Chris Barnett on Business Travel
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The Business Travel Outlook for 1996
December 31, 1995 -- Whether on a budget or an expense account, travelers will notice either more regimentation and streamlining or cushier extra touches in 19956, according to a spot-check of travel industry executives.
There is no single dominant trend, so here are some thoughts on what you'll see next year.
BUTLERS ARE BACK
Hotels wooing business travelers are adding butlers, a nicety found in pricey European and Manhattan hotels.
The Stouffer Renaissance Dallas Hotel has 24-hour private butler service on its two Club Floors (rate: $174), where butlers will unpack, press and dry clean clothes, make travel arrangements, dining and theater reservations, and provide secretarial and fax services. Butlers will also serve Continental breakfast, afternoon munchies and evening cordials and truffles in your room rather than a just laying them out in a guest lounge.
The Park Hyatt in Sydney, Australia, also has butler service, In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Park Hyatt has its suites and gourmet restaurant in a separate mansion.
The Stouffer Madison in Seattle, with rates beginning at $160, offers guests gratis limo drop off and pickup service downtown, a convenience more hotels will offer in 1996.
FILLING UP THE FRIDGE
There are suites (as in the Presidential Suite) and suites as in motor hotels with bedrooms and living rooms, an idea dreamed up by Embassy Suites.
Some, like Woodfin Suites, are "putting on the Ritz" for business travelers. Founder Sam Hardage has free full business centers, a library, fully cooked breakfast to order, fully equipped exercise rooms, speedy two-minute checkout, and even a shopping service. Fax in your grocery list and Woodfin staffers will shop for you.
Each suite has candles and candelabra, a fire in the fireplace and a video lending library of 500 titles. Night rates run from $85 to $140 a night.
Look for other hotels to upgrade for road warriors, too. Choice Hotels is making its 83 Clarion Hotels ($85 a night and up) a more appetizing brand for business travelers. It has a Business Room with a 27-inch TV, oversize desk, modem port, office supplies and a two-line speaker telephone. Some Clarions even offer full business centers and "food courts with national brands like Pizzeria Uno and Nathan's Famous.
BROOKLYN IN JAPAN
American-managed business hotels overseas are rolling out the red carpet for Americans. The Grand Hyatt Tokyo, says Richard White, North American sales director for Hyatt International, makes the "best Brooklyn egg cream this side of Brooklyn." It also offers Ben and Jerry's ice cream along with less tasty necessities like a 2,000-book library, compact-disc players and VCRs and a fax in every room. Plus, Hyatt International's rooms are 600 square feet, the largest in Tokyo, and can accommodate a California king-size bed.
Here at home, the Japanese-owned Hotel Nikko in Beverly Hills, California, is giving business travelers two free hours of meeting time in the hotel's main conference room, a savings of more than $50.
REACH OUT AND DIAL SOMEONE
It seems everyone totes a cellular phone these days, so look for hotels to offer them free to guests and charge only for the air time. One example: Vesta Hotels' Lancaster Group, which includes The Jefferson in Washington, The Lancaster in Houston, The Tremont in Chicago and The Argyle in Los Angeles.
All those properties give free cellular phones, but charge $1.95 a minute for usage. Tip: Have your travel agent shop for a similar deal at hotels in other cities.
CASINO IN THE CLOUDS
Plenty of airlines have been touting on-board gaming, but British Airways will roll the dice. As part of its new in-seat entertainment system, which will allow travelers to video shop at Harrods and other tony stores, BA will allow wagering up to $200 per flight. The service is due to start in the fall.
A spokesperson says a limit is important: "We don't someone getting off a plane who's lost his shirt." (Or who broke the bank). Meantime, BA is serving toast and cappuccino.
Credit card companies are trying to figure out a way to allow you to buy airplane tickets through your personal computer, but some airlines have set up information-packed sites on the World Wide Web portion of the Internet.
Delta Air Lines has one of the best. Dial up and you can find out if your seat assignment is window or aisle, what a taxi should cost between airport and downtown and what are the hottest clubs in London and New York. There's a "scratch-and-win" contest offering winners two round trips to London. Plus you can download travel games and tap into other Web sites for more travel information.
Delta's Web site address is http://www.delta-air.com. Other airline sites will be up and running soon.
INSURED? PROVE IT
Lower-priced, off-airport car-rental companies like Bob Leech in Los Angeles and San Francisco are requesting proof of auto insurance liability before giving you the keys.
In the meantime, the Big Three -- Avis, National and Hertz -- will offer more in-car computerized navigational systems in certain cities. Great if you're visiting an unfamiliar city.
Look for more car rental companies to close airport ticket counters and shuttle you to their auto storage lots. This cuts employee costs, but is a hassle for travelers.
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