In Case Of Fire

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This story appears in the May 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

According to The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 6,300 hotel and motel fires break out every year. While experts admit the risk of fire is, indeed, much greater at home, there is still very good reason to be prepared for a fire while traveling.

"Usually, a hotel is not a place a guest is very familiar with," says Julie Reynolds of the NFPA, "so if there is a fire, it can take you much longer to get out."

To protect yourself, the fire preparation process should begin when you make your hotel reservation. Be sure to ask what kind of fire protection equipment the hotel employs. Reynolds says it's best to secure reservations at establishments with automatic fire sprinklers in both the guest rooms and corridors, and with smoke detectors in the rooms.

Upon your arrival, ask the check-in clerk exactly what the fire alarm sounds like (such as whether it's a voice warning or siren) so you'll recognize it should you hear it. Once in your room, review the emergency plan posted on the back of the door detailing the location of emergency exits. Then, take the time to explore the two closest exits, counting the number of doors between you and them in case a fire should impair your view.

In the event of a fire, check your room door to see if it's warm. If so, experts advise staying put in your room until it's safe for a rescue. If not, exit the room (remembering to take your room key with you) and proceed to the closest exit.

If you encounter smoke in the stairwell, use the alternate exit. If that isn't safe either, return to your room and turn off the heater or air conditioner, stuff the crack under the front door with a wet towel, and hang sheets out the window so firefighters can spot you.

Although it won't be easy, experts say the best advice is to stay calm during a fire. "Try to avoid panicking," says Reynolds, "that way, you can take charge and protect yourself."

No Room At The Inn

Sorry we're booked, may become an all-too-familiar refrain from hotel reservations clerks in the coming months. With very few new hotel properties under construction and domestic and international business travel growing rapidly, travelers can expect hotel rooms to be hard to come by through the end of the year. Indeed, according to Coopers & Lybrand LLP, the industry's occupancy rate is 65.6 percent, just slightly below last year's high of 65.8 percent.

"If you are traveling in big cities, expect both unfavorable availability and rate issues," says Bjorn Hanson, industry chairman of Coopers & Lybrand's hospitality consulting division.

Obtaining a hotel room in Boston or the Big Apple will probably be the most difficult for travelers. However, rooms are in short supply in most major cities around the country, cautions Hanson. Also keep in mind that the crush is at its worst Monday through Wednesday.

With many cities running at or near 100 percent occupancy several nights a week, Hanson says, business travelers should also expect to "get bowled over with higher rates," particularly when making last-minute reservations. On average, room rates are up 5.7 percent this year.

To get the best price, ask about weekend, group or special packages. What's more, to make sure you get a room, Hanson says, be sure to reserve early.

Road Notes

Quikbook, one of the country's leading hotel discount services, now allows individuals to book accommodations at rates 40 percent to 65 percent below retail via its Web site ( Hotels are available in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, DC.

Hyatt Hotels now offer check-in by telephone. Call (800) CHECK-IN after 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and at least one hour before arrival, and receive a room number right over the

Hilton Hotels Corp. and Hilton International Co. recently launched Hilton HHonors Worldwide, giving members both hotel points and airline frequent-flier miles for each qualifying stay. Travelers can earn and redeem HHonors points at more than 400 participating hotels in 50 countries.

If you're looking for someone to take you around town, help you with errands or just advise you about the best restaurants when you're traveling on business in the United States, Canada or Europe, call Elite Concierges (800-ASSISTANT) to be provided with a personal assistant to help you out on trips.

Want more free SkyMiles? Between now and June 30, travelers who book a ticket online at Delta's new Web site receive 500 bonus SkyMiles.

Talk about a window seat! Four of Japan Airlines' 747-400s are now equipped with a lavatory that is not only one and a half times larger than a typical in-flight restroom but also has marble sinks, gold-plated faucets and a window.

Continental Airlines will begin service from New York/New Jersey to Moscow effective August 30. Daily DC-10 flights will feature Continental's BusinessFirst service and will be timed to provide connections at its Newark hub for passengers traveling to and from cities in North America.--Catharine Brockman Kuchar

In The Cards

Stressed out by trying to keep track of all your airline tickets, hotel confirmations and car rental paperwork? American Express and IBM are testing a "smart" American Express Corporate Card embedded with a computer chip that promises to do away with all these hassles.

American Airlines and American Express employees are testing the cards, which are used to check in for ticketless flights on American Airlines. Travelers check in by inserting the card into gate readers installed at 21 major U.S. airports. In the future, once travelers make electronic ticket bookings online, they will download the confirmation number to the smart card via a personal computer with smart card capabilities (or at an airport self-service kiosk). The two companies also expect to begin testing the cards with hotels, car rental companies and some merchants (for electronic cash transactions) by year-end.

"We're trying to make business travelers' lives easier by putting functions on the [smart card] chip that will cut down on waiting time and inconveniences," says Melissa Abernathy of American Express.

Sound great? Well, you'll have to wait until sometime next year when the companies expect to offer the intelligent technology to consumers.

Contact Sources

Continental Airlines, (800) 525-0280;

Coopers & Lybrand LLP, 1301 Ave. of the Americas, 7th Fl., New York, NY 10019-6013, (212) 259-1000;

Delta Air Lines, (;

Hilton Hotels, (800) HILTONS, (;

Japan Airlines, (800) JAL-FONE;

National Fire Protection Association, P.O. Box 9101, Quincy, MA 02269-9101, (617) 984-7275;

Quikbook, 381 Park Ave. S., New York, NY 10016, (800) 789-9897.

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