Originally published Friday, September 16, 2011 at 2:26 PM

Make hotel guests happy with tech amenities

Flat-screen TVs and exercise programs are nice, but what frequent travelers really want in hotels are high-tech conveniences (and a good bed).

New York Times

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In the lavish days before the recession, there was an amenities arms race in the hospitality industry, as hotel chains replaced dated bedspreads with down comforters and duvet covers, mounted flat-screen TVs in all their rooms and competed to offer fancy toiletries and must-have accessories like iPod docking stations.

But with budgets tight, hotels are making more strategic investments, focusing on reliable Internet access, better lighting and more appealing dining options — an approach that may turn out to be a better fit with business travelers' priorities.

"It comes down to pretty simple stuff for business travelers," said Adam Weissenberg, leader of the hospitality and leisure practice at Deloitte & Touche. "A lot of them want a comfortable bed, good lighting, a desk where you can actually do work and high-speed Internet access. Outlets you can plug into are also really important."

That's not to say that concierges bearing iPads don't contribute to a hotel's cool factor. It's just that travelers arriving after a late flight or a long day are more focused on being able to recharge their own electronics.

"Most travelers, when they've been surveyed, don't really care much about the flat-screen TV," Weissenberg said.

John Wolf, a spokesman for Marriott, said that consumer fickleness about technology trends is one reason the company hasn't rushed out to buy 3-D HDTVs for guest rooms. Instead, Marriott is investing in upgrades to help manage Internet bandwidth at its hotels, overhauling breakfast buffets and literally rearranging the furniture in guest rooms.

"People want natural light — natural light is huge," Wolf said. "At the Residence Inn, we're putting the desk right in front of the window."

Marriott has revamped the breakfast offerings at its Residence Inn and Fairfield Inn & Suites brands to include more hot items like a ham, egg and cheddar quiche and healthier options like oatmeal and fresh fruit, which Wolf said guests like to see as available, even if they choose a muffin or breakfast burrito instead. Last year, Hilton Hotels added waffle makers to the breakfast buffet at its Hampton hotels.

Giving business travelers food they can eat on the run is another growing trend. Hyatt Place offers a "Grab 'N Go" case stocked with sandwiches and salads, and the Market in the renovated lobby of the Grand Hyatt New York offers food and snacks from local purveyors around the clock.

Weissenberg said hotels are also responding to travelers' desire to maintain some type of exercise routine away from home.

To help those who wrestle with limited luggage space, Westin Hotels & Resorts has partnered with New Balance to lend guests workout gear, including shoes with new socks and disposable insoles. The complimentary program is available at 10 properties, but will be expanded to other hotels this year.

Sheraton Hotels teamed up with Core Performance to develop 30-minute workouts accessible through the hotel's video-on-demand system. Sheraton also offers a workout mat, stretch band and other equipment for an in-room workout.

But for all the focus on food and fitness, Mark Johnson, founder of, said feedback from the site's readers indicated that the No. 1 amenity travelers were clamoring for "is power strips and plugs." "Guests are bringing more and more hardware to the hotel room, and they're looking to juice it up."

Although HotelChatter declared "plug panels" — strips of outlets on desktops — the must-have amenity of 2009, travelers' electrical needs continue to increase.

More innovative amenities HotelChatter has spotted include in-mirror televisions in the bathrooms of every guest room at the Charles Hotel in Boston, "bed dials" that adjust the mattress pressure at Hilton Garden Inn hotels and Mac Mini computers at Joie de Vivre's Citizen Hotel in Sacramento, which allow guests to download movies from sites like Netflix or Hulu.

But with travelers toting more of their own gadgets on trips, hotels are increasingly shifting their focus to help guests get the most out of the hardware they already have.

Many chains are scrambling to develop apps for mobile devices that will allow guests to order room service, request housekeeping, change their reservations or connect with a concierge. To make it easier for guests to print documents, Hilton Garden Inn offers a mobile printing service that sends files from a smartphone to a printer in the hotel business center for no charge.

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