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Executive Travel : Hotels Catering to Guests Who Don’t Stay

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CAROL SMITH <i> is a free-lance writer based in Pasadena</i>

Efforts to trim corporate travel budgets have led more business travelers to try to avoid overnight stays whenever possible. But that has also left many with a problem: how to get business done without having a base of operations.

To address this need, more hotels and some restaurants have begun offering day-use rates for business travelers. And now that more hotel rooms have business amenities such as computer hookups, fax machines, multiple phone lines and work areas, rooms can serve as offices for the day.

“We’ve definitely seen a shortening of the length of stays on business trips,” said Robert Mandelbaum, director of research for San Francisco-based PKF Consulting, which specializes in the hospitality industry. Near airports, in particular, business travelers often fly in early for a day of meetings or interviews and fly out later that evening, he said.

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Indeed, according to the Travel Industry Assn. in Washington,, the percentage of one-day business trips jumped from 8% in 1992 to 10% in 1993.

The American Hotel & Motel Assn. doesn’t keep figures on day use of rooms, but spokeswoman Maura Nelson said: “It doesn’t surprise me that there is a need developing. It’s another way of adapting to changing business travel budgets.”

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And there is more than just cost-cutting driving the trend, said Rosalind Williams, executive director of the Newport Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It’s also time-saving,” she said. Someone can fly in from the East Coast, rent a hotel room for a few hours’ worth of interviews, then move to the next destination. You can get two cities out of the way in a day.”

Cheaper air fares in short-haul markets and more frequent flights have made it possible to avoid overnight stays, corporate travel managers say. Day trips save about $200 a person by eliminating the cost of food, rental cars, gasoline and overnight lodging, one oil company travel manager said.

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The hotel industry is hoping to capitalize on the frequency of one-day trips by offering day-use rates, or rentals of fax machines or computers, Mandelbaum said.

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Many business people already use hotel lobbies as offices, Mandelbaum said, and hotel managers are recognizing that they can capture some of those business travel dollars by offering the itinerant office person a place to perch and work.

“I know I’ve sometimes parked myself at a pay phone in a hotel lobby for an hour or more, to make calls when I’m traveling,” he said.

The Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, for example, now gets an average of five requests a month for daytime business use of its rooms, said spokeswoman Landry Kimbrough.

The Ritz-Carlton offers suites in private cottages for meetings of eight or 10 people, or will rent rooms in the main hotel at a reduced rate for use during the day. The rates depend on the size of the room and number of people in the group, she said.

At the Los Angeles Hilton & Towers, business travelers can rent a room for the day at 50% of the corporate room rate. Rooms in the Hilton Towers have access to a conference room, as well as business room amenities such as fax machines, desks and modems. At the Beverly Hilton, day guests also get complimentary use of a cellular phone.

Similarly, Hyatt Regency hotels offer their half-price Business Plan rooms on a day-use basis, said Cheryl Phelps, Hyatt regional vice president. Each room has a large desk with a computer hookup and fax machine, and each Business Plan floor has a lounge equipped with a copier and printer available 24 hours a day.

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The Peninsula Beverly Hills recently began offering corporate travelers a chance to work in a variety of locations, including semi-private tables in the back of the hotel’s salon area, tables on the dining patio or private cabanas near the pool. There is no charge for working in the salon or dining area, but cabanas are $100 a day between 6:30 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The hotel rents laptop computers for $50 a day, and will supply a phone or fax machine on request. Charges for the phone and fax depend on usage.

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All of the major hotels in Newport Beach also offer reduced rates on rooms by day, said Williams of the convention bureau.

Starting next month at Rox restaurant, next to the Beverly Prescott in Beverly Hills, business clients will be able to use a special room adjacent to the dining room until about 5 p.m. There will be no charge for “renting the table,” said General Manager David Smith, and customers will be able to bill an account for phone calls or meals.

Smith got the idea for the corporate room while he was doing paperwork there himself one day. He noticed a line of out-of-town salespeople camped out at the pay phones, some for as long as three hours.

A lot of the restaurant’s customers are business travelers down for the day from the San Francisco Bay Area, he said. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great to, essentially, be able to check into a table for the day.”

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