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Hotel room as business command center

Some industry insiders hold that many of the services and perks geared to business travelers are simply marketing gimmicks that are frequently underused. Road warriors, they say, are generally more interested in a fast, efficient check-in, a comfortable bed, a hot breakfast and friendly service.

Yet, according to a national survey, a guest room for today's business traveler has become a command center from which they plot strategy, communicate with clients and the office, manage business affairs and, occasionally, get some rest.

The 1996 National Business Travel Monitor survey, sponsored by Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Universal Media/Travel Agent Magazine _ was based on interviews with a representative sample of 1,500 U.S. households. The survey found that one in three business travelers earning more than $50,000 a year considers in-room computers very desirable, while six in 10 had equivalent interest in access to business services such as copying and faxing.

Three in 10 of all business travelers responding to the survey like to have voice mail, multi-line telephone computer dataports and a monitor in the room. Frequent business travelers (10-plus trips a year) place more importance on voice mail, computer dataports and multi-line phones than on having computer equipment in the room.

Because the concept has been so successful in North America, its expansion to properties in Europe and Asia is under way. Business-class rooms here cost usually $15 to $20 more than the regular room rate. Whatever your views on the necessities of life on the road, one or more of the following should satisfy your requirements:

Choice Hotels: The chain recently launched Choice's Clarion Class Business Rooms in 25 percent of all 73 Clarion hotels in the United States and Canada. These upgraded rooms will have large work desks with specific task lighting, ergonomic office chairs, speaker phone and dataport, a duplex outlet for laptops and faxes, commonly used office supplies, an in-room coffee maker and refrigerator. Rates vary according to the hotel's market but start from $10 more than the regular room rate.

Hyatt Hotels: The Hyatt Business Plan, offered at 78 hotels in the United States and Canada, is the only business travel program to have fax machines in every guest room plus an in-room work station, complimentary continental breakfast, free phone access on local, 800 and credit-card phone calls and in-room coffee maker. Other business equipment is accessible 24 hours a day on every Business Plan floor. Hyatt Business Plan costs an additional $15 a day on any room rate.

The Regency Clubs are available on one or two floors in more than 50 Hyatt hotels in the United States. Service at this "hotel within a hotel" includes a concierge to arrange for services ranging from secretarial to babysitting, space for business meetings, complimentary breakfast and late afternoon hors d'oeuvres.

Marriott Hotels, Resorts and Suites: The guest rooms in the chain's recently created Room That Works have a large console table and mobile writing desk, two power outlets, a movable task light and a fully adjustable ergonomic chair. The Room That Works take up at least 20 percent of the full-service guest rooms.

Marriott is also looking into in-room teleconferencing, specialized data and information access, smart cards for personalized services, guest-controlled lighting and room configuration and enhanced climate-control systems.

Radisson Hotels Worldwide: The Business Class program is available at 225 hotels in 29 countries and includes complimentary daily newspaper, free in-room movies, complimentary breakfast, free phone access, no fax surcharge, in-room coffee maker or complimentary coffee, computer/laptop hookup and a desk. These rooms average an additional $20 a night. Radisson says its guests particularly enjoy the in-room coffee maker since they can take a shower without worrying about room service bringing the coffee at an inopportune time.

Regent International Hotels: Business travelers in Asia can take advantage of the Regent Club at the Regent Jakarta and the Regent Bangkok. Available to any hotel guest willing to pay an additional $40 on the daily room rate, the club offers 24-hour service with a private lounge, a dining area and numerous business facilities. Regent plans to open similar clubs at its hotels in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

The Regent Club can also provide continued trip itinerary services including airline ticketing, reconfirmation, ground transportation and hotel reservations regardless of where the guest will be staying.

Swiss-F4tel: Their Swiss-F4tel Business Advantage rooms feature cellular phones with confidential access numbers, two-line telephones with ports for modems, in-room fax machines and large-screen televisions. Additionally, Swiss-F4tel's four North American properties _ in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and New York _ have a business center, the Swiss-F4ffice, to assist guests in expediting communications and facilitating small meetings on an ad hoc basis. They also offer a mobile videoconferencing unit, which is ultimately planned for its 16 properties worldwide.

Toronto freelance writer Joanna Ebbutt is a co-author of Off The Beaten Track: Western Canada and the recently published Off The Beaten Track: Eastern Canada.