High-Speed Hotels

Road warriors have come to expect hotels to offer them fitness rooms, swimming pools and business centers with all the bells and whistles.
Now, hotels catering to business travellers are racing to install the latest lure: high-speed Internet access.

Hotels hope to attract business and boost revenue by offering broadband service in rooms and conference halls. Business travellers and their employers like the efficiency of high-speed access. And as more corporations equip employees` laptops with virtual private network (VPN) software that allows secure, mobile communications with the corporate computer system, many people expect hotel broadband to become as indispensable on a road trip as the company credit card.
“When you go on the road, your work doesn`t stop,” says Will West, president of STSN, a Salt Lake City-based company that delivers broadband to airports, apartments, convention centres, hotels and office buildings. “The ability to access the Web with a broadband connection is simply a part of doing business. . . . We think it`s becoming an amenity people will change hotels over.”
Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications analyst based in Atlanta, already does. A frequent traveller, Kagan, considers broadband an essential time-saver he`s willing to switch hotels to have. The e-mailed PowerPoint presentations he often gets from companies seeking his coverage can take 20 minutes each to download at a 56-kilobit-per-second dial-up modem speed. “I don`t have that kind of time,” Kagan says.
Broadband is so pervasive in offices that employees suffer from withdrawal when they travel. “They go on the road and have to go back to their dial-up modem, and that stinks,” says Eric Rasmussen, a senior consultant at TeleChoice, a consulting and analyst organization. Rasmussen speaks from experience: On one business trip, he fell asleep while waiting two hours for e-mail attachments to download on a conventional modem. The pool of potential hotel broadband users grows every year. In 1999, 43.9 million Americans travelled for business, a 14 percent increase since 1994, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. The average business trip was 3.3 nights long, according to the TIAA, with most travellers staying in hotels. Travellers` Internet usage has increased 200 percent from 1996 to this year. And hotels often find that laptop use can overload and jam a hotel`s private branch exchange system, especially when a facility is hosting a large convention.
Such statistics helped convince Wingate Inn Hotels, a 4-year-old chain catering to business travellers, to equip its entire 100-hotel chain with Category 5 wiring and to provide free Ethernet service in every room. “If you don`t have it, you`re going to lose business,” says Michael LaCosta, spokesman at the chain, which is a unit of Cendant in Parsippany, N.J. The chain has seen overall Ethernet use grow from 8 percent in April to 15 percent in September; a few of its hotels in high-tech cities report use rates as high as 35 percent, LaCosta says.
Companies that specialize in hotel broadband systems use a variety of approaches. Two of the largest players are STSN and CAIS Internet, a Washington, D.C.-based company that delivers broadband to airports, convention centres, cruise ships, hotels, office buildings and public kiosks. LodgeNet Entertainment and On Command, both hotel entertainment giants, have moved into hotel Internet access as well.