As In-Room Cellphone Use Rises, Hoteliers Seek Revenue Alternatives

NEW YORK ? The cellular phone: for some business travelers it is the ubiquitous companion, the virtual office, an indispensable piece of technology; for hoteliers, cellphones have been the bane of their existence, a drain on their revenue stream. Cellphones have come out of the automobile to show up in airports, on the streets, even in hotel rooms. Guests have been using their cellphones rather than the hotel?s land-line system for a number of reasons: better coverage, better reception and because they are less expensive. An analyst staying at a Washington hotel recently said his friend? as a test ? made a call on the room phone to a cell phone in the same room. The two-second call cost $4.40, according to the hotel?s bill folio. Although hoteliers bemoan the loss of telecommunications revenue, one analyst sees advantages to the use of cellphones in rooms. ?Hotel phone lines are overtaxed already with guests plugging their laptops in; the use of cell phones can alleviate some of the pressure of hotels having to add capacity. So I don?t see it as a big impact,? said Robert Bennett, practice leader for information and technology for PricewaterhouseCoopers? leisure group. Still, hotel executives are looking for ways to recapture some of that money. At the Hilton Crystal City at Reagan National Airport, General Manager John O?Sullivan has put a machine in the lobby that sells long-distance calling cards. The hotel has added more public phones in an attempt to offset the decline in revenue. In a case of if-you-can?t-beat-?em-join-?em, some hoteliers are giving guests portable phones upon check-in to use during their stay. The Peninsula Group?s two luxury U.S. hotels, The Peninsula Beverly Hills and The Peninsula New York, are giving hotel guests a convenient way to use cellular phones while traveling. The Peninsula hotels have been using a new wireless communications tool called Wireless Room Connect that allows guests to use a cellular telephone as an extension of the guestroom phone. When the guestroom phone rings, the cell phone rings simultaneously. The cell phone can be either a personal phone, or one provided by the hotel that has full functionality of the in-room guest phone (i.e., a guest can dial the concierge?s internal extension from anywhere in the city to reach the concierge). The practice of giving guests a phone that links into the guestroom is a smart feature, according to Bennett. ?It?s great for someone who is managing groups or attending a conference or an event planner who doesn?t want to miss a call,? he said. Some services work only on property while others allow guests to roam beyond the confines of the hotel. In some cases, the guests who rent the phones charge the calls back to their existing credit cards, in which case hotels do not get a mark-up (the only added fee is the phone rental). Hotels get a better margin when the phone use fee shows up on the folio, enabling hoteliers to add fees. A new service called Wireless Room Connect allows call activity to go through the hotel?s existing PBX. And since the system is installed in the hotel?s telephone room, no guest-room rewiring is necessary. Wireless Room Connect is managed by a hotel?s existing PMS. The service is said to assure that guests will not miss important calls and allows them to provide a local phone number to accommodate local callers. The bottom line for hoteliers: they can generate revenue even when guests are off property, since all calls are posted to the guest folio. In-room telephones equipped with programmable guest service keys has become a selling feature for hoteliers. Guest service keys help reduce front desk call traffic, which can save on staffing costs. Direct dialing or speed dialing reduces the demands placed on the hotel switchboard, cutting the workload on the switchboard staff and freeing them up for other duties, or allowing for some level of employment reductions, said Jeffrey Powell, national accounts manager fo

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