|By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 08, 2012--All of those shiny new amenities you've seen at your hotel lately -- fitness equipment, flat-screen TVs and redesigned lobbies -- are part of a trend across the country.
Hotels are expected to spend $5 billion on improvements in 2012, a 33% increase over 2011, said Bjorn Hanson, a dean at New York University's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.
The spending still falls below the high mark of 2008, when the hotel business was booming and the industry spent $5.5 billion.
What are hotels spending all that money on? The added amenities include redesigned rooms, new bedding and beds, high-speed Internet access, flat-screen TVs, renovated restaurants and upgraded exercise rooms, Hanson said. Most of the spending has gone to renovate lobbies.
"If the lobby looks like it's recently been renovated, it projects on the rest of the hotel," Hanson said.
Hotel owners are spending more partly because they are enjoying higher occupancy rates and daily fares than in the last few years, he said. The managers of big-chain hotel brands are also pressing independent hotel owners to make upgrades that had been deferred because of the tough economy.
Not to mention, hotel guests have been complaining about tired-looking hotel facilities.
"Individual brands and hotels are receiving complaints in comment cards and things like that," Hanson said.
Upscale hotels adding in-room iPads
Among the high-tech amenities that many pricey hotels have been adding in the last two years is the in-room iPad.
In many hotels, the tablet is loaded with software that lets guests tap the screen to order room service, call for a taxi or request a bill to check out. The Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills both offer in-room iPads.
A new study by the company that makes the software for iPads at 53 hotels across the country found that 82% of guests who had access to the tablets used them an average of 11 times per stay.
Of the guests who used the hotel iPads, 41% ordered in-room food, 21% requested a wake-up call and 7% called for a housekeeper, according to the study by Intelity.
"In-room tablets have quickly become the new mark of luxury service in hotels," said David Adelson, chief executive of the Orlando, Fla., company. Despite the popularity of iPads, hotels don't seem to have a problem with guests taking home the tablets. Some hotels attach the iPads by a cable to furniture in the room. Others warn guests when they check in that if the iPad goes missing, the hotel will tack a fee of up to $800 on their bill.
In the last two years, Intelity said it has received only two reports of damaged iPads and no reports of missing devices.
Spirit Airlines raises carry-on bag fees
Depending on whom you talk to, Spirit Airlines is either the industry's top innovator or greatest abuser of passenger fees.
The Florida airline, which lists 72 fees in eight categories on its website, announced last week that starting Nov. 6 it will charge passengers $100 for a carry-on bag, up from the current fee of $45.
In 2010, Spirit became the first U.S. airline to impose a fee for carry-on bags.
The higher fee will be levied against passengers who wait until they reach the gate to pay the fee. The airline said it is raising the fee to discourage passengers from slowing the boarding process by waiting until the last minute to pay the fee.
"Our goal is for no customer ever to pay the $100 fee," Tony Lefebvre, chief operating officer for the airline, said in a statement
Spirit passengers who pay the carry-on bag fee online before getting to the airport will pay $35, an increase from the current $30 fee.
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