You see them in every hotel lobby. They wear their ties loosened, Blackberries in hand, satchels over one shoulder. They are the road warriors, the frequent fliers, and for many conference-driven properties, they are the key customers. They are the business travelers.
Now more than ever, hotels are catering to the business class, and focusing on tools that these customers need to get their work done as fast and efficiently as possible. Business travelers are not looking for a dip in the pool or a trip to the sauna. Their rooms are extensions of their offices and hotels need to provide them with the materials they need to have a relaxing yet productive visit.
"We are definitely seeing a higher mix of Generation X travelers as compared to the boomer crowd that we predominantly had for the last 20 years," explains Chris Anderson, director of marketing at the Atlanta Marriot Marquee. "These are the folks making the decisions to stay in the hotels for other groups, and most of the meeting planners now are less than 40 years of age." If a hotel wants to capture these savvy travelers, it has to have the amenities that have become commonplace in their homes.
Wireless is the new wired
Just a few years ago, guests had to make a special request just to have a wired Internet connection running into their hotel rooms. With broadband dropping in price and Internet speeds booming at up to 10 mbps, properties have few excuses not to drop the Ethernet cables and go wireless.
"We have a 100 percent wireless hotel," says Sam Grabush, resident manager of the Hilton New York. "Every single guest room has wireless high-speed Internet access, for which we currently charge a fee of $9.95 per 24-hour period." For guests that feel wary of piping their private information over the wireless network, the hotel also offers wired connections in a little less than half of its rooms.
"The problem with a wired connection is simple -- people do not want to plug in," says Mark Sharkey, chief operating officer of Remington Properties, owner of 40 different hotels with 12 different brands, including Hilton and Radisson. "They want to work from their bed, they want to work from in front of the television, and they don't want to be stuck in one spot."
However, not all business travelers are created equal and neither are their laptops. While most new computers include wireless cards, a one- or two-year-old model might still need a wired connection. For customers that don't have wireless cards built into their laptops, hotels like the Hilton New York and The Lucerne Hotel in New York City offer a wireless bridge that allows customers to receive a wireless signal. The bridge, also known as a guest access device (GAD), is a small receiver that picks up a wireless signal and can be tethered to a laptop through a standard Ethernet connection.
24-hour business center
Wireless Internet might keep guests happy in their rooms, but there are still the business travelers who prefer an office-style environment. Historically, hotel business centers were one-stop shops for photocopies or mail services. Today, these business hubs offer a more personal experience for travelers looking for quiet lounges to read their e-mail or work on their laptops. "Business centers are certainly more of a self-service environment," says Sharkey. "When people do not travel with their own laptop, they are really looking for access to their e-mail and a printer."
"In the beginning of 2006 we established a 24-hour, unmanned, key-access business center," Grabush says. "In the past it was staffed, but now guests can swipe their credit card and use the Internet, fax, color copies, all the things they might need to take care of for their business. The computers are outfitted with an array of business software including the Microsoft product suite." The hotel does provide attendants during regular business hours to help send and receive faxes, but the business center, established by Vertical Systems Inc. ( www.ver-sys.com ) and PrinterOn (www.printeron.net), benefits late-night workers who don't want to be strapped to the desk in their guest room.
In addition, printing has always been a hassle for the business traveler. Most guests don't want the burden of carrying a portable printer, and not all laptops are loaded with the proper drivers to recognize a hotel's printer. VSi has created a plug-and-play wireless printing service that allows guests to plug their laptops into the network and print wirelessly to either the front desk or the business center. To pick up the printouts, guests must provide a numerical code. This ensures privacy for the user and allows the hotel to collect any printing fees.
Boarding pass to go
The Secaucus Holiday Inn, located near Newark Liberty airport, was a prime candidate for boarding pass printing stations. "Having the ability to print up boarding passes is a big factor for our guests when they choose their hotel," says Mark Hurewitz, the property's general manager. "Most customers have e-tickets and need to print out a hard pass."
Kiosks can also be used for concierge services. "That is another amenity that hotels have added, if they don't have a full-service concierge," Hurewitz says. "People have a comfort level in doing things themselves now, rather than having to wait for someone to do it for them."
Rewards reap returns
Not all amenities are visible to the business traveler. Hilton hotels installed an enterprise software system called Customers Really Matter (CRM) that allows the properties to store custom-tailored metrics on all of their guests, including frequent stay points. To the business traveler, earning credit for their time on the road -- away from family and loved ones -- can be a key point of differentiation when choosing where to stay.
"Guests want to make sure that if they are earning points, and reaching certain levels that they want the appropriate benefits, including complimentary breakfast, upgrades, or fitness center access," says Hilton New York's Grabush.
The hotels can tell how many times a guest stayed at a particular hotel, how many times they stayed in the Hilton brand, and how many times they stayed system-wide. "This technology lets us know who our frequent business travelers are and what we need to do to take care of them."