting to fully set up and equip a number of guest rooms — on a permanent basis — with a complete in-room office.
Los Angeles’ largest hotel, The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites, recently introduced the Westin Guest Office program designed to allow business travelers to check-in to a room that has everything they need for a complete office on the road — so they can work any time of the day or night. Guests have to bring only one thing — their own laptop.
The Westin Bonaventure has equipped suites with a speakerphone with dataport, a laser printer, fax and copier as well as office supplies and a work area with special lighting and an ergonomic desk chair.
Hotels are also beefing up the scope of service — particularly the technological support — they provide through their Business Center. The typical services offered by the conventional hotel business center — faxing, copying, secretarial support, etc. — are still needed but can no longer satisfy the greater, and increasingly sophisticated, needs of today’s business travelers.
The Doubletree Hotel Anaheim/Orange County has taken the innovative tack of helping guests prepare for business trips before they leave home, in order to provide a maximum level of service and technology. Via questionnaires and phone interviews, the Executive Business Center’s staff works with guests to determine all of their needs in advance — and to have everything, and anything, required ready for their arrival. For example, computers can be loaded with any desired software program; an e-mail address set up; transparencies made for a presentation; badges and banners created for a meeting; meeting materials modemed to the Executive Business Center for editing, design and binding; or any needed equipment reserved, from laptops and cell phones to personal copiers. All of this special support by the Doubletree Anaheim frees up the executive’s time on site to take care of other business.
A variety of other new services are coming, and a small number of hotels are testing many of them right now.
The hospitality industry is beginning to tap into the Internet boom with in-room Internet access. Hotels are experimenting with using the in-room television and a wireless keyboard to surf the web and check e-mail. In particular, this will appeal to business travelers who have information access need while on the road — and want it available in their guest room — but who don’t have, or don’t want to travel with, a laptop.
The television in the executive traveler’s guest room, for that matter, is beginning to be used for much more than watching movies or picking up e-mail. The in-room television is becoming much more interactive. For example, busy business travelers will be able to review their bill on the screen and check-out — which will be as express as you can get in checking out. Guests will also be using an interactive in-room television to shop and order room service.
In some hotels, a computer terminal has been installed in the lobby allowing for fast check-in and check-out. Another development being tested is check-in on the hotel shuttle from the airport via a hand-held computer.
In this age when response is demanded on an instantaneous basis, hotels are also taking steps to provide information faster that is requested by business clients. For example, Doubletree Hotels recently launched Meeting by Fax providing information, ordered by a quick phone call and received within minutes by fax, on all the facilities at any Doubletree property.
The hospitality industry has always responded to the changing directions of the business world, and the business traveler. In the 1980s, when keeping healthy, toned and fit while traveling was the mantra of the business traveler, hotels were in hot competition to provide more, i.e. the biggest health facilities, the latest equipment, and most extensive services.
In the 1990s, the new mantra is increasing productivity and enhancing efficiency — at the office, on the road, at meetings. And hotels are responding with new services, innovations, and expanding technological support. To stay competitive, however, hotels will have to keep on responding. In today’s fast-paced and fast-changing business world, new developments, enhancements and breakthroughs are coming at dizzying speeds. The needs of the business traveler are constantly evolving, along with what is expected from hotels.
Edward I. Placidi is a partner in Placidi & Gerlich Communications, a Van Nuys-based firm specializing in hotel and resort marketing and public relations.