Updated on September 12, 2008.>
LAST SEPTEMBER, six guests staying at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, in McLean, Va., were disappointed when they realized that they had missed a Britney Spears performance during the MTV Video Music Awards. The guests, all there on business, asked the hotel if there was some way they could see the show.
Ritz-Carlton obliged and then some. The hotel's business travel team found the show on MTV's web site and set up a mock theater in one of its meeting rooms, complete with projector screen, dimmed lighting and a concession stand offering candy, popcorn and pretzels. (The guests paid for the price of using the room.)
Impromptu theater screenings are not an advertised service at Ritz-Carlton, but it just goes to show the lengths to which hotels will go to please their business guest's every need and whim. No longer are briefcase-toting road warriors content with free soap and a shoe-shine kit. Now the concierge knows they like John Coltrane on their in-room iPod and hypo-allergenic antisnore pillows in bed.
To offer such amenities, hotels are spending big on in-room technology enhancements, Wi-Fi hotspots, flat-screen TVs, high-end bedding and other products. In fact, the U.S. lodging industry invested a record $5.4 billion in 2007 and is expected to spend $5.5 billion in 2008, according to Bjorn Hanson, associate professor of hospitality and tourism at New York University.
Here's a rundown of some of the over-the-top, technologically savvy, indulgent and unusual hotel amenities travelers didn't know they needed and may not be able to do without.
Technology: Keeping Road Warriors Wired
Anything that makes it easier for business travelers to conduct their work on the road is a must-have for hotels catering to this group, says Jan Freitag, a vice president at Smith Travel Research. Ergonomic chairs, good lighting and, most importantly, free and reliable wireless Internet access are standard these days. According to a 2008 survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation and Smith Travel Research, 91% of hotels offer wireless Internet, up from 35% from four years ago.
All of Starwood's new Aloft hotels (the first opened in June 2008 in Montreal), for example, will be fully wireless. In addition, each room will boast tech-savvy workspaces with a "plug & play" feature that's a one-stop device for multiple gadgets such as PDAs, cellphones, MP3 players and laptops all linked to a large plasma HDTV television.
If your laptop freezes or your video-conferencing software gets buggy at the Mandarin Oriental's Excelsior in Hong Kong, you're in luck. The hotel has 24-hour IT assistance to help guests with technical issues.
Have a lot of gadgets? Well, the Beverly Hilton, in Beverly Hills, Calif. home of such notable events as the Golden Globe Awards upgraded its hotel into a "virtual business center." Now, every room has 12 electrical outlets, two phones and wireless Internet. Power outlets are even available in the in-room safe, so laptops and gadgets can securely recharge while guests are out.
Comfort: Massages, Pets and Cabanas
As many mobile-email addicts know, the gadgets that keep you connected to work 24/7 can take a physical toll on your arms, back... and thumbs. To ease the pain,
Kimpton's Hotel Monaco
in Seattle not only offers chair massages twice a week during its complimentary wine tasting hour, but thumb massages for worn-out BlackBerry users, too. To keep its hard-worn travelers company, the hotel also offers complimentary pet goldfish that the housekeeping staff feeds and takes care of while guests are out.
Those who feel their hotel stay is lacking a certain religious component (that the Bible in their nightstand drawer can't satisfy) can choose from a "spiritual menu" when they stay at Provenance Hotels, which has properties in Oregon, Tennessee and Washington. Guests can request books on Taoism, Islam or the Torah, among others, says Howard Jacobs, Provenance's chief operating officer. (Provenance also offers pet goldfish).
Then there are hotels that help you mix business with pleasure. The Loews Lake Las Vegas has themed pool cabanas, including one called the BizBana. Located near the relaxation pool, this cabana offers office supplies, a printer, books, periodicals, Red Bull and coffee. (The pool is open seasonally.)
Sleep: From Milk and Cookies to Aromatherapy
Business travelers know that getting enough sleep is the key to a productive trip and luxury hotels are sparing no expense to help them get their shut-eye. The
in New York offers a 12-pillow menu, a custom-designed bed, and an Executive Nap Kit for jet-lagged business travelers, which includes aromatherapy bath products, milk and cookies, black-out shades and white noise machines. The hotel's claim to fame, though, is its Sleep Concierge, whose job it is to make sure guests get a peaceful sleep by advising them on what to eat before going to bed and which pillow to choose. If guests don't sleep as well as they do at home, the Benjamin says it will refund the cost of their night's stay.
The brand new Crowne Plaza Hollywood Beach Resort in Florida features a Sleep Advantage Program as part of an effort to woo overworked business travelers. The hotel has designated "quiet zone" floors, ensuring guests are not staying next to any crying babies or family reunions, and also includes a special sleep CD, eye mask and lavender spray.
The Personal Touch: Assistants for a Day (or Week)
If the front desk isn't sufficiently focused on your needs, a few hotels offer a dedicated staffer who'll be all yours for the length of your stay.
Kimpton's Muse Hotel
in New York offers a "Balcony Butler," who acts as a business traveler's personal valet, doing everything from ironing suits to making dinner arrangements.
Kor Hotel's Tides South Beach in Florida provides personal assistants that can arrange in-suite dining, laundry cleaning, and complete business services all complimentary. Guests feeling a little off-balance during their stay at Kor's Viceroy in Palm Springs, Calif., can pay extra for an on-staff life coach to help straighten them out.
London-based Red Carnation hotels, with properties in Cape Town, South Africa, Geneva, Palm Beach, Fla., Dorset and London, takes it a step further. It offers guests "traditional butlers" complete with tailcoats. Butlers will unpack your luggage, prepare a cup of tea, make dinner reservations, iron and lay out clothes, organize a dinner party and answer the phone.