Business Travelers Tap Easier Access

Hotels hooking up wireless connections, interactive TV, other services

For many road warriors, the workday does not end when the trade show floor closes, the meetings adjourn and the business dinners are over. Theres often more work waiting back at the hotel—e-mail to answer, memos to send and schedules to prepare.

The hospitality industry is striving to make in-room business tasks convenient even while guests are putting up their feet and letting down their hair.

At the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites, in Overland Park, Kan., and On the Ave Hotel, in New York, guests can not only access the Internet through the television and their laptop computers, they can also broadcast TV messages to colleagues in other rooms, all with a new service from Sprint Corp. called InSite. By next spring, Sprint will add to the package applications from Microsoft Corp., including Outlook, Word and Excel.

To make the service even more valuable to business travelers, the Kansas City, Mo., carrier also plans to add virtual private network software to enable guests to access business accounts via the TV.

Jason Daniel, whos on the road half the year for his job, said InSite makes working from a hotel room more convenient and more comfortable.

"The system has a wireless keyboard, so you can sit on the bed and check your e-mail," said Daniel, marketing director for Food Automation-Service Techniques Inc., in Stratford, Conn., and a frequent guest at On the Ave. "Its pretty easy to just pick up the keyboard and go online."

For Wendy Caplan, a transitional services coordinator at the Caron Foundation, a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Wernersville, Pa., the ability to conduct routine online tasks without the physical burden of a laptop makes the service worthwhile.

"My laptop—I hate to lug it around. I hate it," Caplan said. "If I can check my mail, check the market and check the news at the end of the day without carrying the laptop, Im thrilled."

The opportunity to conduct online business and at the same time unwind—as attractive as it may be to the systems overworked and overburdened travelers so far—is not unique to Sprints InSite. The hospitality industry can choose from numerous vendors for interactive TV and numerous options for Ethernet ports. For example, LodgeNet Entertainment Corp., of Sioux Falls, S.D., provides interactive television and entertainment services in more than 5,000 hotels, and On Command Corp., of Denver, provides interactive in-room entertainment, information and business services to more rooms worldwide than any other major in-room provider.

Sprints main selling point is that InSite combines interactive TV with laptop access technologies and bundles them with a host of entertainment and concierge offerings—music, games, digital movies on demand—provided in partnership with KoolConnect Technologies Inc., of New York.

"With InSite, every customer is a potential Internet user," said Don Boos, president and owner of the Holiday Inn in Overland Park, where about 90 percent of the guests Monday through Thursday are business travelers. With a new convention center scheduled to open nearby in 2003, Boos is eager to install technologies that will attract guests visiting for business or pleasure.

Perhaps the nearest rival to InSite is General Dynamics Corp.s Intrigue multimedia system. With either the hotel TV or a laptop computer, travelers can get Internet access up to 50 times faster than with a dial-up connection. Intrigue also offers video on demand with stopping/starting capability, electronic shopping, video games and other hospitality services over the TV.

To differentiate itself, Sprint touts InSites in-room messaging service, which allows a hotel to send messages via the TV to blocks of guests, such as registrants of a convention.

"If a guest has to change the time or place of a meeting, we can broadcast the message," Boos said. "Group messaging is a competitive advantage."

The potential for increased revenue streams at hotels is seemingly limitless when advertising can be custom- tailored. For example, a hotel can tantalize guests with room service menus at mealtimes or send ads for snack foods in conjunction with movies.

"I think a lot more people are apt to order popcorn or pizza if its suggested," Boos said. "Were hopeful this will increase our food sales because it allows us to advertise our menu with pictures as well as print."

Sprint, which champions its ability to customize the InSite service to a hotels specifications, takes about eight weeks to install a system, said Kyle Murdoch, marketing manager at Sprint.

"Just the laptop solution really wasnt enough," Murdoch said. "The Holy Grail for business travelers is to be able to do everything they can do from their desks without having to carry anything with them."