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Executive Travel : Leaner Hotels Replace Lobbies With Laptops

February 21, 1996|From The Wall Street Journal

David Litman has seen the future of hotels in America and is sure of one thing: On his next business trip, he won't be hanging out late in the lobby bar. "There are no bars in the new hotels," says the Dallas-based executive. "Actually, there are no lobbies."

The hotel industry is coming out with a leaner and cheaper model of lodging for business travel--as part of an unprecedented, $7.5-billion building boom. These hotels, which are supposed to be open at a rate of one a day soon, don't have spacious lobbies or fancy restaurants, but plenty of business centers, in-room fax machines and personal computers. The emphasis, say experts, is clear: Work first, play second.

"It's the kind of hotel a boss has to love," says M.D. Ashington-Pickett, editor of an Orlando, Fla.-based travel newsletter that bears his name. "But let's face it, bosses and companies are paying for business trips. They can probably demand more work."

For the most part, budget chains are specializing in this trend, but even upscale hotel companies are coming out with some spartan, functional brands. The most startling example: the new "Hilton Garden Inns," which Hilton plans to roll out over the next four years. A far cry from Hilton's old massive, conventional hotels, Garden Inns will be two- to six-story projects, with as few as 80 rooms and rates in the range of $65 to $85 a night. "It's a new concept for us," says a Hilton spokeswoman. "It's what business travelers are telling us they want."

LaVon Koerner, for example, fits the customer profile for these new hotels exactly. A consultant for Illinois-based Holden Corp. who travels 400,000 miles a year, Koerner figures he spends five hours a night working away at the desk in his hotel room. He has noticed that the newer hotels have better room lighting and more phones and data ports, which serve him better than hotel health clubs or sports bars.

"I'm doing more work inside the room, probably triple from 10 years ago," he says.

But in Dallas, Litman says, arriving at a scaled-down version of a traditional business-hotel chain can be a little depressing. "You're away from your family and you're looking for something to compensate for that," he says. "A nice lobby and good restaurant used to be part of the appeal of a business trip. . . . But I guess this is the '90s. Executive traveling is different."

Just how different, however, will depend largely on what these new hotels are offering.

The nation's largest hotel franchiser, HFS Inc., has created a new brand for the budget-minded business traveler called Wingate Inns. By 2000, the company says, there will be 300 Wingates with room rates between $60 and $70 a night, swimming pools, cordless phones and large desks. Doubletree Hotels Corp. is converting some existing hotels into "Club Hotels." Club Hotel rooms won't have any fax machines, modems or two phone lines; instead, business travelers will be able to work in special business-club rooms just off the hotel lobby. According to Doubletree, business travelers don't want to work and sleep in the same room; they'd prefer separate work facilities.

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