The Brancatelli File



June 1, 1994 -- Hoteliers have made a startling discovery: business travelers work in their hotel rooms.

"Hotel companies once designed hotel stays that would make guests feel right at home," admits Hyatt Hotels president Darryl Hartley-Leonard. "But times have changed, and guests tell us what they need from a hotel are services that allow them to be as productive on the road as they are in the office."

So better late than never, hotel chains are rushing to change the kinds of service they offer business guests. In fact, many hotels are fundamentally altering their basic room configurations. Out--or, at least, deemphasized--are mints on the pillows and exotic, herb-scented shampoos in the bathroom. In--or, at least, easily available--are desks, in-room fax machines, and on-demand business services.

Hyatt, the chain that ignited the frivolous "amenity wars" of the 1980s, is in the vanguard of this new wave of business-friendly hotels. Hyatt's no-nonsense new "Business Plan" is a traveling workaholic's dream. Each Business Plan guest room is equipped with a desk, enhanced desk lighting, a fax machine, and a phone with a computer dataport. Each room is also stocked with business-travel essentials: a coffeemaker and a supply of coffee; an ironing board and an iron; and a hair dryer. Moreover, Business Plan rooms are located in a separate area of the hotel that has 24-hour access to computer printers, photocopiers, and office supplies. Business Plan guests also receive expedited delivery of a free continental breakfast, newspaper delivery, and surcharge-free access to telephone calls.

Hyatt's Business Plan is so well conceived that "we even custom-designed the desk lamp," says Hyatt executive Josh Lesnick. "It has a power receptacle in the base, so business travelers who need to plug in their laptop computer never need to search behind desks or under beds to find a power source."

Best of all, Business Plan rooms are reasonably priced: travelers pay just $15 per night above the lowest rate they can negotiate for a standard Hyatt guest room. Considering that a room-service continental breakfast at most good hotels costs at least $10, the Business Plan surcharge is an eye-opening business-travel bargain.

At least a half-dozen other chains are adopting similar business-oriented programs. None are as comprehensive--or offer as much value for money--as the Hyatt plan, but each has an interesting wrinkle. Hilton's BusinessSaver, for example, includes a free in-room movie and free health club usage. Radisson's Business Class program offers a free American breakfast. And Sheraton is scraping its old concierge floors and turning them into "Club Level" floors. What's in the club? Business services, of course.

"The hotel industry thought business travelers wanted their hotel rooms to be a refuge, a bedroom," says Frank Camacho, a vice president of Sheraton Hotels. "But we've learned they want their hotel rooms to be surrogate offices."

Martinair, a Dutch airline, offers scheduled service from Oakland to Amsterdam until October 27. ... Airfares are rising--again. American Express says full coach fares from San Francisco were up about 8 percent in January compared to last year. The lowest discount fares rose about 11 percent. ... Varig Brazilian Airlines, generally considered South America's best, has joined the Delta Air Lines Frequent Flyer Program. Varig will also launch daily service to Brazil from Delta's Atlanta hub on June 16. ... Need information about health conditions and vaccine recommendations in foreign countries? Call The Centers for Disease Control's fax information service at 404-332-4565. It's faster--and more accurate--than any voice service.

This column originally appeared in San Francisco Focus magazine.

Copyright 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.