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CONSUMER REPORT

Checking In on Some Ways That Hotels Are Making Life a Little Easier : Trends: To stimulate business, guests are being offered such amenities as midnight registration, paying only for services used and even their choice of, yes, cats.

March 01, 1992|JACK ADLER

The 30-room Anderson Hotel in the tiny Mississippi River town of Wabasha, Minn., can't begin to match the amenities offered by its higher-profile and more expensive counterparts in the Twin Cities, some 85 miles away. Then again, what other hotel can boast of offering guests their choice of cats to serve as in-room companions?

More and more, hotels are introducing incentives to attract new business and please their guests--including paying for basic in-room needs on an a la carte basis, midnight check-ins and borrowing and ordering books.

"The trend is for hotels to streamline some of their general in-room amenity kits," said Michelle Kelley, a spokeswoman for the American Hotel & Motel Assn. "Instead of putting things in the hotel rooms and bathrooms that guests may not use, hotels are trying to customize amenities and services to fit the pattern of guests they receive."

Even so, few hotels are as inventive as the Anderson, which began its cat service five years ago. Along with the cat, guests are given free cat food, a water bowl and a litter box.

Beginning this year, the Anderson Hotel is open seasonally, from April through November. Basic room rates start at about $60 per night. Write 333 W. Main St., Wabasha, Minn. 55981, or call (612) 565-4524.

Following the practice of restaurants that offer a la carte dining, one chain--Lexington, Ky.-based Studio Plus, which operates 15 extended-stay hotels (i.e., hotels that generally book rooms for a week or longer) in the Midwest--believes that its guests should be able to pay for certain services in the same way. The hotels offer studio units with a kitchen area, as well as larger units with separate bedrooms and kitchens.

Rooms are furnished, and there is a full-sized refrigerator and both a microwave oven and traditional range in the kitchens. But guests can also choose from a list of a la carte services. The basic "comfort kit" includes such items as towels, linens, sheets, blankets, pillows, cooking and eating utensils, coffee maker, toaster and clock radio for $25 per week. A TV set will set you back $10 a week. Maid service costs $15 per visit. A telephone, including unlimited local calls, is priced at $10 weekly.

Minimum rental is one week. Base rates range from $165 to $175 for a studio unit, and from $215 to $225 for the larger units. The base rate is the same for one to seven weeks, and then goes down for stays of eight weeks or longer.

According to spokesman Rick Bubenhofer, the most-purchased service at Studio Plus hotels is the comfort kit, and the least-bought is maid service. "Many guests don't mind cleaning their own rooms," he said. "They can borrow a vacuum cleaner at no charge."

Besides Lexington, Studio Plus has facilities in Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; Indianapolis, and Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tenn. A 16th hotel is scheduled to open in St. Louis in May.

Brochures, including a list of the a la carte services and their prices, are available by calling Studio Plus at (606) 269-1999.

In San Francisco, travelers seeking a last-minute discount can utilize the "Midnight Check-In" program launched in December by the Hotel Group of America.

The chain owns three hotels in San Francisco--the Diva, Kensington Park and Union Square. A fourth hotel, the new Hotel Metropolis, is scheduled to offer the midnight check-in program when it opens July 1.

Hotel Group of America's late-night discount program offers travelers 50% off the regular rates for any available rooms if they check in after 11:30 p.m. The discount is good for one night only.

"This program is designed for people who are too tired to drive elsewhere safely, but it's for anyone," said Timothy Gillespie, a Hotel Group spokesman.

Under terms of the program, information about room availability will be given over the phone, though actual booking must be done in person after 11:30 p.m. Call (800) 241-ROOM for information on any of the three hotels. The hotels will also call a cab for guests to get to the property, though the guests must pay for the rides.

Some hotels have introduced book-related programs.

Two years ago, the 296-room Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass., near Harvard University, began offering guests a chance to order books from a nearby bookstore, Barillari Books, which carries 50,000 titles. Guests can dial a four-digit number from their rooms, at no extra cost, to place orders with the bookstore. Books are delivered to the guest's room. The price of the book, plus a hotel-levied $3 service charge per order, is added to the hotel bill.

The Heathman Hotel in Portland, Ore., allows guests to order books from nearby Powell's Book Store. However, this is a regular-unit call from the room, and there is a $5 service charge for the book to be delivered to the guest's room. The cost of the book and service charge can be added to the hotel bill.

The hotel also has a Commemorative Library containing at least 200 signed editions of works by such authors as John Updike, Garrison Keillor, Ken Kesey and Wallace Stegner. Copies of the books, plus others, are available to borrow from the hotel's lending library, which operates on the honor system.

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