Just a few years ago, a hotel could call itself "wired" if it offered a dedicated phone line for an Internet or fax connection. Today, being wired means something entirely different.
The newest properties are opening with rooms featuring dedicated, high-speed Internet connections at T-1 speeds-that's about 100 times faster than the fastest phone modem-or higher. And existing hotels are retrofitting their rooms to accommodate a surging demand for fast Net access.
Fueling the need for fast connections is the increase in Internet usage by business travelers, as well as growth in the file sizes that need to be transmitted. In its most recent membership survey, conducted in 1998, 43 percent of the American Hotel & Motel Association's constituents said they offered their guests Internet access.
Many major-market hotels already offer the quicker connections, according to Bobby Bowers, a lodging expert at Smith Travel Research in Hendersonville, Tennessee. "In a few years, they'll be everywhere," he predicts.
Meantime, which are the most wired hotels?
- Marriott recently began installing high-speed Internet access in many of its guestrooms, meeting rooms and business centers. Its network is up to 50 times faster than conventional data ports and lets guests access the Internet and use the telephone at the same time. Thanks to a new plug-and-play system, visitors can connect to the network using an Ethernet LAN or a USB cable. Cost: A day of Internet access will set you back $9.95.
- Hilton, which innovated high-speed communications in 1996 with its Telesuite video-conferencing network, has started installing a new high-speed system called OverVoice, which allows guests to surf the Internet at several hundred times conventional speeds. Costs vary, with fees that are adjusted "based on overall use of the service" but not expected to exceed $10 per day.
- Another connectivity option that properties such as Choice Hotels International are selecting is the in-room PC/Internet connection offered by the likes of GuesTech LLC in Baltimore. GuesTech's SuiteLink system is being installed in 50,000 hotel rooms nationwide, and it offers connection speeds roughly 100 times faster than a normal line from a 450MHz PC in the room. Access is free.
- Individual hotels, such as the Holiday Inn Wall Street (believed to be the first-ever Manhattan hotel to offer T-1 access), aren't waiting for their parent companies to take the lead. The property has offered guests a free day of Internet access, valued at $14.95, with a special coupon from its Web site.
But Mark Haley, director of customer relationship management for hsupply.com, a business-to-business hotel technology services company in Atlanta, says that while it may seem that every hotel is getting hooked up to a high-speed connection, there remains a lot of work to be done. "That's because the 'take' rates-or the rate at which guests use these services-is in the single digits," he says. "Usage only goes up when people don't pay for it."
In other words, don't expect to see a T-1 line in your hotel room any time soon-unless you're willing to pay a premium for it.
Christopher Elliott is a writer in Annapolis, Maryland. Contact him at www.elliott.org.