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Boom in Business Travel Spurs Hotel Competition

UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

Sixteen floors up, at the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and with a view of Lake Michigan, sits a 2,200-square-foot penthouse that rents for $2,500 a night.

You can get it on a weekend special for $900 less. The posh quarters at the Park Hyatt are usually rented during the week--as a business center.

“While business travel is dropping off on the low end, on the high end it’s increasing,” said Marc Ellin, general manager of the hotel, which is owned by Hyatt Corp. “International travel has increased tenfold, and . . . it’s only in its infancy.”

The room was, until recently, usually rented by celebrities. But between January and May, Ellin said, business travelers rented the penthouse in a number exceeding that for all of 1989.

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More foreign investment and mergers with U.S. companies have increased the need for business centers away from home and created a furious competition among hotels seeking to profit from it all.

Ellin said that business travelers now make up about 75% of his hotel’s business.

Suites such as the penthouse at Park Hyatt used to be considered “too ostentatious” for conducting business, but that’s no longer the case, Ellin said.

“First of all,” he said, international business travelers “don’t skimp. They know quality, and they’re willing to pay for it. They also don’t want any hassles.”

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The penthouse offers many of the trappings of success, from a marble entry hall to a mahogany desk in the “office” area, from an elegant dining room that can seat a dozen to a Steinway piano.

Ellin said these accouterments are something companies are willing to spring for, and that they also like the fact that business can be conducted in one part of the suite while family members can relax in privacy in another area.

Beyond the competition to provide the most luxurious facilities is one to offer the most comprehensive menu of services.

“Service, service and service” will determine the performance of hotels in the coming decade, Ellin said. “A room is a room is a room.”

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In the past five years, Ellin said, the Park Hyatt has added services intended to appeal to the business trade: secretaries, clerks, translation facilities, a facsimile machine and computers that guests can rent.


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