|By Donna De Marco, The Washington Times|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 22, 2005 - Wireless Internet connections are becoming as common in hotels as cable TV and a free newspaper on the doorstep.
Tech-savvy travelers are looking for hotels that have added wireless "hot spots" throughout the property -- from public spaces and meeting rooms to individual guest rooms.
"We're at the tipping point where it's going from an added value to an expected amenity," said John Burns, president of Hospitality Technology Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It becomes a competitive disadvantage [if hotels don't have Wi-Fi]."
Wi-Fi, which doesn't require phone lines and plugs, is a perk for computer geeks at places like airports and cafes such as Starbucks. And new laptops are coming equipped with the standard hardware to make a wireless connection.
Nearly 25,000 hotels globally will offer some degree of Wi-Fi by 2007, according to Pyramid Research, a Cambridge, Mass., research firm. In 2002, just 1,000 hotels worldwide were equipped for wireless connection.
Many of the major hotel brands have added Wi-Fi to their properties as the trend continues to grow.About 2,100 Marriott International hotels have wireless connections in their public spaces and meeting rooms. The cost is $2.95 for the first 15 minutes and 25 cents per minute after.
"When trying to attract business, it's a selling point that attendees will have wireless connection," said John Wolf, a spokesman for Marriott International. "It's a value-added amenity."
Nearly 800 of the Wi-Fi connected Marriott properties have in-room wireless connectivity. It's usually one of the brands that have smaller properties where the wireless signal can reach further like Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn, TownPlace Suites and Spring-Hill Suites, Mr. Wolf said.
For example, the Courtyard by Marriott in Arlington, the Fairfield Inn in Laurel and the Residence Inn in Vienna offer Wi-Fi in the rooms at no cost.
The 310-room Fairfax Marriott at Fair Oaks, formerly a Holiday Inn and undergoing a $20 million renovation, will have in-room Wi-Fi when it reopens in September. Guests will pay $9.95 for 24-hour access.
Microtel Inns & Suites started offering free in-room Wi-Fi earlier this year.
"Who wants to go down to the lobby to do work?" said Jon Leven, senior vice president of marketing for US Franchise Systems Inc., Microtel's parent company.
Having the free wireless connection in the rooms is a "huge competitive advantage" particularly since the hotel is an economy chain, where costs can average just $50 to $60 a night, Mr. Leven said.
More hotels are expected to follow in Microtel's footsteps. Mr. Burns said within the next two years travelers will see more hotels with in-room Wi-Fi.
Officials at Fairmont Resort Hotels said there isn't much demand for in-room wireless capabilities yet.
"People are still in the initial stages and just beginning now to adopt [Wi-Fi]," said Mike Taylor, manager of public relations for Fairmont. "The majority of travelers are not requesting it."
Fairmont's 44 hotels worldwide have wireless connections in its public spaces such as lobbies, lounges and in some properties even poolside.
The hotel chain is keeping an eye on the trend and expects demand for in-room wireless connections to take off in two to three years, Mr. Taylor said.
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