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Hotels with Internet Access

At a time when accessing e-mail on the road isn't a luxury but a necessity, the old routine of crawling around on your hands and knees in a hotel room as you search for a place to plug in your computer is simply unacceptable. While most hotels have taken note of the business and leisure travelers who regularly tote laptops and mercifully installed data ports in their phones, the technological state of hotels still varies widely. So what's out there now and who's doing the best job?

In-room technology today is all about the Internet. And it's all about speed. To enable guests to surf just as they do at the office, hotels are racing to install high-speed Web access—whether through T1, DSL, or cable lines, or via the television. High-speed lines can be anywhere from 50 to 100 times faster than a dial-up 56K modem; TV Web access is 25 times faster. (The exact rate of data transmission depends on a variety of factors, including how information is routed from room to server and the capabilities of the hotel's Internet service provider.)

Rooms with high-speed access have special ports—usually located on the desk, near the bed, or in the phone—and all you need to go online are an ethernet card and the proper connection cable. If you forget to pack the right equipment, most hotels can lend it to you.

Although some independent hotels offer this advanced technology, by and large it's the major chains that are taking the lead. At Starwood's 11-hotel W chain, all rooms have both television Web access and T1 lines. Last month, Ritz-Carlton outfitted each of its 18 domestic properties with speedy connections. And most hotels that do not yet provide high-speed access across the board are moving fast: Hilton already has it in about 100 of its 251 domestic hotels; Marriott Hotels, Resorts & Suites in 51 of its 263 properties. Wyndham will have it in all of its hotels by September, and Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, and Inter-Continental plan to do the same by the winter. Just don't look abroad for this technology—high-speed access is still primarily a North American obsession. Hilton's international division, for instance, is only testing it out. You shouldn't have to hold your breath for long, though. Richard G. Moore, associate professor of information technology at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, predicts that high-speed connections will be standard worldwide in two to five years.

But speed isn't everything. On-site tech help has become equally critical. Ritz-Carlton was ahead of the curve two years ago when it launched its Technology Butler program, which ensures that there's always a specially trained staff member on hand to remedy problems with hardware and software. Inter-Continental recently created a similar program, called CyberAssist. At most other chains there's usually at least one staff member with basic technical training (often the business-center manager); some also use outside consultants for support.

Many properties are going further, adding sophisticated tech amenities to attract customers. Wireless Internet access in public areas is an increasingly common perk—Wyndham and Four Seasons will have it at all their locations later this year—but at the two-month-old Westin Westminster outside Denver, guests can also check stock quotes on their laptops poolside, thanks to wireless access that extends to within a one-mile radius of the building. Boutique brand Joie de Vivre's two new hotels in Silicon Valley will provide high-speed hookups in rooms and public spaces, as well as outside. And at the University Park Hotel at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts (a joint venture between MIT and the company that owns Hilton), rooms can be equipped with not one but two high-speed lines. The hotel even incorporates technology into its décor—picture touches such as circuit boards in armoire doors.

Of course, these innovations will cost you: in most cases about $10 for 24 hours of high-speed, wireless, or TV Web service. (A notable exception: Wyndham, which waives the fee for members of its ByRequest frequent-guest program.) This cost is expected to come down in the future, however.

That's just one of many things to look forward to. Christian Hempell, a manager with the hospitality consulting group at Arthur Andersen, notes that hotels are beginning to roll out special online interfaces for guests (hotelnet.com is already developing them). When you log on, you'll instantly get customized information about flights, local weather, attractions, shopping, and more. Although Hempell doesn't think the service will replace the concierge, it's certain to make hotel stays more efficient than ever—a far cry from crawling around on your hands and knees.

How the hotel chains stack up

Four Seasons
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: At Las Vegas, New York, and Philadelphia properties
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: At Four Seasons Austin
Television Web Access: At Canary Wharf, Paris, Hong Kong, and Bangkok
Tech Support: Yes

Hilton (U.S.)
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: In 100 of 251 domestic hotels
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: In 85 hotels
Television Web Access: In 25 hotels
Tech Support: Yes

Hilton (International)
Dual Phone Lines: On executive floors
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: In testing stage
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: No
Television Web Access: In 9 hotels
Tech Support: No

Hyatt
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: In testing stage
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: No
Television Web Access: In testing stage
Tech Support: Yes

Inter-Continental
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: In 34 of 124 hotels worldwide
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: No
Television Web Access: In 7 domestic hotels
Tech Support: Yes (Cyberassist program)

Luxury Collection
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: At St. Regis New York and Aspen
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: No
Television Web Access: No
Tech Support: Yes

Marriott
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: In 51 of 263 domestic hotels
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: In testing stage
Television Web Access: In 24 domestic hotels
Tech Support: Yes (toll-free number)

Mandarin Oriental
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: No
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: No
Television Web Access: No
Tech Support: Yes

Peninsula
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: In testing stage
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: No
Television Web Access: No
Tech Support: Yes

Ritz-Carlton
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: In all 18 domestic hotels
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: No
Television Web Access: No
Tech Support: Yes (Technology Butler program)

Sheraton
Dual Phone Lines: In 170 of 401 hotels worldwide
Data Port: In "smart rooms"
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: In 41 of 207 hotels in the U.S. and Canada
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: At Boston and New York properties
Television Web Access: At Sheraton London Heathrow
Tech Support: in 166 hotels

W
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: Yes
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: No
Television Web Access: Yes
Tech Support: Yes

Westin
Dual Phone Lines: Yes
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access:In 115 of 116 hotels worldwide
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access: At Westminster and Waltham-Boston properties
Television Web Access: At Palo Alto, Whistler, and Vancouver properties
Tech Support: Yes

Wyndham
Dual Phone Lines: In 60 of 88 domestic hotels
Data Port: Yes
Wired High-Speed Internet Access: In 35 hotels
Wireless High-Speed Internet Access:In 35 hotels
Television Web Access: No
Tech Support: Yes (toll-free number)

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