Column

Setting the bar for Internet hospitality

Jonathan B. Spira

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Since our report, "Romancing the Road Warrior: The Case for Free Internet Access," was published late last year, the lodging industry -- on the whole -- has become far more road warrior-friendly. The lingua franca of the road warrior is two words: 'Net access. A three- or four-star hotel without connectivity is now a rare occurrence - and corporate travel managers are using hotel chains that guarantee such access.

Most hotels catering to the executive traveler (be they Hyatts, Hiltons, Westins, Wyndhams, or Intercontinentals) have added this to their services menu in the past year. Even less expensive chains, such as Wingate Inns, where rooms can be found for as little as $89 per night, offer free Internet access.

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Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and chief analyst at Basex, an analysis firm that specializes in collaborative business knowledge in the enterprise. Click here to contact Basex.

 However, the lodging industry still has a way to go. In the past few months, I've had ample opportunity to sample a variety of approaches to access. The service needs to work (the access at the Swan and Dolphin hotels slows down to pre-56k modem speed when conventioneers all return to their rooms), and accessible electrical outlets are a must (they also should not spark when you plug in your power supply: a concept lost on the "electrician" at the Fairmont in San Francisco).

Kudos to the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, where I found myself one day after Hurricane Charley: 'Net access was included in the $10 per day resort fee, which included access to the gym (one of the best hotel gyms I've frequented), plus unlimited bottles of water and Florida orange juice.

In selecting a hotel, two basic requirements come to mind:

1.) Comfortable desk chairs. If the road warrior is going to sit at a desk and work, this is a basic necessity. Some hotel chains must have an in-house orthopedist, given the ornamental and dysfunctional chairs that are selected.

At one luxury chain, where the chair was so low that a Manhattan white pages couldn't have brought me to the necessary working height, I asked for a different chair. A banquet chair from the catering hall appeared that was even lower than the "desk" chair. The assistant manager then advised I could switch to a "renovated" room which has Aeron chairs. When I asked that the Aeron chair be brought to my room (which sounded simpler), as opposed to my repacking my things and moving, a sense of paralysis set in. Eventually, the chair made its appearance in my room.

2.) High-speed Internet access. It has gotten to the point where I've cancelled my dial-up account, given the ubiquity of in-room 'Net access (I can always use Bluetooth to connect my laptop to my mobile for GPRS). However, the charges still range from free to $12.95 per day, and the way days are accounted for varies across the board, from noon to noon, to 24 actual hours.

The Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles offered "tremendous savings" on phone and Internet access with their unlimited telecom package. "Instead of experiencing poor reception, bad connections and roaming charges on your cell phone," the Westin provides high-speed Internet access and unlimited domestic long distance and local calls for $16 per day.

Interestingly enough, by contracting with the hotel's provider for bulk-rate service (a group of Basex analysts was at the Bonaventure for our Los Angeles conference), we paid $5 per day. The connection speed was decent, the only downtime was when the 24 hour period expired and the system awaited a new log-on.

At the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, Net access is $9.95 per day for standard access, and $15.95 for a static IP address. When I noticed that the speed dropped significantly during the day at several points, I called the front desk and was immediately transferred to the IT Help Desk. The very concept of a hotel having an IT Help Desk was comforting (or so I thought).

Needless to say, all they ultimately could do was say they would check with the service provider, but they did "upgrade" my account to a static IP address, waiving the additional charges, implying that this would ensure a speedier connection. Also needless to say, I was unable to successfully explain that my connection would not get any faster.

After my stay at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens, where I was able to connect to the Net about 50% of the time, I completed the guest comment card and later received a very nice note (not a form letter) from the general manager, apologizing for the 'Net access interruptions that were beyond the control of the hotel. I was assured that on my next stay things would be different.

For the sake of the hospitality industry, I certainly hope this is true.


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