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SEPTEMBER 11, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 10

Hotel Rooms That Let You Get the Job Done
By ERIC TUCKER


Illustration for TIME by Rob Dunlavey.

Time was when business travelers judged a hotel by the size of the rooms and the quality of room service. Today's road warriors are just as likely to enquire about computer modem ports and in-room fax machines. As a result, major hotel chains from Beijing to Manila and points in between are beginning to offer rooms with enough 21st century gadgets and gizmos to keep business travelers in touch with their work back home.

The accoutrements are diverse, ranging from interactive television sets to hotel-provided laptops to plug-in broadband networks. Interactive TVs, offered by companies like Maginet Corp. and On Command, allow users to access—through a cordless keyboard—the Internet, order a movie, play video games and check out, all while tucked into bed. But until you get the hang of it, surfing the Web on a TV screen can be cumbersome. During a recent test, I found On Command's system frustrating; you can view only a small magnified segment of the computer screen, which is handy if you're nearsighted but irritating if you're not. And the systems aren't great for multi-taskers, since no two functions—say, watching SportsCenter and e-mailing the kids—can be performed simultaneously. Chances are good you'll encounter On Command somewhere during your Asian travels; hotels from more than 100 chains use its services, including Wyndham International, Marriott International and Westin.

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Interactive TVs make for fine mini-entertainment systems, but they lack too many basic business functions to be useful to an itinerant workaholic. Enter I-Quest Corp., a Hong Kong-based provider of broadband Internet access to hotels. The system allows guests with a laptop and a network card simply to plug in and play, accessing the Net at a dizzying connection speed of one megabyte per second. Hotel chains that have signed on with I-Quest in the past year include Hyatt International and Great Eagle International. Several dozen individual hotels in Asia—Manila's Mandarin Oriental and Kuala Lumpur's Hilton, among others—use I-Quest, too. The company also provides "technology concierges," who are on call with a stock of cables and converters to get guests wired. Michelle Ayang-Ang, business-center secretary at Hong Kong's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, says an average of two guests a day call for help connecting their laptops to their room's dataports.

If carrying your own laptop around the world is too tiring, you'll love the Worldroom work stations, the service I-Quest now provides at certain hotels. Users receive a multi-media desk area with a laser printer, Microsoft Office and a host of other toys. I-Quest provides a high degree of security through measures like immediately transferring your personal data to your own Internet service provider without storing it, though don't expect the kind of protection you get behind your corporate firewall. If your company uses a virtual private network system, the security level increases.

Does this mean you can leave the laptop at home the next time you travel? Not until more hotels provide services like I-Quest. Even then, many people may feel naked without their own hardware. "For businesspeople, laptops are an extension of their bodies," says Sara Albright, international p.r. manager at Tokyo's Park Hyatt Hotel. Though some hotels still limit their communication support to a telephone and some embossed stationery, working in your room is getting easier all the time.

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