Hotels have taken longer than expected to adopt high-speed wired Internet access and Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) connections. But now, according to Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research, almost half of all chain hotels in the United States have high-speed Internet access, and approximately 15 percent of hotels have wireless capability in lounges, meeting rooms, or guest rooms. And these numbers are rising sharply: by the end of this year, says Harteveldt, most hotels will have some form of high-speed Internet access (cable, DSL, or Wi-Fi).
Because wireless access is inexpensive and easy to install, some hotels are forgoing traditional high-speed connections in favor of Wi-Fi. Midlevel hotels that attract frequent business travelers, such as Courtyard and Holiday Inn Express, have already begun offering Wi-Fi instead of DSL or cable access. Among the higher-end chains making a commitment to wireless are Omni Hotels (Wi-Fi is currently in all guest rooms and public areas at 30 of its 40 properties) and the boutique Kimpton Group (at 16 of its 38 hotels).
Here's where other chains will be in the near future:
• About 80 percent of domestic Hyatt hotels already have wired or wireless access; all Hyatt hotels will have high-speed access by the end of the year.
• Either Wi-Fi or high-speed Internet access will be available in all guest rooms at 3,300 InterContinental Hotel Group properties—among them, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Holiday Inn Express—by early 2005.
• Marriott International is putting high-speed Internet access in all guest rooms at 1,700 of its hotels. Wired access is free in guest rooms at midlevel Marriott properties, including Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, SpringHill Suites, and Courtyard. Wi-Fi is already available in the guest rooms and public spaces of 1,200 Marriott hotels worldwide.
• All 130 Radisson SAS Hotels & Resorts properties (in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East) will be totally Wi-Fi-equipped in guest rooms, meeting rooms, and common areas.
• Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which already has high-speed Internet access in all guest rooms, will roll out wireless access by the end of 2004 in the common areas of 150 Sheraton, Westin, and W hotels in the United States. All W Hotel guest rooms in the country will have Wi-Fi by the end of the year. (The W New York-Times Square went totally wireless in late 2002.)
Many hotels have long offered club floors to those guests willing to pay a bit more for extra perks and a higher level of service. Lately, hoteliers have taken these floors to the next dimension by creating what are in effect exclusive hotels within hotels. This broadening of the club concept is especially important at large properties, where personal service is often at a premium.
The 911-room Wyndham El Conquistador Resort in Puerto Rico constructed a 90-villa enclave, Las Casitas Village, in 1993. The idea—luxurious and discreet villas with highly personalized service and access to resort facilities—has proved so popular that Las Casitas Village is now expanding to 157 villas. Similarly, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa in Waikiki, guests can pay an extra $30 for a room at the Ali'i Tower, a semiprivate resort with its own entrance, concierge, and pool deck. Recently the Gaylord Texan Resort near Dallas opened, offering guests the Lone Star Tower—a nine-floor boutique hotel with cashmere throws and dark wood molding. Vegas is getting in on the act too. The MGM Grand has the Mansion—29 secluded villas with pools, 24-hour, multilingual butler service, and access to a private wine collection. Last summer the Venetian unveiled Venezia Tower, with rooms priced at just $30 more than those in the main building. This negligible difference buys guests a separate check-in and concierge. Last winter Mandalay Bay added the 1,118-suite THEhotel where for a premium of $70 per night, guests get a high-tech suite with a living room and plasma TV.
Is the extra expense worth it?The answer depends on how you use the hotel. Additional service can be costly (Las Casitas Village rooms run $80 to $216 more a night than El Conquistador's) and may be wasted on guests who prefer to spend a lot of time away from the hotel. But for those who want the amenities of a large hotel and require more attentive service, the hotel within a hotel can be a great value.
A glut of rooms may keep hoteliers up at night wondering how to fill beds, but for travelers it heralds lower rates and easier upgrades. Looking for a bargain?Head to one of these cities, all of which face room oversupply.
HOUSTON The city, which added 2,970 new hotel rooms last year for the Super Bowl, is building another 18 hotels this year.
BOSTON Room rates here are among the steepest in the nation, but a slowdown in tourism, along with the recent construction of seven hotels, has created greater capacity. Nine more hotels will open this year.
BUDAPEST Occupancy rates are hovering at 50 to 60 percent, so inexpensive rooms are plentiful. Several luxury hotels are slated to open by the end of the year, including the 179-room Gresham Palace, a restored Art Nouveau building, and the 182-room Majar.
MELBOURNE With the 2006 Commonwealth Games approaching, local developers have added about 1,200 hotel rooms in recent months. According to D. A. Dransfield & Co., an Australian consulting firm, rates have already dropped.