Mobile Computing: Hotel Business Centers

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Feature: Finding the Best Hotel Business Centers

When I'm traveling on business, I want my hotel to have three things: (1) in-room high-speed Internet access; (2) a well-run business center, for printing, faxing, and other needs; and (3) a bath butler.

I'm just kidding about number 3--but I'm dead serious about the first two. The problem is, you can usually find out from a hotel's Web site if there's in-room Internet access; but details offered online about a hotel's business center can be sketchy.

So before I book a hotel for a business trip, I call the property I'm considering directly. (Don't bother with the hotel chain's toll-free number. You'll usually get someone in a centralized office who won't be familiar with a specific hotel's particular amenities.) I ask to be connected to the business center or to a concierge, if it's after hours. And then I fire away with my questions.

What equipment does the business center have? Hotels can vary in the equipment they offer guests. I've seen some that provide only a single, woefully outdated PC and a rickety printer; others look like a small copy shop. Find out if the center has color printers or just black-and-white. Are there inkjets or lasers available? Are there PCs connected to the Internet available for guest use? What about copiers and fax machines?

How do you get a document to the printer? There are several ways to do this, of course. For example, are the hotel business center printers connected to PCs with CD or DVD drives? If so, you can burn a disc, open the files on the hotel's PC, and print.

Another option is EFI's PrintMe service, which lets you upload a file via the Internet from your PC to any of hundreds of hotel printers. The print costs vary by hotel. Stay tuned for a review of the PrintMe service in an upcoming column.

If you plan to use the business center's printer and PC, find out in advance if the application you're using is installed on the PC. If not, you may be out of luck.

The bottom line: If you'll need to print documents when you're on the road, make sure you have a clear notebook-to-printer strategy.

Where is the business center? Some smaller hotels don't have business centers per se. Instead, they may have PCs and printers in the lobby or in some other communal area, which can be noisier and more distracting to work in than a business center.

Is there more than one business center? High-end hotels may have a moderately equipped business center on one level and a nicely equipped one on the club or concierge level. The latter is available only to guests staying on those levels, where rooms usually cost more.

What are the hours of operation? Also, is there an attendant present when the center is open, or is it unattended? An attendant is preferable, in case you have questions or technical problems. Also, some hotels allow guests after-hours access to the business center using their room keys, so be sure to ask about that.

What are the costs of using the equipment? Most hotels don't charge guests to use their business centers, but some do. For example, you might pay $1 to $3 per page to use a printer.

Can you charge fees to your credit card? For expense reporting or tax records, it's easier to separate business center fees from your hotel bill.

Is there a copy/print shop nearby? Worst-case scenario: You have several documents to print, but another guest beat you to the one printer in the business center. Knowing there's a copy/print shop around the corner should keep you from grinding your teeth.

Is tech support available? Does the hotel have a support person on staff for guests? With luck, you won't need help. But in my experience, technical problems have a funny way of popping up when you're on the road.

Best Hotel Business Centers?

Is there a particularly stellar hotel business center you recommend? If so, please send me an e-mail. Give me details on what you like about the center--the excellent equipment, top-notch service, and so on. And, if appropriate, let me know what could be improved.

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