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ON THE MOVE / JOE BRANCATELLI

Executive Travel : Hotel-Motel Line Blurs; Here Are Options

September 22, 1993|JOE BRANCATELLI | JOE BRANCATELLI is a business travel writer based in Cold Spring, N.Y

When you travel on business, do you stay in a hotel or a motel?

Sorry, that's the wrong answer.

In fairness, that's a trick question because it has been years since business travelers had so stark and simple a choice. The days when there were just two clearly defined lodging options--the traditional full-service hotel or the humble roadside motel--are long gone.

Nowadays, business travelers must sift through a myriad of lodging options: all-suite hotels, extended-stay accommodations, limited-service hotels, boutique and luxury properties and several flavors of "economy" lodgings. Each type of hotel offers a dramatically different roster of services and amenities, and it's impossible to judge the value of a particular property based solely on the price of a room.

From the hotel industry's point of view, this so-called segmentation of lodging options was supposed to result in a more cost-effective and profitable approach to housing business travelers. In reality, segmentation has been a financial nightmare.

As an industry, hotels lost about $5 billion last year, or $1,500 for each existing guest room in the United States. That's because segmentation resulted in an unprecedented building spree and a huge oversupply of hotel rooms. On an average night in America, in fact, about

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From the business traveler's perspective, hotel segmentation requires paying a little more attention before booking a room. That's because there are special amenities and services you can get in one lodging segment that you can't in another.

Here's a snapshot of some of the newer lodging options available, what they usually offer, what you're likely to sacrifice and when the option makes sense.

All-Suite Hotels. What they offer: a well-appointed suite, free breakfast and evening cocktails for about the same price traditional hotels charge for a standard guest room in the same city.

What you sacrifice: room service, on-site restaurants and bars, banquet and meeting space and concierge services.

Best to book: when you're spending several consecutive nights in a hotel and want more space and comfort than traditional guest rooms offer.

Best-known chains: Embassy Suites, Guest Quarters and Crown Sterling Suites.

Extended-Stay Hotels. What they offer: fully equipped apartments in townhouse-style developments, complete with on-site pools, washers and dryers, barbecues, tennis and basketball courts and other "at-home" comforts.

What you sacrifice: on-site restaurants and bars, most full-service hotel amenities and a traditional hotel lobby.

Best to book: for long stays in one city when you'd like to live as close to a "normal" life as possible.

Best-known chains: Residence Inn and Summerfield Suites.

Limited-Service Hotels. What they offer: oversize guest rooms with large work desks and other business-related services at prices about one-third below traditional hotel rates.

What you sacrifice: around-the-clock attention from the front desk, fancy dining, entertaining and meeting facilities and elegant public rooms.

Best to book: when you want all the services but need to cut corners while doing it.

Best-known chain: Courtyard by Marriott.

Economy Hotels. What they offer: good beds, pleasant surroundings, decent television sets and often a free continental breakfast, at about half the price of the nightly rate at a traditional hotel.

What you sacrifice: all the special services and amenities of a traditional hotel, as well as on-site restaurants and bars.

Best to book: on an overnight stay when all you need is a comfortable place to sleep and a shower the next morning.

Best-known chains: Hampton Inn, LaQuinta, Holiday Inn Express and Fairfield Inn.

Budget Hotels. What they offer: a place to sleep and free local calls at rock-bottom rates. What you sacrifice: everything else.

Best to book: when it's stay on the cheap or cancel the trip.

Best-known chains: Motel 6 and Super 8.

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All of which brings us back to traditional, full-service hotels such as Westin and Hyatt or luxury properties such as the Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton. For all their drawbacks--much higher prices for smallish guest rooms--they still have their place in the segmented hotel firmament.

After all, full-service hotels are still the only places where you can order a club sandwich from room service at 2 a.m. or get a pair of slacks pressed in 20 minutes.

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