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... and hotels respond with in-room Web connections

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With more business people traveling than ever before, the ability to stay connected with the home office and family members while on the road has become a near necessity.

In recent years, they have checked their e-mail, worked online, and surfed the Web by using a laptop computer with a modem and a hotel room's telephone line.

As a result, hotel telephone systems have become congested. Outside lines are often unavailable to guests during peak hours; download times can be maddeningly slow; and sometimes, connections drop out altogether.

To unclog phone lines, more and more hotels now offer unlimited in-room Internet access via high-speed connections.

"Many business travelers, as well as families, are requesting hotels with Internet access. They want to be able to stay in touch while they are away from home," says Warren Erbsen, owner/partner of Cherry Creek Travel in Denver.

Besides improving download times, high-speed Internet connections give travelers the ability to use the telephone and a laptop simultaneously in their rooms. Mr. Erbsen recently did this while staying at a hotel in Wyoming, allowing him to access his office computer in Denver and make reservations for a group traveling to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

Less than 10 percent of hotel rooms had high-speed Internet access in 1999, and it is estimated that more than 4 million hotel rooms, or 80 percent, will offer this service by 2002.

"Very clearly, it has become an important part of new hotel development and property remodeling," says Michael Mahoney, director of PricewaterhouseCooper's hospitality and leisure consultancy. "Hotel Internet access is becoming as common, and essential, as the ironing board, the hair dryer, and the television,"

Internet access is the second-most requested amenity (trailing voice mail) among business travelers, according to a survey this month by Hotel Interactive. Yet some hotels haven't seen guests jump on the high-speed lines.

"I think it is not widely used because people are reluctant to mess with their computers' settings," says Danny Hudson, vice president of distributed systems for Starwood Hotels. "Our approach is to make the service transparent to the guest so that nothing has to be changed on their computers."

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