Ready For Business

Today's hotel guests are all about business, even when they're not on the road for business. While guestroom and/or public space high-speed Internet access is important, an increasing number of hotel guests no longer carry laptops, especially when they're traveling for pleasure.

Yet, travelers still need Internet access and other business services to check e-mail, surf the Web and increasingly to check in for flights and to print boarding passes.

Many hotels in all segments and locations are adding business centers to serve the diverse technology needs of their guests. For example, the Hilton Cancun Golf & Spa Resort in Mexico recently completed a $40-million rebuilding and renovation project following severe damage from last fall's Hurricane Wilma. While the project focused on the resort's recreation facilities, such as the beach, pool area, fitness center and spa, it also included the addition of a fully automated business center that's available 24 hours a day and offers computers, a fax machine and a copier.

The approaches owners and operators take to the business center encompass a number of forms. Large properties, especially those with a lot of meeting business, have fully staffed facilities that can handle everything from simple to complex copy jobs to computer rental to inbound and outbound shipping. Since these facilities are complex and expensive to operate, some hotels outsource the function to national or local business services firms.

The Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville has a three-pronged strategy to provide business services to guests. Near the property's convention center is a staffed business center that has computers with high-speed Internetaccess for rent, as well as other services. In addition, as part of the 2,881-room property's daily $10 resort fee, guests have access to a Cyber Café and its handful of thin-client PCs for Internet access. Finally, touch-screen kiosks at the concierge desk allow guests to check in for flights and print boarding passes at no charge.

For properties smaller than the few hundred largest convention properties, the business center solution needs to be simpler and less expensive to operate. While some hotels choose to buy, operate and maintain their own equipment and systems, a much larger group of hotels lets the pros do it, outsourcing their business center needs to firms that supply turnkey systems and provide 24/7 remote and in-person support. Revenues are typically split between the vendor and the hotel.

The advantage is hoteliers don't need to spend time, resources or employees to provide this important function. The vendor selects and installs the equipment, furniture and systems and provides all necessary back-up. Some firms remotely monitor the systems and are able to diagnose issues as they arise — sometimes before the hotel operators know.

The Residence Inn in Garden Grove, CA, a property near Disneyland with a high percentage of leisure guests, recently installed a turnkey, shared-revenue business center to replace a single computer it made available for guest use.

“We had problems just about every week when we were doing it ourselves,“ says General Manager Jim Keeby. “ Since we put in the new system, we've had no problems or service issues. We just sit back and collect the commission checks.“

Keeby says the vendor installed two computers, a printer and the necessary furniture at no cost to the hotel. Guests swipe a credit card or use cash to access the system.

“Seventy-five percent of our business is leisure, and many of those guests don't want to lug their laptops while on vacation,“ he says. “They mostly use the computers to check e-mail or to send e-postcards.“

Vendor-supplied and -supported computers are a brand standard for Omni Hotels and the chain is testing addition of a copier/fax machine to augment the computer services.

Operators of the Hampton Inn in the resort market of Hilton Head, SC, considered the addition of a business center a must as they executed a top-to-bottom renovation of the 115-room hotel.

“We had quite a few requests from guests who needed a computer but didn't bring their laptops,“ says Linda Thornley, GM of the Sivica Hospitality-owned hotel. The business center includes a computer, printer, scanner, fax machine and some office supplies. “We're near the airport so guests want to print their boarding passes. But we also have a lot of older leisure guests who want to access the Internet to check the weather or their stocks or to use e-mail.“

Despite the popularity of vendor-supplied business centers, some properties believe they can do it themselves just as efficiently. The Courtyard by Marriott in Novato, CA, for example, has a PC and printer in its lobby great room that's equipped with Internet access and a few Microsoft Office programs. Usage of the computer and the printer is free to guests, who get a password from the front desk to log on to the system.

“Guests want efficiency, and while we may not have a prototypical business center in our hotel, we provide all of the services someone would need to get work done while they're in their home away from home,“ says GM Sam Watkins. “We also recently installed new front-desk PCs with Internet access, so staff members can also print for guests boarding passes, directions, menus or whatever.“

Watkins says that since the computer is limited to Internet access and a few other programs, “it's very difficult for something to go wrong.“ The property contracts with Marriott International's Tech Support department for back-up assistance in case of a major malfunction.

The Hotel Derek, a boutique property in Houston, offers what could be called the anti-business center. Six of the property's 314 rooms have been redone as Business Lofts.

The rooms, which carry a $50 rate premium, have a separate alcove that's a mini-business center complete with oversized desk, PC, 19-inch flat-panel monitor, laser printer and tool box filled with office supplies. Guest-rooms also have free high-speed Internet access, two-line cordless phones and FedEx shipping supplies in the closets.

For more information on business centers and related systems, use the reader service card in the back of the magazine to contact these companies: Brother International, circle 68; Global Business Center, Inc., circle 69; Keylink Solutions, circle 70; ShuttlePoint, circle 71; USA Technologies, circle 72; Vertical Systems, Inc., circle 73.

TELE-COMMUNICATIONS Wiring and cabling Automatic wakeup Answer detection Call accounting Fax server Paging Telephony server interface Voice mail Wireless intercom Two-way radios Telephones Cordless telephones Cellular telephones Guestroom Internet services Prepaid telephone cards Time/temperature/weather Voice recognition Voice-over IP-ready Unified messaging Telephone switch/equipment DID server VOIP phones Other
Amerisafe Industries — Circle 98
Applied Media Technologies — Circle 99
Argon Technologies — Circle 101
Capton — Circle 109
EasyConnectPC — Circle 123
Eleven Wireless — Circle 124
Extenway Solutions — Circle 128
Fire2Wire — Circle 129
GuestDirect — Circle 139
Guest-Tek — Circle 141
iBAHN — Circle 146
INNCOM International — Circle 150
InnerWireless — Circle 151
InTouch Digital Systems — Circle 154
IQWare — Circle 155
Keylink Solutions — Circle 235
LodgeNet — Circle 157
Lorica Solutions — Circle 160
Merlot Communications — Circle 161
Metromedia Software — Circle 162
Metropolis Technologies — Circle 163
Motorola — Circle 168
NEC Unified Solutions — Circle 171
nSTREAMS Technologies — Circle 174
NXTV — Circle 175
PhoneSuite — Circle 182
RedSky IT — Circle 185
RoomLinX — Circle 188
Scitec — Circle 191
Sprint Nextel — Circle 199
StayOnline — Circle 200
SuiteSpeed — Circle 223
SVI Systems — Circle 201
Teledex — Circle 204
TeleMatrix — Circle 205
Time Warner Cable — Circle 209
USA Technologies — Circle 214
US LEC — Circle 215
Vertical Systems — Circle 216
Wayport — Circle 220

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