Lodging survey cites trends, industry standards

Lodging survey cites trends, industry standards

Stacey Mieyal Higgins

NATIONAL REPORT–The American Hotel & Lodging Assn. polled more than 6,000 hotel properties about more than 100 areas ranging from hair dryers to complimentary breakfast for its lodging survey that was released in August.

Hotel executives discussed several topics, such as: Internet access, menu offerings and structural renovations. But these topics might or might not reflect the state of the industry, depending on whom you ask.

According to the survey, high-speed Internet access in guest-rooms increased from 7 percent in 1998 to 50 percent in 2004.

This increase reflects guests’ needs, according to Rich Mitchell, senior v.p. of asset management for Equity Inns.

“Years ago when Internet access was dial-up, it was a huge step down from where [guests] work,” he said. “Now guests look at hotels as an extension of the workplace.”

For this reason, offering HSIA is a part of staying competitive, Mitchell said.

Loews Hotels is seeing an increase in Internet usage by guests, according to Tony Del Mastro, director of information technology.

“Both business travelers and nonbusiness travelers are very dependent on e-mail,” he said.

All Loews guestrooms offer HSIA. Meeting spaces have wired and wireless access and common areas have wireless access.

“We will see a lot of wireless applications become more feasible, less expensive, less intrusive and offer greater flexibility,” said Roger Bloss, president of Best Value Inns.

BVI properties still have a choice to install Internet access because what’s good for one property might not be good for another, Bloss said.

Thirty-five percent of respondents said they offer in-room wireless Internet, which was a new survey question this year.

James Lingle, director of information technology for John Q. Hammons Hotels, is not ready to abandon wired Internet access.

“Wireless hasn’t taken over the world yet,” he said. “We have to cater for both.”

In the next three to five years, wireless will be the preferred method, Del Mastro said.

“About 70 [percent] to 80 percent of travelers’ laptops do not have wireless capability right now,” he said. “People are also carrying [personal digital assistants] and with technology improving, the demand for wireless will increase.”

There still is concern among business travelers about Internet security with wireless, Lingle said. But public spaces are less likely to be wired to allow guests to roam with their laptops.

All but two of JQH properties have Internet access because it is a standard for most of its brands, according to Lingle.

Lightening up

Other new topics on this year’s survey were low-carb and low-calorie menu offerings. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they offer low-carb menu items, and 22 percent said they offer low-calorie menu items.

“Guests are saying, ‘When I travel, I don’t want to get off my normal way of living,'” Mitchell said. “So it’s a part of being tuned in to the needs of guests.”

It might seem that there is a new health kick, but guests simply are getting better at sharing their opinions and their needs are becoming easier to identify, Mitchell said.

The light menu offerings are part of a short-term marketing trend, according to Bloss. “It’s not a customer driver,” he said.

Chris Cahill, president and c.o.o. of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, agreed that it’s a trend.

“The media has played it up as if the whole world is eating carrot sticks,” he said.

At the same time, he recognized that baby boomers are concerned with nutrition and more companies are coming out with health-oriented foods.

Matthew Von Ertfelda, senior director, design strategy, for Marriott International, disagreed.

“Dietary trends continue to drive menu development,” he said. “In all the surveys we’ve implemented, there is a clear and real need for hotels to provide items that satisfy dietary needs.”

Marriott recently launched the Fit For You menu program at Marriott Hotels and Resorts that is designed to be a strategic platform for current and future menu trends, according to Von Ertfelda.

The luxury segment had the greatest proportion of respondents with low-carb or low-calorie choices. Von Ertfelda attributed this to luxury guests being more likely to be health oriented, although he said guests, in general, are more health conscious.

Consequently, hotels might use nutritional labeling in the future, according to Von Ertfelda.

“As guests become more savvy about what they eat, organic and no trans-fat could become trends,” he said.

Marriott already encourages the use of organics when possible.

Renovation nation

Some of the categories that saw decreased numbers were hotels that had completed major structural renovations in the last 12 months and hotels that were planning one in the next 12 months.

Eleven percent of respondents completed major structural renovations in the current survey, compared to 22 percent in 1998. This year, 9 percent of respondents were planning a renovation while 16 percent of respondents were in 1998.

Executives did not see the decrease relating to the upward trend in the economy, although definitions of structural renovations varied.

“If structural changes involve changing the configuration of the hotel, like an addition, those monies are probably going more for cosmetic types of things,” Mitchell said. “Coming through the last three years, am I going to be adding rooms to my hotel? I would rather take my hotel and refresh it than add another 30 rooms or more meeting space.”

Bloss saw structural renovations as a niche part of the business not related to the recovery, such as buildings being converted from a different industry.

Cahill viewed structural renovations as capital improvements, which Fairmont accelerated immediately after 9/11, knowing 2002 would be a challenging year.

“Now our hotels are in great shape,” he said. “We’re spending less in 2005 than in 2004 because we don’t need to.”

Results from the AH&LA survey 1998 2004

Hotels with in-room, high-speed Internet access 7% 50%

Hotels with in-room, wireless Internet access N/A 35%

Hotels that charge for in-room Internet N/A 22%

Hotels that offer low-carb menu choices N/A 23%

Hotels that plan major structural renovations * 16% 9%

Hotels that completed major structural renovations ** 22% 11%

* In the next 12 months

** In the previous 12 months

Source: AH&LA Lodging Survey

shiggins@advanstar.com

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