How five of our favourite hotel trends improve business travel

By John Walton, September 17 2012

Like many business travellers, we spend much of our time in hotels, running into those little touches that make staying in a hotel more convenient.

They're trends we like because they take away some of the annoyances and frustrations of getting yourself set up and packed away, make hotels feel a little more like home, and keep you connected so you're more productive.

Some are "getting the basics right" business travel necessities that still aren't standard everywhere, while others are new technologies that can make a big difference to business travel.

So in the spirit of letting you know where to find hotels that really "get" the business traveller, and encouraging more hotels to adopt these trends -- benefiting us all -- here are my personal top five hotel trends.

1. Ample and accessible power points 

I'm continually baffled by how many hotels -- even newly built, top-end business hotels -- fail at the simple basic design requirement of accessible power points to charge up your electronic devices.

I love hotels that provide multiple universal power points that will take any plug, at a decent height above the desk or entertainment unit so that I can get everything charging as quickly as possible.

Universal power points -- and lots of them -- are a real bonus.

Let's be clear, practical business travellers would prefer a visible, accessible multi-socket power strip (even if it's a bit ugly) than having to crawl underneath the desk to plug things in.

But it's not just at the desk: most business travellers will use their smartphone or tablet as an alarm clock, so there needs to be a power point by the bed too -- both sides of the bed. When travelling with the other half, both people need to be able to charge their phones.

Who does it well: top marks across my travels in the last year go to the Holiday Inn at Sydney Airport, which takes a very sensible, no-nonsense approach and has a power strip on the desk. 

2. USB by the bed and by the desk

Speaking of power, I love it when I spot a hotel that's been thoughtful and forward-thinking enough to provide USB sockets to power my smartphone, tablet, external battery, pocket wifi router and so on.

After a long flight -- especially one without inflight power -- it's a real blessing not to have to faff around with power strip, adaptors, connectors, and laptop. Just stick the tablet or smartphone's charging cable straight into the wall and get it juiced back up.

I'd like to see this rolled out further, with a USB socket available at every bedside table. (Of course, many hotels don't even have a regular power point at every bedside table!) A bedside USB socket would be especially handy when travelling overseas, since your international plug adapter is likely to be in use at the desk for your laptop.

Accor's standard connectivity panel -- with connectors available from reception or in the room -- makes life easier for business travellers.

Who does it well: Global hotel chain Accor has a standard panel for its new and refurbished Sofitel luxury hotels, Pullman business brand and Novotel mid-range locations, which has a USB socket and various other connectors. It's clear and convenient, with connecting cables either in the room or available from the hotels' receptions.

3. Clear signs for what switch does what

It amazes me when hotels get all high-tech with glowing buttons or iPhone-style sensing pads to turn on the lights, and then completely fail to label them (or label them with a tiny bizarre and incomprehensible image).

I've lost count of the number of times that I've tried to switch on a light that looks like it should be for the bathroom, but a light halfway across the room goes on, or I get blinded in the middle of the night by the reading light shining right in my eyes.

While this panel (at Singapore's Hotel Fort Canning) may look chic, it was a real pain to figure out how to turn the lights on and off.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a normal power switch -- or better yet, dimmer knobs for main room lighting -- but if a hotel gets fancy with the light switches but fails to make it obvious which does what, it's a real pain.

Switches that say what they turn on: surprisingly revolutionary!

Who does it well: interestingly, hotels closer to the mid-range end of the business spectrum tend not to waste money on overly complicated switches. Of hotels with fancy ones, the newly refurbished Singapore Marriott labels its switches clearly.

4. Mobile-friendly wifi Internet

I'm always pleased to find hotels that have thought through -- and tested -- their Internet offerings with mobile devices like smartphones and tablets so that they offer a simple, convenient way to get connected.

By the same token, it's frustrating to have to squint, pinch and zoom your way through a fiddly signup menu, especially the ones with randomly generated passwords like "[email protected]".

It's even worse to have to do it all over again when the system disconnects your phone after a period of inactivity or if you move between the business lounge and your room.

Who does it well: hotels with free wifi tend to be the best at this, since they're already along the line of recognising that the Internet is important to guests. The Docomo InterTouch system used by many hotels is pretty good at maintaining a connection throughout the hotel, but it's rare to find hotels advertising the system they use.

5. "Audio-in" style speaker plugs

As a music lover, I'm always thrilled to find a decent set of speakers with a simple plug-and-play connection so I can have my own music playing in the room quickly and easily.

The best implementations of this are from hotels offering a decent set of speakers -- those compact Bose Wave systems are popular among the higher end hotels -- with a headphone-style connector.

For iPhone users, it's great when that connector is plugged into an iPhone dock (like the example below, from the Macau Sofitel), but with the coming iPhone 5's change of plug style -- and the fact that many business travellers keep their music on Android or other devices -- the universal 3.5mm jack is a real bonus.

My ideal setup: a Bose Wave speaker set with a dock that plugs into a 3.5mm connector.

What I specifically don't want to see is something where the music is controlled by the TV's interface (I've never encountered one with a decent user interface), or where the connector is iPhone-only.

Who does it well: I've yet to come across a hotel chain where this is a standardised offering, which is unfortunate. While Four Seasons hotels often have Bose speakers in the rooms, the connections aren't provided as standard. Novotels in the UK have a standard 3.5mm connection that will play your music through the TV, but the speakers aren't great and the user interface is a pain. I'd be interested to hear from readers who've found hotels where this works well -- drop a comment below!

For more on trends in hotels and across all aspects of business travel, follow us on Twitter! We're @AusBT.

John Walton
John Walton

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

here2go

here2go

Qantas

10 Sep 2011

Total posts 162

With wireless charging and NFC soon to become standard, it would be great to see charging pads with music players appear in hotels.  No cables needed, and less risk of ports being mangled by clumsy patrons.

John Walton

John Walton

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

I think you're a bit optimistic with the "soon" about wireless charging and NFC, but you're right -- hotels do need to start thinking about this and taking account of their room outfitting needs to build in options now rather than having to bodge them on in five years' time.

(The only decent implementation I've seen of wireless charging anywhere in the world is Helsinki Airport, with those rings that plug into your phone. For me, it's very much not there yet.)

sdwylie

sdwylie

Qantas - Platinum

18 Jan 2011

Total posts 84

From memory, the standard Hilton bedside clock-radio (which seems to be in all properties now(?) has a bunched up 3.5mm AUX input cable at the back of the unit

John Walton

John Walton

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

I think you're right about that (on both counts, but I'm willing to bet there's a property somewhere without it!) but I found the sound super-distorted when I last used one in the Frankfurt Airport Hilton. 

Pegasus

Pegasus

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Jun 2012

Total posts 45

I know both the Auckland and Brisbane Hilton have them; lovely to have a connection that is not strictly Apple-related.

180mis

180mis

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2012

Total posts 116

Great article John. Hopefully more hotels will read this and lift their game.

Recently stayed at the St Regis Shenzhen which was amazing, and each room had an iPad which controlled all of the room functions, such as blinds, lights, music, TV etc.

One of the better features was the TV (LED no less, with really great quality speakers) which had a range of free on-demand movies to watch, which I hope becomes the norm in hotels around the world too. 

John Walton

John Walton

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

Cheers!

I'm really not sure about where I stand on iPads controlling room functions. I assume you could also control them with regular switches too, right?

I always appreciate on-demand movies -- seeing a lot more of them too! -- but I tend to bring them with me via iTunes.


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