AT THE VIKING HOTEL in Newport, as in most quality hotels, guests are offered the latest in amenities.
Many hotel companies are exploring ways to offer more extensive Internet access to guests, according to some local hotel managers.
Offering in-room data ports, where guests can plug in a laptop computer and go online is already a standard at Providence’s largest hotels. But some companies are looking at offering Internet access from terminals located in public areas and from television sets in guest rooms.
“Everybody’s working on it,” said Timothy Kirwan, general manager at The Westin Providence. “It’s definitely becoming a standard for luxury hotels.”
The Marriott company is studying whether it would be beneficial to offer access from kiosks located in public areas, including bar lounges, and from in-room TVs, according to Kevin Speidel, general manager of the Providence Marriott. Pilot programs are being run at some Marriott hotels located around the country, although the Providence facility is not one of them, he said.
“There’s a potential market for it, we don’t know how deep it is,” Speidel said.
The Marriott, the Westin, the Downtown Holiday Inn, and the Providence Biltmore Grand Heritage Hotel all have data port plugs installed in guest rooms. A phone line charge is assessed for this service.
At the Westin they also have a business center with three computers, where guests can use various software programs ranging from word processing packages to Internet services, Kirwan said. They pay an hourly access fee for this service. The Biltmore offers computer access from public lounge areas to some guests, who stay in more exclusive rooms, according to Dennis Landry, the hotel’s general manager.
By this summer it is possible the Westin will have installed new phone systems and hardware so guests can access the Internet through in-room TVs, Kirwan said. Two telephone lines are needed in every room so the phone and Web TV equipment can be used simultaneously. Since the building’s designers included two telephone lines in every room when building the 363-room facility, the Westin will not have the added expense of rewiring the building, he explained.
“The hardware is the most expensive component,” Kirwan said.
Hotel administrators plan to keep the costs down, however, by leasing the equipment through a vendor that already provides its OnCommand in room cable television system.
At the Downtown Holiday Inn, General Manager Kathy Schnell said there are no plans in the immediate future to expand the hotel’s high tech offerings.
“For the most part they basically come equipped with their own computers and they know what they need to do,” Schnell said.
Landry concurred that most Biltmore guests now come equipped with portable computers if they want Internet access, but he sees customer expectations growing in the near future.
“I foresee a circumstance where in-room Internet access is going to be a general expectation of travelers,” Landry said. “Business travelers tend to lead the way in terms of amenity expectations.
“It’ll go from being a selling point to an expectation very quickly,” he added.
For starters phone line charges can add up quickly.
“The rooms all have data ports; that’s pretty typical at this point in time, but the problem from the client’s point of view is that they’re paying line charges,” Landry explained. “If you’re going to spend any amount of time on it, it can (add up).”
Guests aren’t overwhelming local hotel staffs with requests for expanded Internet access, the hotel managers reported.
“It’s an occasional request,” said Kirwan, adding that it’s a “nice service” that would likely be used by customers if it was available. “People want to check their stocks, watch the news, check the weather.”
Speidel, of the Providence Marriott, added, “I think it would be a great source of entertainment for your traveler who is not quite as well-versed in the Internet.”
Earlier this month, Hilton Hotels Corp. announced it plans to install a system that allows guests to get high-speed Internet access from room phones and still be able to talk on the phone. Internet surfing and phone chat could take place over the same line, according to a Jan. 13 announcement. The OverVoice system – produced by Washington, D.C., Internet service provider CAIS Internet – expands existing copper phone wire to accommodate Internet access about 50 to 300 times faster than normal dial-up service.
Installation is scheduled to begin in large city-center convention Hilton hotels, followed by smaller hotels in second-tier cities around the United States, Canada and Mexico, according to a company statement.